The Mutilator (1984) – By Roger Carpenter


After years of holding onto my treasured bootleg DVD of The Mutilator, poor picture quality, pan and scan and all, I am ecstatic that this gem of a film has finally been released on Blu-Ray. Not only Blu-Ray, but pristine, high definition, remastered and fully uncut Blu-Ray. Horror fans around the world, rejoice! And, if that weren’t enough, because it’s an Arrow Video release, it comes with hours of special features, including tons of interviews, a discussion of the rating controversy, and two audio commentaries. Thank you, Arrow Video!

I remember when I was 17 taking my girlfriend and another couple for a midafternoon matinee of the unrated version of The Mutilator. Even at that tender age I was already a dyed-in-the-wool horror aficionado, and the mid- to late-eighties was a great time to come of age as tons of films were being released (or re-released) unrated. Basket Case. When the Screaming Stops. Day of the Dead. Zombie. Pieces. Night of the Zombies. The Gates of Hell. I digress…

Anyhow, I jumped at the chance to go see an unrated slasher flick, dragging my unwitting friends along for the hideous, heinous ride. I remember, other than our foursome, there was only one other small group in attendance, none of whom were pleased with what they were seeing. When the infamous gaff scene came along, the other group literally crawled out of the theater on their hands and knees, one of them vomiting on the way out (for the record, The Gates of Hell and The Final Conflict are the only other two films I’ve attended that caused people to vomit). If you don’t know the scene to which I am referring—or you don’t know what a gaff is (hint: a fishing tool), all I can tell you is to simply watch this amazing film.

I fell in love with the film immediately, hokey intro song notwithstanding (the original title of the film was “Fall Break” and the credit sequence with the “Fall Break” song was retained even with the title change). Already slasher films were getting cut to ribbons by the MPAA in the midst of bad publicity and parental pickets, and big-time studios such as Paramount—home to the Friday the 13th series—had to maintain R ratings or face financial disaster. So by 1984 the slasher films being produced were generally bloodless and had ceased being fun. But bless director Buddy Cooper’s big heart for bucking the system (probably a system with which he was unfamiliar at the time) and pressing for an unrated release for The Mutilator.

Ed is a college student who is estranged from his father. He is just beginning a dull fall break when he receives a strange call from his father who asks him to drive to their beach house and lock up for the season. Ed is surrounded by his friends when he calls so immediately his buddies latch on to this fortuitous opportunity for one last road trip to the beach before it becomes too cold to swim. Little does Ed know that by allowing his friends to ride along, he is dooming them all to violent deaths. His father, who never came to terms for little Ed’s accidental shooting of his mother and Big Ed’s wife, has finally decided it’s time to avenge his loss. While Big Ed isn’t expecting so many people crashing the party, he certainly is up to the task of offing them with the various fishing implements that are stored at the beach house.

Now, lest you think I’ve totally gone off the deep end and spoiled the film for the viewer, I have not. This is all set up within the first few minutes of the film. There is the standard flashback whereby the viewer is filled in on the family tragedy that broke the father and son apart. There is the fact that the beach house door was left open and, amid the numerous empty bottles of beer and hard liquor Big Ed had been drinking, Big Ed’s prized battle axe is discovered missing from the place of honor above the living room couch. Oh, and it is also established that Big Ed was a successful fisherman and big game hunter, with several heads mounted on the wall and pictures throughout the house of his kills…including the accidental death of a “friend” who had fallen into the water and been run over by the outboard motor. Why would Big Ed keep a picture of this particular “kill?” As Little Ed tells his group of friends, Big Ed used to say, “The only animal I’ve never hunted was man.” So, we get it. Big Ed is the killer. No masked murderers, no gloved hands, no mystery. So why even make the film if we know from the beginning who the murderer is? The answer: violence. Glorious violence! Blood! Gore! Grue! See: someone killed by outboard motor to the chest! See someone’s head split in half by machete! See drownings! Dismemberments! Being crushed to death between a car and a concrete wall! Oh, and don’t forget that gaff….

Seriously, this movie exists for one reason only, and that is to showcase Mark Shostrom’s makeup effects. And they are excellent effects, during a time when effects were practical, not CGI. There hadn’t been this much blood in a slasher flick since Savini created effects for Maniac (1980). So the writing isn’t great. The acting ranges from average to just plain bad. And that hokey front-end song…God, it’s awful! But this is a testament to low-budget filmmaking. Buddy Cooper had always wanted to be in film. He came across some money and, naively, thought it would be enough to make a film. Thankfully, through sheer pig-headedness, persistence, and a lot of connections who brought their friends, this $300,000 opus (Cooper had started with $86,000) was seen through to the end.
So, sit back and enjoy. You won’t be thrilled at the mystery. You won’t be shocked at the twist ending. But you’ll laugh. You’ll have fun. And, if you enjoy your slasher films with buckets of the red stuff, then you will love this film!

And because Arrow Films knows how to put out a video, this combo BD + DVD includes hours of extras along with the aforementioned audio commentaries. There are original screen tests of the actors as well as a behind-the-scenes reel, along with television spots and original trailers. An alternate opening title sequence is also included. There are also several interviews, including one with Mark Shostrom on the effects for the film as well as an interview with Michael Minard on the creating the music for the film. Additionally there is a feature-length documentary about the making of the film that includes practically the entire cast and crew. It is a fascinating and really fun journey back in time and shows just how naïve but serious this group of North Carolinians were. Oh, and in case you actually LIKE the opening tune, Arrow has provided us with the complete song and the instrumental version for your listening pleasure.

A fabulous release of a forgotten slasher gem, discover the Mutilator for the first time or, if you are familiar with the film, purchase this Blu-Ray and see the film as it was meant to be seen—in glorious, uncut, widescreen. Thanks, Arrow!

If you are interested in purchasing this disc, you can go to