Directed By: Buddy Cooper, John Douglass
Starring: Matt Mitler, Ruth Martinez, Bill Hitchcock
Tag line: "Their horrifying vacation was no day at the beach!"
Trivia: The car featured in the movie was sold shortly after production wrapped... and wrecked by the new owner about three days later
"Fall Break", a catchy little tune performed by Peter Yellen and the Breakers, plays over the opening credits of this 1984 movie. In fact, Fall Break was one of the film’s original titles, and for a fair portion of its runtime the movie feels like a teen comedy / romance about three college-aged couples spending a weekend at the beach. But by the time it’s over, you will understand why the title was changed to The Mutilator!
After a brief flashback in which young Ed Jr. (Trace Cooper) accidentally shoots his mother with a shotgun, inciting the wrath of his father, Big Ed (Jack Chatham), The Mutilator jumps ahead several years, with Ed Jr. (now played by Matt Mitler) hanging out at a bar with his girlfriend Pam (Ruth Martinez) and buddies Ralph (Bill Hitchcock), Linda (Frances Raines) and Mike (Morey Lampley).
Suddenly, out of the blue, Ed receives a call from his estranged, now-alcoholic father, who asks him to drive out to the family’s beachside condo and lock it up for the winter. Having made no other plans for their fall break, the group, joined by Ralph’s girlfriend Sue (Connie Rogers), decides to turn Ed Jr’s chore into a weekend getaway. With plenty of beer in tow, the six arrive at the house, and by the looks of it will have the place, and indeed the entire beach, to themselves. But Ed’s drunken father is still lurking nearby, and hasn’t forgotten what his son did all those years ago…
At the outset, The Mutilator plays like a teen rom-com, with a gang of twentysomethings enjoying each other’s company at a beachside house. Ralph is the prankster of the group, and his antics (though sometimes tiresome) are responsible for a lot of the movie’s early laughs. In addition, there are a few cozy walks on the beach (accompanied by romantic music), and the six friends even pass the time by playing a few games (including Monopoly).
The frivolity comes to an end, however, when Mike and Linda go for a swim in a nearby pool, leading to the first of several tense scenes (the most nail-biting sequence, though, comes a short time later when a character, who moments earlier was safely tucked away in bed, searches the garage for some of his missing friends). The acting isn’t anything to write home about, yet we do become invested in these characters, and hope they’ll somehow make it out of this terrible situation alive (of course, being an ‘80s slasher, we know not all of them will).
The kill scenes are mostly impressive, with weapons that range from a chainsaw to a sharpened wooden stake (which, in my opinion, is one of the movie’s best effects, though it’s immediately followed by one of its weakest). Yet the most violent kills in The Mutilator occur in the film's final minutes, with make-up and special effects that are both very realistic and incredibly hard to watch.
Mark Shostrom (who also worked on such horror classics as Evil Dead 2 and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors) delivers Tom Savini-quality gore throughout The Mutilator, and in so doing helped make it one of the decade’s better low-budget slasher flicks.