As Buddy Cooper tells it, being the writer of a movie review column for his local newspaper in North Carolina allowed the lawyer/motel manager/aspiring filmmaker to see and enjoy many of the films that made up the 1980s slasher boom. He knew the style, he knew the formula, and with a report saying that 30% of all movie tickets purchased in the United States were for horror movies, he gathered together some cash and embarked on making his own entry in the slasher subgenre.
Cooper’s slasher The Mutilator was developed and filmed under the title Fall Break, with Cooper keeping the possibility in mind that he might someday make a sequel that he could call Spring Break. The title change to the much more striking Mutilator was made for marketing purposes in post-production.
Many slashers open with a scene set in the past that establishes the reason for the killings to follow. The Mutilator features one of the most tragic: a little boy named Ed Jr. wants to please his father on his birthday, and since Big Ed is a trophy hunter who likes to boast that he has hunted “everything but man”, the little boy decides that his dad would really like to come home to find that his son has cleaned all of his hunting rifles. Unfortunately, one of the guns accidentally goes off as Ed Jr. is cleaning it, the shot striking and killing his mother, who was in the kitchen preparing Big Ed’s cake.
When Big Ed comes home, he suffers a mental break when he sees his wife’s dead body on the floor, and it’s clear that he’s not going to be forgiving to his son for this accident. Rather than comforting Ed Jr., he beats him.
Ed Jr. had a rough childhood being raised by his father, but the movie then jumps forward to find that he has made it to adulthood without any obvious ill effects, he’s now a college student with a good group of friends. It’s time for their fall break (Thanksgiving vacation) from school, and Ed Jr. and his pals don’t have any solid plans for how to spend their time off.
A phone call from Big Ed provides them with an appealing option. Big Ed wants Ed Jr. to go to his oceanfront condo and close it up for the winter. Shut off the water and electricity, put some antifreeze in the plumbing. Ed Jr.’s friends see this as an opportunity to spend their fall break partying at an oceanfront condo.
The shooting location for the condo was in one of four oceanfront duplexes Cooper had built next to the motel he runs. Since he owned that property and had control over the motel next door, this gave him a lot of freedom in filming and the motel gave his cast and crew a place to stay during production.
Ed Jr., his virginal girlfriend Pam, and their friends Mike, Linda, Ralph, and Sue arrive at the condo and settle into vacation party mode, not knowing that Big Ed is at the condo himself, hiding, waiting, dreaming of killing his son and finally avenging the death of his wife. Big Ed only intended to kill Ed Jr., but he certainly doesn’t hesitate to start picking off the rest of the group. This is finally his chance to hunt man, and he proves to be quite capable at it.
The story Cooper crafted is as simplistic and standard slasher as it gets, it’s not breaking any new ground, it’s simply attempting to give its audience another version of a scenario they’ve probably already seen and enjoyed before.
This was a low budget production, and that is very clear in the finished film. Cooper had originally set aside $84,000 to make the movie but blew threw that in the first week of filming, with costs ballooning to $450,000 by the time it was all done. It is hard to judge how the look of the film turned out, since it’s only available on low grade VHS copies, but on that format most of the movie does look exceptionally low quality. There is one beautiful sequence set in a tented swimming pool. It’d be interesting to see how the movie looks upgraded to DVD, but unfortunately the materials don’t exist to make that upgrade possible.
So The Mutilator isn’t going to give you an original story or interesting characters, it’s not that great to look at, but what it does have going for it is that it’s a slasher with some spectacular, gruesome kills.
The special effects done for the kills look incredible, made all the more impressive by the low budget look of the movie around them. The kills shocked me, “They could afford to do that?” A person gets mauled with an outboard motor; a cop played by Ben Moore of “The Godfather of Gore” H.G. Lewis’s 1964 film Two Thousand Maniacs! gets a machete jammed in his face and his head cut off with a battle axe; a pitchfork is put to use; an unlucky sap is cut in half; a girl is stuck with a fishing gaffe (a huge hook) in the most horrific way imaginable.
The Mutilator doesn’t have a whole lot to offer, but it does supply its viewers with a straightforward slasher that features some jaw-dropping acts of violence, and for this type of movie, that’s really all it needed to bring to the table. If you’re a fan of slashers from the 1980s, The Mutilator is definitely one to catch.