UNKLE LANCIFER: Let’s all take a premature fall break and lovingly fawn over a horror jaunt like no other, Buddy Cooper’s 1984 slash-terpiece, THE MUTILATOR! To salute this bad boy properly I have secured the help of stalwart MUTILATOR super-fan Amanda Reyes of MADE FOR TV MAYHEM fame. Ya’ll know our pal Amanda is an expert when it comes to TV movies but it just so happens she’s a walking encyclopedia when it comes to slasher flicks too! You can’t talk to her about THE MUTILATOR without her eyeballs transforming into cartoon red hearts! I’ve seen it happen! Anyway, time’s a wastin’! Let’s get MUTILATING! Here are some of the reasons we love this special one of a kind flick so darn much…
AMANDA: Big Ed’s Motives: Although a good slasher film doesn’t need a backstory to be effective (the enigmatic Michael Myers in the original HALLOWEEN is probably the best example), sometimes understanding someone’s murderous motives adds an unexpected layer to the film. PROM NIGHT probably did it best in terms of crafting a sincerely sympathetic killer; and while I doubt anyone feels sorry for Big Ed in THE MUTILATOR, there is definitely an element of “Oh yeah, I understand.” Big Ed loves his wife, Little Ed blows her away. Big Ed gets mad. Little Ed’s friends are collateral damage. No big whoop.
AMANDA (cont.): Honestly, the opening of THE MUTILATOR lays out a really complex story about a boy who did something really horrible (accidentally, sure, but still), and the trauma that follows the surviving family members. What makes the whole slice and dice somewhat gratifying is that we know why Big Ed is on the prowl. Look, I don’t condone it, but Big Ed, I get you.
LANCIFER: Super Hero Pam: We need to talk about Pam as portrayed by Ruth Martinez. I’m going to go out of my way not to use the term “final girl” because it’s inadequate and semi-condescending. Pam is not some meek goody-goody who cautiously squirms her way toward survival; Pam is the boss of everything and everyone and the obvious lone master of her own fate. If anything, Ed Jr. is the “final-boy.” He’s the one with all the psychological baggage to unpack due to his unresolved guilt over accidently killing his mother while cleaning his father’s gun in the mega-Freudian pre-credits sequence. Not to be too spoiler-y but the way I remember it, Pam not only saves Ed Jr.’s life but she also quite literally carries him through the film’s climax. She’s his knight in pony-tailed armor and basically has to push him aside to kill his dragon for him because he’s taking too long. She even drags his sorry ass to the hospital afterwards! I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a deleted scene in which she jumped into scrubs, threw on some rubber gloves, mended his wounds and sewed him back together too. That’s not even mentioning her jaunty cap, signature vest and candy apple shades, Pam’s got style to spare.
AMANDA: The Shed of Death: There are just some places that are meant for doom. Look at the barn in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3, and the Shed of Death in THE MUTILATOR. What is so compelling about Big Ed’s toolshed that everyone feels so damn duty-bound to visit it? This locale works out well since it just happens to be Big Ed’s headquarters. Want to catch Ed sleeping with his battle-ax? Visit the shed. Arguably, this spot is equally as creepy as his war-torn vacation home, which is full of all sorts of dark treasures (remember when he ran over someone with a speedboat and then photographed and framed it?!?). But the tools of death and destruction run rampant in that shed. Everything from an outboard motor to metal spikes to that really horrifying and controversial fishing gaff can be found, so it works out well that everyone who is anyone finds their way into Ed’s mutilation workshop. Works out well for the audience, I mean, not so much for the victims!
LANCIFER: The Location: I really adore THE MUTILATOR’s oceanfront location. It feels so familiar to me. I know it was entirely filmed in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina but I can’t help but think of a friend of mine’s house in Long Beach Island, New Jersey. I would not set foot in such a place during the summer but it’s one of my favorite places on Earth off-season. There’s this dreamy end of the world atmosphere everywhere and it’s so spooky walking the streets with nary a car around. Director Buddy Cooper does such a great job capturing the quiet eeriness of an abandoned beach at night where you can barely see five feet ahead of you and you almost feel like you’re walking on the moon. Plus the guy deserves serious praise for making a rather small house feel like an expansive maze-like mansion you could get lost in. Kudos, Buddy!
AMANDA: That line: “I’m going to set a new high score on video machine.” That line has to be one of my all time favorite things ever. There’s something so beautiful about the all-purpose and somewhat odd dialog which is followed by dramatic pauses throughout THE MUTILATOR. While the premise is dark and possibly allegorical, there’s no flowery metaphors in the line readings as this film heads from point A to B in much the same way a Ferrari goes from zero to sixty. And it’s wonderful in all of its un-ironic, unpretentious glory.
AMANDA (cont.): This line is also delivered by the lovely Frances Raines, who made several low budget films throughout the eighties before she basically disappeared from the face of the earth (according to IMDb she is happily married with a son… yay!). This isn’t her best role, that would probably be the even more surreal DISCONNECTED, but she’s totally adorable and I’d love to join her for a game of video machine if she’ll have me.
LANCIFER: Nothing to do with the film itself but I have to tip my hat to THE MUTILATOR’s striking poster! It’s one of my all time favorites and I think the depiction of such a dark concept (four victims hung on a wall, one alarmed at the prospect of getting gutted by a giant hook) being presented in such bright bubbly primary colors perfectly captures the film’s contrasting nature. Seriously, I can’t think of many films that swing so swiftly from light-heartedly goofy to unsettlingly sadistic, can you? I’m also going to admit serious affection for the earlier and more folksy and raw FALL BREAK art because it sports similar counter intuitive hues and there’s something so off about it that it looks like it may have been drawn by the film’s psychotic killer himself.
AMANDA: Morey, Morey, MOREY: Truth: It was incredibly hard for me to pick just one character to talk about (hence, Frances above, Morey here and some more characters below). Morey Lampley, who plays the ill-fated Mike in THE MUTILATOR, never made another film. Whether or not he was buddies with the filmmakers, or simply auditioned for the role is unknown to me. In fact, pretty much anything aside from his character’s brutal death by outboard motor remains a riddle wrapped up in a mystery inside an enigma. And maybe that intrigue is part of why I sometimes find myself skimming the net, looking for any piece of info I can unravel on the lanky blonde victim.
AMANDA (cont.): There’s something hypnotic about Morey stalking the grounds of what looks like a closed down amusement park, quoting lines from NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. But it’s really mostly during his death scene, which is probably the second most violent one in the film (the first being the infamous fishhook scene, which is almost too nasty for its own good). Although he only registers a sense of mild discomfort during the actual act of the killing, his body is completely mutilated (hence the title, I suppose) in the full body shot. The combination of moderate distress and the utter brutality of the attack actually haunted me upon my first viewing of it. Since then, I’ve grown to love Morey’s big smile and goofy dialog delivery. He should have been a contender in the slasher movie world!
LANCIFER: Those Savage Kills: Speaking of THE MUTILATOR’s semi-surprising sadistic streak; it’s fitting this fine film was recently released by my heroes over at ARROW because it makes such a great companion for another recent offering of theirs, the fabulous BLOOD RAGE. Both of these eighties babies share a similar Ying/Yang, giddy/gory, goofy/grim dichotomy. THE MUTILATOR has got to be the zaniest, most jovial film to ever feature decapitation and strongly implied genital mutilation by way of an oversized fishhook. I love to be taken off guard like that! I love to find myself mirthfully giggling one minute and then all the sudden…record scratch sound…I’m being pushed towards feeling queasy and genuinely disturbed. Like BLOOD RAGE in its unadulterated form, THE MUTILATOR delivers the frothy splatter slasher fans crave and it does so in a way most modern horror films fail to. I know you don’t need bloodshed to make a horror movie good but it certainly helps to make a party picture that you can enjoy with your more rambunctious friends. Not that you can’t enjoy it by yourself with the invisible friends in your head. I do.
AMANDA: Couple at the convenience store: Remember when I said it was really difficult for me to narrow down one cast member to give some love to? That extends to the very limited supporting crew of locals who add just the right touch of extra flavor to an already piquant tale of madness and mutilation! The couple featured at the convenience store featured in the opening credits appear to be non-actors who are having a ball with their short but humorous scene where they let Ralph talk himself into buy an extra case of beer.
AMANDA (cont.): There are two notable things about this scene. One is that it would seem Ralph believes that two six packs will be enough liquor to get him and his five friends through a week at the beach! The second amazing thing I noticed is that couple does not appear to know exactly where they are. When we first see the woman, she is obviously waiting for a cue before she moves. The actor playing the cashier has a half smile through the entire scene. The overall effect is charming because, inevitably, this regionally produced shocker is all about heart… even if the heart in question is the one being ripped out of your chest. It’s love.
AMANDA (cont.): Addendum: I may be the biggest MUTILATOR fan I know. I first saw this movie on a date back in the early nineties and was way more impressed with it than I was with my date. I found it on VHS a few years later and it became a regular spin for me, especially in the later nineties when I worked graveyard and needed to unwind at 8 a.m. This, along with PIECES, were movies I loved to watch while falling asleep (lord knows why), and have become like a comfy afghan that keeps me company on the cold nights of life.
AMANDA (cont.): Recently, the director, Buddy Cooper emerged when there was an announcement that a Blu-Ray release was on the horizon. His facebook page (HERE) is an amazing space to get a real behind the scenes look at the film, and it’s also where he sells some memorabilia, and interacts with fans. So charmed by Buddy and Big Ed, I currently own six posters (3 for THE MUTILATOR proper and 3 for the alternate title FALL BREAK), two copies of the FALL BREAK song on 45 (in all my life I never thought I’d have that), and several continuity Polaroids and storyboard sketches. They are all treasured items that look so good next to my gorgeous Blu-Ray copy of THE MUTILATOR. The feature length making of documentary extra confirms that this film was indeed a labor of love, made by people simply looking to produce a good movie and have a good time along the way. I love this movie so much, I feel like I could go on forever, but I think between Lancifer and myself, we’ve got the bases covered!
LANCIFER: That Song: No post about THE MUTILATOR would be complete without mentioning its theme song. I’m just going to come right out and say it’s genius. It’s somehow perfectly fitting and totally inappropriate at the same time. It is inescapably eighties sounding through and through and its point blank storytelling nature has a familiar super-catchy sitcom opening theme allure. It describes in loving detail that time of year when summer has died and the weather has cooled and you’re mentally preparing for the long haul hibernation of winter but you’re just not ready for it yet and so you go skinny-dipping possibly after an ill-advised amount of alcohol consumption. How it never became a number one hit across the country, I’ll never know. I’m sure for many, the moment that this song starts near the beginning of the film, is the exact moment they knew they were about to watch something special. Most importantly singer Peter Yellen’s repeated refrain that, “We’re going to have a good time” is a sung promise that THE MUTILATOR never fails to keep. Truly, if you let this movie fall into your arms, it’s going to break into your heart.