Wednesday, February 17, 2016

THE MUTILATOR (1984) (Arrow Video Blu-ray review)

Label: Arrow Video 
Rating: R
Duration: 86 Minutes
Region: Region Free
Audio: English PCM 1.0 Mono with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1) 
Director: Buddy Cooper
Cast: Matt Mitler, Ruth Martinez, Bill Hitchcock

Synopsis: When Ed receives a message from his father asking him to go and lock up the family’s beach condo for the winter, it seems like the perfect excuse for an alcohol-fueled few days away with his friends. But no sooner are the teens on the island than they find themselves stalked by a figure with an axe (and a hook, and an outboard motor) to grind…Originally released under the title Fall Break, The Mutilator has earned a reputation amongst horror fans as one of the holy grails of ’80s splatter mayhem due to its decidedly gruesome kill sequences, courtesy of FX wizard Mark Shostrom (Videodrome, Evil Dead II). Finally making its long-awaited bow in High-Definition, The Mutilator has returned to terrorize a whole new generation of horror fans.

The Mutilator opens with a young boy named Ed, Jr. preparing to celebrate the birthday of his father. While mom is busy in the kitchen with preparations the young boy decides he will surprise his dad by cleaning his guns. While doing so he accidentally discharges the weapon, which turned out to be loaded. The shot goes through a door and straight into the back of the boy's mother, the impact of the bullet is a fine and bloody mess. As the boy mourns over his mother's corpse his father Ed Sr. arrives home, perhaps in a bit of shock, he drags the body of his wife to his den, props her up against a chair, and shares a glass of whiskey with her. A very strange opening, but one that establishes at least a bit of back story for what is about to unfold years later. 

Now some years have passed and the young boy is a college student, celebrating  "fall break", whatever that is, with his girlfriend and two other young couples. Ed receives a call from his father at the bar, apparently he frequents this place a lot! His father tells him he must come to the family beachfront condo to close it down for the winter, which seems like a bit of a drag, what a shit way to spend "fall break". Ed and his friends decide it will be a fun romp, closing down the house and partying on the beach for a few days, so they pile into Ed's car and head for the ocean front property. 

Upon arriving they settle in after Ed gives them a tour of the place, pointing out his father's numerous prized fish and game trophies, apparently Ed's father is quite a sportsman, he even has a grisly picture of a man he accidentally ran over with his sports boat, the man's flesh lacerated from the boat engine's prop, which is weird. As the night wears on and they grow tired of playing Monopoly one of the couple's decide to go for a stroll along the beach, and find them at a closed public pool, where they strip down nude and jump in for a bit of skinny-dipping, unaware that they have been followed. 

Soon enough young lover's begin to be offed one by one by a killer in a myriad of creative ways that are sure to please the gorehounds. What is not so pleasing is that the identity of the murderer is not hidden from viewers, you know who it is right away. This brought to mind the movie Final Exam, another college-slasher that mixes weird teen humor with some nifty kills, it also does not hide the identity of the killer. Despite this demerit against it I enjoyed this one a lot, probably because the group of friends are so likable and fun to watch. There's not an asshole or bitch among them, which is somewhat odd for an '80s slasher movie. While there is a prankster among the bunch who enjoys a good laugh at his friend's expense, he's not mean-spirited, but he is still a good guy, not that it helps him in the end. Personally I would have liked at least one of them to be a bit of a jerk. 

Ed is a good guy, too, even though he shot his mother dead as a kid, you don't get the idea that it fucked him up too much, unlike the killer from slasher-classic Pieces. The teens are of the horny variety, even friendly Ed, but his girlfriend Pam makes it painfully obvious that she's not gonna jump into bed with him on this trip, at least not unless they are fully clothed -  what a killjoy! As traditional slasher rules dictate, the horny teens must be punished, so maybe her abstinence will work in her and Ed's favor after all. 

The set-up here is nothing new, even in 86 this would have been a pretty standard prelude to a bloodbath, what this movie is most fondly remembered for is the glorious gore which comes courtesy of special make-up effects artist Mark Shostrom, who brings the gore with a certain amount of gruesome glee. The killer uses a variety of weapons found around the home, including a machete, a battle ax, a large hook-gaff, and the business end of a boar motor. The most brutal of the deaths occur when the killer straps a young woman down to a workman's bench in the garage, inserts a menacing hook-gaff into her crotch and pushes it up through her abdomen, like he's baiting a hook, before lopping off her head with the ax - brutal stuff! On top of that we have decapitations, a drowning, a machete to the face, a boat prop attack, a severed leg, a pronged fish spear through the neck, and a few other nasty delights. 

The movie moves along at a tidy pace for the eighty-six minute run time with very few instances of drag, Buddy Cooper might not be the most stylish of directors but he kept things moving, when the teens first arrive at the beach house there's a tiny bit of drag but once the first couple are offed it picks up again and doesn't let up. The tone of this one does sway a bit, originally titled Fall Break for it's initial release the movie feels like a teen comedy for the first half, complete with a screwball comedy theme song, thankfully the score is more synth-driven and does offer up a more traditional fright-music. The odd tonal dissipates as the killings begin, but the end credit sequence again takes up a jokey feel with outtakes from the movie, it doesn't ruin the movie, but the tonal shift is weird. 

The Mutilator is a movie that horror fans have been clamoring for for quite a long while, it never had a legit North American release on DVD or Blu-ray, now slasher fans can rejoice, not only is it on Blu-ray, but it is stuffed with bonus content. They killed it with Blood Rage and have done it again with The Mutilator, if they're taking requests for deluxe editions of obscure horror tiles I'd love to see The Slayer (1982) and The Prey (1984) arrive on Blu-ray with some cool bonus content. 

Audio/Video:The Mutilator arrives on region-free Blu-ray from Arrow Video looking mighty fine, after years of bootleg and YouTube viewings this new widescreen 2K restoration is something that should please every fan of the slasher cheapie. Years were spent looking for a proper uncut version of the film until an uncut master print was found at the Library of Congress, that's out tax dollars at work! Film grain is nicely managed, there's an abundance of fine detail with crisp textures, skin tones look natural and the colors are strong, with some source limitations. imperfections are limited to small white speckling, Arrow have done a phenomenal job bringing this on to HD for fans, the gore looks great, and for fans who've long suffered with dark bootleg copies that rendered the latter half of the film near unwatchable, you will be pleased to know that the black levels and shadow detail are quite nice. 

Audio is capably handled by an English PCM Mono 1.0 track that is appropriately flat and probably very true to the original presentation, for better or worse. The creepy synth score from Michael Minard is just fine, as is the annoying theme song :"Fall Break", this one is right up there with "Everybody But You" from Night Train to Terror as far as songs you don't want stuck in your head, but end up there just the same. Optional English subtitles are provided. 

Arrow Video have once again gone way above and beyond what the movie might actually merit, just like they did with Blood Rage, and that is why we horror collector's love them. We begin with a brief iintroduction to the movie with writer-director Buddy Cooper and assistant special make-up effects artist/assistant editor Edmund Ferrell. There are also two audio commentaries, the first with director Buddy Cooper, Ferrell, co-director John Douglass and star Matt Mitler, the second with Buddy Cooper and star Ruth Martinez Tutterow, both commentaries are moderated by Arrow Video's Ewan Cant who produced the disc. The commentaries cover a lot of ground, plenty of on-set anecdotes about the production, both commentaries are lively and informative. 

The brand-new making-of doc Fall Breakers: The Story of The Mutilator )75 Mins) features interviews with Cooper, Douglass, Ferrell, Mitler, actors Bill Hitchcock, Jack Chatham and others, telling the story of how the movie came to be, beginning with Buddy Cooper making $86,000 from a sale, and wondering what to do with the money, the choice was either invest in in a vineyard or make a movie, and I am not sure if it paid off for him or not, but I am glad he chose to make a horror film, which at the time were turning tidy profits for indie movie makers, and few were as indie as Cooper at the time.

Special make-up effects artist Mark Shostrom shows up for a 16-minute look back at his gory work on the film, which was one of his earliest paying gigs,and his first slasher movie. He recalls this being the most fun he had on set making a movie, also giving a candid account of how a few of the effects went wrong. Composer Michael Minard recalls coming onto the project, speaking a bit about how he went about create the creepy score and the theme song "Fall Break". 

More extras come by way of a five-minute alternate opening titles with The Mutilator title card, thirteen-minutes of screen tests, a selection of trailers, TV spots and radio spots, two versions of the theme song, a behind-the-scene gallery, and storyboards from the opening sequence. Separate from the disc extras there's a sleeve of reversible artwork and a collectible booklet with new and vintage writings on the movie by Arrow Video's  Edward Cant and Fangoria's Tim Ferrante - both a fantastic reads, with Cant going into detail about his love of the movie, his quest to bring it to Blu-ray and his trip to Oceana Motel in Atlantic Beach, NC to interview the cast and crew - it's a fantastic read. There are also notes about the restoration, artwork and images from the movie. 

Special Features
- Brand new 2K restoration of the unrated version from original vault materials
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
- Introduction to the film with writer-director Buddy Cooper and assistant special make-up effects artist/assistant editor Edmund Ferrell (1 Min) HD
- Audio Commentary with Cooper, Ferrell, co-director John Douglass and star Matt Mitler
- Audio Commentary with Buddy Cooper and star Ruth Martinez Tutterow
- Fall Breakers: The Story of The Mutilator – brand new feature-length documentary on the making of the splatter classic featuring interviews with Cooper, Douglass, Ferrell, Mitler, actors Bill Hitchcock, Jack Chatham and more (75 Mins) HD
- Mutilator Memories – special make-up effects artist Mark Shostrom looks back at one of his earliest projects(16 Mins) HD
- Tunes for the Dunes – composer Michael Minard reveals how The Mutilator’s unique score was created (8 Mins)
- Behind-the-Scenes Reel (17 Mins)
- Screen Tests (13 Mins)
- Alternate Opening Titles (5 Mins) HD
- Fall Break Trailer (2 Mins) HD 

- Fall Break TV Spot (1 Min) HD 
- The Mutilator Trailer (2 Mins) HD 
- The Mutilator TV Spot Version A (1 Min) HD 
- The Mutilator TV Spot Version B (1 Min) HD 
- 2 Radio Spots (1 Mins) HD 
- Fall Break’ Theme Song (Original and Instrumental Versions)(4 Mins) HD
- Opening Sequence Storyboards (4 Mins) HD
- Motion Stills Gallery (9 Mins) HD
- Original Fall Break Screenplay (BD/DVD-ROM content)
- Reversible Sleeve featuring two original artworks

Like Arrow Video's sweet release of slasher rarity Blood Rage before it I have no problem saying that The Mutilator is not a top-tier slasher, but I am someone who loves the lower-end of cinema, and this one is a lot of fun and the gore is bloody superb. Director Buddy Cooper set out to make "a real popcorn muncher", and he did good. Arrow Video have gone above and beyond for this one, a movie that has been a long time coming on Blu-ray, and now that it has arrived all I can say is that it is even better than I could have anticipated.