★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
A VHS box really is worth a thousand words…
Sometimes a picture’s worth a thousand words, sometimes it’s the tattered VHS box that tells that story. In the case of the Mutilator, it was the VHS box! This is a box I’ve been lovingly gazing at for the better part of 30 plus years. A little unsure what to make of the bloodied fishing gaff in the hands of a maniacal killer, but after all these years I finally decided to jump in the water and give the Mutilator a go. Concocted in 1984, this sort-of slasher didn’t disappoint — but for that matter, it wasn’t something to write home about. Kind of a video nasty. Kind of plain.
Much like the cover of the VHS cassette, this one gives it all away in the opening scene. There’s no tease, no tension, no build-up. You get the whole plot within three minutes. The film opens with a young lad (Ed) playing with his Dad’s guns and blammo — Mom accidentally gets shot and killed. Dad returns home from a hunting trip to find a dead spouse and a terrified little boy. Needless to say, Dad doesn’t take the news of the dead spouse super-well, goes a little bonkers, and well, that’s the plot.
Originally, called “Fall Break”, and weirdly, deemed to be an X-rated film by the MPAA, the Mutilator picks up years after the accidental shooting of Mom when the young boy (now a strapping teen) and his buddies put together a plan to get out of town to P-A-R-T-Y! In a rather peculiar twist, the Dad contacts Ed (who assumedly he’d been estranged from all these years) and asks him to go their family beach house and get it prepped for the winter season. Ed puts two and two together and convinces his pals that the “Fall Break” (read: not a real thing) party is going to happen on the coast in the house of his bonkers Dad.
Being a student of this schlock, I’ve come to understand the give and take of character development in the 1980s horror genre. There’s a geek, a strumpet, a hussy, a dude, a clown, a stoner, and usually a couple relatively normal and somewhat adjusted teens. The Mutilator scraps this entire formula and plainly settles for six normal teens. Not sex-addicted. Not drug crazed. Not irresponsible. Just normal. It should come as no surprise, normal teens have no business in slasher movies.
Other than the aversion to stereotyped teen tropes, the film is rather formulaic. The Dad slowly and convincing kills each of Ed’s friends. Which is not to say that Mutilator is boring. Oh no. It’s not. The killings involve some rather grisly video nasty parts – a drowning, decapitation with an ax, disembowelment by outboard motor, pitchfork to the throat, fishing gaff to the crotch, and some good ol’ head chopping. We won’t tell you how this one ends, but safe to say, it’s grisly. The body count ratchets up, the pressure builds, and only a few normal teens are left to deal with Ed’s bonkers slasher Dad.
By today’s standards Mutilator may/may not deserve the coveted X-rating, but it does contain some pretty rough stuff for 1984. There’s plenty of bootlegs, VHS, Beta, and other weird formats floating around out there. Some uncut, some edited. In fact in 2015, the company that owned the rights to films announced they had delayed the release of a crappy copy after they found a fully uncut 35mm print of the film held at the U.S. Library of Congress. Mutilator is a fun trip down memory lane, but just be careful which version you pop in to your laser disc player!