Mutil-vhsThe beau­ty of the VHS era was that a lit­tle hor­ror film could earn a mono­lithic rep­u­ta­tion on the strength of an effec­tive­ly craft­ed VHS box. The Mutilator was one such film, with an amaz­ing­ly lurid bit of poster art that stopped just short of out­right gore and an unfor­get­table tag line (“By axe. By sword. By pick. Bye bye.”). The film inside the box was nei­ther the best nor the worst of the ‘80s slash­er film cycle. In fact, you could say that The Mutilator plays things right down the mid­dle, going for the most pro­to­typ­i­cal exam­ple of the form pos­si­ble.

The Mutilator starts with a gag­gle of teens spend­ing their “fall break” (i.e. Thanksgiving) by head­ing to the beach for a week­end at a con­do. The catch is they have to clean it up for before they close it down for the sea­son, a job hand­ed to Ed Jr. (Matt Mitler) by his griz­zled dad. Ed Jr. is estranged from his dad because of child­hood acci­dent in which he acci­den­tal­ly shot and killed his mom while clean­ing Ed Sr.‘s shot­guns. However, he wel­comes the chance to blow off a lit­tle steam with his friends, includ­ing girl­friend-in-the-mak­ing Pam (Ruth Martinez). Unfortunately for the kids, a killer lurks in the shad­ows and said killer has a vari­ety of hunt­ing and fish­ing imple­ments avail­able to chop them up…

The Mutilator was the first and only film by Buddy Cooper, an erst­while lawyer who decid­ed to dab­ble in the slash­er form for fun and prof­it. The plot feels like it was con­struct­ed after a thor­ough study of the gen­re: you’ve got par­ty-hearty teen can­non fod­der, a trag­ic inci­dent from the past that inspires the killing spree, a vir­ginal Final Girl and a hoMutil-posst of set­pieces that use a series of exotic weapons. It deliv­ers the grue­some goods, thanks to some splat­tery FX by Mark Shostrom and Anthony Showe, but it also has some of the usu­al prob­lems of first-time film­mak­ers: earnest but wood­en act­ing, a cliché-rid­den script, rudi­men­ta­ry stag­ing of shocks and slack plac­ing.

That said, slash­er buffs might still enjoy The Mutilator for a few rea­sons. The first is its intense peri­od vibe: from the syn­th score to the prep­py cloth­ing of its pro­tag­o­nists, it is redo­lent of the ear­ly ‘80s. It’s sur­pris­ing­ly well shot for a mod­est­ly bud­get­ed indie and the Shostrom/Showe make­up effects are as good as any oth­er slash­er of the peri­od, with the high­light being a kill involv­ing a fish­ing imple­ment that remains shock­ing­ly trans­gres­sive by mod­ern stan­dards. Given that Cooper was a self-taught film­mak­er, this means the film is full of intrigu­ing quirks like all the kills being back­load­ed into the film’s sec­ond half and the odd­est the­me song in slash­er his­to­ry in “Fall Break,” a tune that sounds like a bar band ver­sion of Huey Lewis and the News.

Simply put, The Mutilator is more inter­est­ing as a piece of ‘80s slash­er nos­tal­gia than it is as a film — but the quirky, region­al style is like­ly to charm the slash­er diehards.

Mutil-bluBlu-Ray Notes: The Mutilator spent a long time in home video lim­bo after the VHS era, only get­ting a bootleg DVD release, but it has final­ly been res­cued by Arrow Films. The slash­er fan­base will love the red car­pet treat­ment it gets here. This set boasts an excel­lent trans­fer tak­en from the orig­i­nal ele­ments: the results are a dra­mat­ic improve­ment over the dark, mud­dy VHS edi­tions of this title and show off how well-shot the film actu­al­ly is. The LPCM pre­sen­ta­tion of the orig­i­nal mono mix is also sur­pris­ing­ly crisp and nice­ly bal­anced for such a sim­ple pre­sen­ta­tion.

It’s also gen­er­ous­ly load­ed with spe­cial fea­tures, all with Cooper’s promi­nent involve­ment. He pops up on two com­men­taries, one with crew that focus­es on behind-the-cam­era mat­ters while a track also involv­ing Martinez gets more into the per­for­mance side of things. There is also a 72-min­ute mak­ing-of that cov­ers the film from incep­tion to release and cult sta­tus: Cooper is quite charm­ing as he takes the view­er deep into the joys and tri­als of region­al film­mak­ing and all man­ner of cast and crew pay trib­ute to the odd­ly whole­some “let’s put on a show” approach behind the film.

80’s hor­ror fans will appre­ci­ate a chat with Mark Shostrom that cov­ers his make­up effects in detail and a sit­down with com­poser Michael Minard that cov­ers the score, includ­ing that unfor­get­table the­me song. Additional extras include audi­tion video footage, a behind-the-sce­nes reel, an alter­nate title sequence, sto­ry­boards, trail­ers for both of the film’s titles, image gal­leries and even the script in DVD-ROM form.

Full Disclosure: this review was done using a check-disc blu-ray pro­vided by Arrow Video U.S.A. The disc used for the review reflects what buy­ers will see in the fin­ished blu-ray.