THE MUTILATOR is a surprisingly entertaining slasher, a sort of SAVED BY THE BELL meets FRIDAY THE 13TH – except with a little more beer. Directed by the incomparable Buddy Cooper with co-director John S. Douglass, the film is also known as FALL BREAK and contains a theme song of the same name. That extraordinary tune comes courtesy Peter Yellen and the Breakers.
THE MUTILATOR is, like SLEEPAWAY CAMP II, a lot of stupid fun. It gets excoriated for its acting, seemingly by people who take its camp nudging seriously. The characters are full of all sorts of winking, jabbing glances and sardonic interactions. They are far from the simplistic doe-eyed quarry of other slashers.
We open in the past, as a boy (Trace Cooper) shotguns his mom. It’s an accident, but that doesn’t stop the father (Jack Chatham) from blaming his son. Fast-forward and the boy, whose name is Ed (Matt Mitler), is all grown up and in college. He’s heading out for a weekend with his crew at his dad’s beachfront condo. Party on, Ed.
The group arrives at the condo and finds it in a state of disorder, which rattles the girls and invigorates the guys because bros will be bros. Ed tenderly regales the transparently bored-stiff crew with tales of his father’s hunting aptitude. This takes a menacing turn when it turns out there’s a killer on the loose. It’s no surprise who the murderer is.
Cooper’s movie straddles the line between black comedy and horror, generating several grisly slayings to offset the natural humour. The young folks want to get it on, as they always do in these movies, yet the cast recovers THE MUTILATOR from turning into an all-night caper of messy missteps. There are three couples and only one pair comes close to getting it on.
The women have power over their male counterparts. Ed’s lover Pam (Ruth Martinez) holds her man off from doing the parallel disco and basically saves the day via vehicular battering, while the goofy Ralph (Bill Hitchcock) is shut down thanks to Sue (Connie Rogers) and her unremitting need to make sure all the damn doors are locked.
The killer of THE MUTILATOR exacts what seems to be vengeance a long time coming, at least from the perspective of a troubled, probably alcoholic mind. Cooper lays out a bunch of clues, some are obvious like a shitload of empty booze bottles, and we get a clear sense for the mentality of madness before the blood soaks the canvas.
It’s easy to dismiss this as another campy slasher gone wrong, but it deserves more credit than that. THE MUTILATOR is an effective and entertaining snapshot of the best bits of 80s horror, complete with a hysterical theme song, ghastly murders, a double-cranked comic bit involving Ralph’s scurried libido, and a well-timed freeze frame or two.