So far in this blog I have reviewed modern films, all from the 2000s onwards, and I have bitched vigorously about them all, lashing out at the acting, writing, direction etc. I am also guilty of comparing these newbies to the classics in the genre, wittering on about the good old days and being so generally misanthropic about the state of modern horror that I should probably be mainlining in Worthers Originals and Cream Sherry. Rose tinted glasses maybe, but I didn’t see any of the slasher films I hold in such reverence (Halloween, Black Christmas, Friday 13th, Nightmare On Elm Street, Fright Night and so on) on original release, being too young (or yet to bless the world with my presence), I saw them and loved them later in life. So are horror films really more badly made these days, or am I just being a bit of nostalgia infused twat about it? So, in the interest of fairness, today I am going to look at a little known slasher film from 1985, The Mutilator. Maybe when I say ‘little known’ I am being ignorant, but when I picked it up in a 5 for £10 deal at the Tynemouth Flea Market with other titles I planned to review I had never heard of it, which I think makes a good choice for this review, as there are no rose tinted glasses involved, just the actual prescription glasses that I need to see the screen. Just as an aside, since I have researched this film I have found out there are a few different cuts of it out there, so to clarify, I watched the Vipco ‘Screamtime’ DVD release from 2002. Spoilers to follow.
The VHS Cover So Kicks The DVD’s Cover’s Arse.
So, into the great comparison, what will the opening shot tell us about horror films then vs. horror films now? Apparently, that the film makers couldn’t afford a tripod as the establishing shot of the outside of the house is as shaky as hell. Inside the shaky house, domestic bliss reigns, as Mom bakes in the kitchen. All perfectly twee and lovely. The only fly in the ointment is that she has a very stupid child. Stupid Child thinks the perfect birthday gift for his Dad would be to clean his large collection of far too easily accessible fire arms.
Whilst performing this birthday treat the Stupid Child accidentally shoots the Mom in the back, and as opposed to ringing an ambulance he ineffectually shakes her prone body until Dad comes home. Dad automatically knows his son killed Mom, not say, a robber or random mental. He slaps the Stupid Child about a bit, thinks about shooting him, then decides not to in favour of having some sexy time with his very recently deceased wife. Ok, I made that up, but the sinister music, and the way he drags her lifeless body into the living room does suggest this. Plus, he is really pretty crazy, so I wouldn’t put it past him to want to have one last shag as well. Happy Birthday Dad! Maybe just get him a pair of socks and some Lynx next year yeah?
That’s Next Year’s Christmas Card Sorted.
We cut to present day and a group of young, fresh faced idealistic college kids, discussing their plans for ‘Fall Break’ (is that even a thing?, It’s even the alternate title for the film). It actually puts one in mind of some god-awful mid 80’s sitcom, with the cheesy lines and wholesomeness, and everyone laughing at the end of every lame punch-line. Ed, our mother killer from the start who seems remarkably well adjusted, gets a phone call from his Dad. Whilst he’s talking, his girlfriend, Pam (basically a cross between Velma from Scooby Doo and any one of the perky chicks from Happy Days) takes the opportunity to gossip behind his back about his tragic past. I think we’re meant to assume this bunch are pretty tight and only one girl (even if she is his girlfriend) knew about this? Surely it would be talk of the campus? Dad wants Ed to close up his beach house for the winter, and gives him a list of bad-breaking jobs to do like shut down the water and electricity. Hardly the labours of Hercules. Ed (who, by the way, seems to be a totally different ethnicity from when he was a child, and has some magnificent chest hair) isn’t at all keen but his mates are all well up for it. ‘I’ve got a bad feeling about this’ states Ed. Well fucking du’h. Your Dad’s a crazy drunk who hates you; you really don’t think he would have any ulterior motive?
Oddly Enough, By The End Of The Film I Don’t Want To Punch ANY Of Them Square In The Face.
A steady tracking shot showing the group preparing to leave for the beach house shows they managed to track down a camera mount. (Yes, I know that’s very likely wrong terminology) After some tomfoolery the group set off, into some very blurry credits, and a kick ass song called Fall Break, so I guess Fall Break as a concept must exist. The song is great in that 1980s tragic way, like someone heard Van Morrison’s ‘Bright Side Of The Road’ and tried to meld it with some Bruce Springsteen. I make that sound fucking awesome actually, the song is not as good as that. Cue obligatory stop off at a gas station where our group do nothing to endear themselves to the locals, in fine tradition of all horror films, a tradition used to great effect in the recent Cabin In The Woods (A good example of a fine modern horror film by the way). When the song finally ends we arrive at the beach house.
The place is a state, booze bottles everywhere. Sensible Pam thinks they should call the police as the place may have been broken into and Ed informs us that conveniently there is a very rare police presence in the area. He isn’t worried, as his Father is a voracious drinker and often brings his buddies here for a sesh. You would think Ed would be more concerned, being the only member of the group who has met his crazy Dad. Dad likes hunting, and there are dead animals hanging everywhere, including a gigantic (clearly plastic) swordfish. He also liked running people over in his speedboat and keeping photos of the victim framed and in pride of place. Well, it’s important to have hobbies. Ed says it was just an accident and who are we to argue with his crazy dad? Ed is on a roll now, full of stories about his mental father, he seems oddly proud of him. Dad adds to his impressive repertoire of interests by also being a fan of stealing ancient Mayan ritualistic masks and owning battle axes, which is missing. Pam wants to report this but Ed still isn’t keen. Ed is incredibly naïve, which could be endearing if it weren’t so teeth grindingly stupid, your Dad is a drunken, very angry man who likes killing things, join the dots mate.
Keep An Eye On That Deer Head Guys, Bruce Campbell Isn’t Here To Save You If It All Goes Tits Up.
The couples all settle into the house in various ways, a lot of them involve snogging and not worrying about the irrational loon on the beach spooning his prized battle axe. He dreams about killing his son as the kids get drunk off one beer and laugh like morons. Two of the group, Mike (totally rocking the 80s George Michael hair) and Linda explore the shed/garage outside where Dad is hiding. There are lots of sharp pointy things of death around, which will probably prove handy for Dad, less so for everyone else. Our duo almost have sex, and therefore almost die, but get called away at the last second, phew. The kids have dinner and Pam doesn’t want anyone having too much unstructured fun as she has declared herself dictator and has made a chores rota. Wild. Mike and Linda go for a walk by the beach, having decided to give Dad another go at gutting them. Awful pan pipe music ensues, which segues badly into creepy tension heavy breathing music as Dad stalks them along the shoreline.
The rest of them play Monopoly, how very Friday the 13th of them, and why is it always Monopoly? It’s a boring game that lasts forever (This is no way reflective on the fact that I am really bad at it). They soon decide that I am right; it is boring and go off to find Bob and Linda, sorry Mike and Linda. They leave the doors wide open so they can’t be that bothered about a possible break in, or maniacs wielding battle axes. Mike and Linda sneak into the pool, where Mike sets the romantic mood by talking about herpes. A skinny dipping they will go. The rest of the group look for them, fooling about on the beach as they go, watched by crazy dad. All the couples in this film seem to genuinely care about each other, which is a rarity in the field.
Lots of water based flirting, as we switch between the two groups, I appreciate the film makers are building up to death and carnage but I’m starting to tap my foot in impatience over here. Linda suddenly thinks she’s in a Timotei advert, rising out of the water and flipping her hair about. And we have boobage, then, obviously death, as she is dragged under, Mike notices nothing, they do attempt to explain this with a throwaway line about excess chlorine making the water cloudy, but it still seems a little daft. Dad takes Linda out the pool, and their clothes along the way, what a joker. Mike thinks Linda is playing a prank on him, and follows the trail of clothes back to the house, bizarrely narrating events as he goes. Dad leads Mike to the garage with the clothes and I have to say that a bra has never been thrown down with more menace. Mike finds the foreboding bra of doom and heads into the garage to find Linda, thinking he is in for some fun times ahead. He is not. He opens the door and is chainsawed by crazy dad, not bad effects, although I suspect some heavy editing to this scene. Acting not so much as Mike just stands there and basically sighs as he gets carved up. Dad puts Linda and Mike in the storage closet and spikes their heads on the wooden spikes used to hold nets – I guess this answers the question Linda asked about why are they so sharp earlier, so you can skewer people on them.
The Next Time George Michael Got High And Drove Into A Shop Front It Didn’t Turn Out So Well.
Our remaining heroes are still on the beach. They run into the beach patrol man who warns them to stay safe. He is very ominous about it, even though he admits the place is a ghost town. He reports the possible break in at the beach house back to base and is swiftly murdered for his troubles. Well, not exactly swiftly, he investigates the house and grounds and is actually that rare beast, a diligent and intelligent (sort of) cop in a horror film. He gets macheted in the cheek and beheaded. Sometimes I think more cops get killed in these sorts of films than air-head bimbos.
I Reckon Him and Pamela Voorhees Are Make For Each Other.
More beach wandering, talking about, what else, sex? Pam is a virgin, a fact she never gets tired of discussing at great length. No one cares love. Turns out Pam is also a bit kick ass, when the group’s joker Ralph gets too mouthy. Apart from that, she’s a total kill joy. The group decide to play beer infused Blindman’s Bluff, which is I have to say, an original way of conveniently splitting the group up to be routinely slaughtered. Sue, Ralph’s girlfriend is ‘It’ and commences turning all the lights out and finding a good hiding place, as the others drink beer outside. Killer Dad stalks around the side of the house, watching the group as they head back inside to find Sue, who, in a giant house surely full of nooks and crannies, has chosen to hide… next to a table, behind an open bait box, eh? Pam finds her first. Ralph finds them next. This game is not very compelling to be frank. Dad continues to lurk about menacingly. Ed finds the group; I thought that scene was going to be a lot better.
They all head off to bed. Ed tries his luck with the lovely Pam but she ain’t shifting on the whole virgin bit. Ralph is having better luck and as he and Sue get down to it she remembers they haven’t locked the door. Ralph reluctantly agrees to go down and do it and, when she says seductively that there’ll be something good waiting for him when he gets back we suddenly divert into Benny Hill territory when the film speeds up and he dresses and rushes out the room to comedy music. Ralph is meant to be the obnoxious, constantly titting about guy, and he isn’t actually that obnoxious, compared to others we have seen in teen blood and guts movies. I’d even go far as to say I don’t want him to suffer very badly and then be gruesomely murderized in the next two minutes, and that rarely happens. He heads into the night to find Mike and Linda. He is also a fan of narrating what is going on, while this doesn’t bother him, the fact that he’s whispering does – ‘Why I am whispering, there’s no one else on the island’- as they keep reminding us with clunking foreshadowing. Ralph discovers the discarded clothes in the garage and prats about with some knickers for a bit, and then receives a pitchfork to the neck. Bye Ralph, considering you were the twat of the group, I didn’t actually find you that annoying. I guess crazy Dad just likes the battle axe as a comforter as he just holds it, not kills anyone with it.
Sue gets fed up with waiting for him to return and ventures outside to find him. Pam hears weird noises and, having failed to wake Ed by just gently talking to him (an almighty shove would have worked wonders) also heads out to investigate. She finds no humans but she is freaked out a stuffed hanging scarecrow that Ralph has left outside her room. And when did he do that exactly? It wasn’t there when Sue went down the stairs AFTER Ralph had left. Sue, wearing a nightdress that is positively Victorian by today’s standards, hunts for Ralph. She doesn’t find them and goes back to the house to get Ed and Pam to help. Pam wants to leave straight away and get the police but Sue convinces them to have one last look for Ralph and the other missing teens. Big mistake pet, huge. She caught by crazy dad and hooked in the vagina. I know this scene heavily befell the censors but even with what you do see (in my Vipco version), it’s still pretty grisly.
Never Go To An Amateur For Your Smear Test.
Our remaining couple, Pam and Ed find other’s bodies. They go to escape but, uh-oh, Dad is bearing down on them, in menacing silhouette, finally ready to put his battle axe to use. Instead of say, grabbing the nearest heavy and/or sharp weapon type object, of which there are plenty, mashing Dad in the head, pelting it to the car and getting the hell out of Dodge, Ed locks Pam in the closet and goes to face his dad himself. Bright boy. Dad knocks Ed out without any bother and prepares him for death. Pam leaps out to rescue her boyfriend, but all she gets him is stabbed in the leg. She finds a knife and stabs Dad in the chest. Job done, she helps Ed to the car. The car won’t start, so they chat for a bit instead of keeping at least one eye on the apparently dead villain at all times. It is therefore reasonably easy for him to sneak up on them from behind and leap on the car’s roof to axe it up. This axe is clearly Klingon battle armour or something as it slices through the car roof like butter. Our heroes flap about and scream; Dad grabs Ed’s neck and continues trying to kill him. Pam grabs the car’s lighter (the fact she has to wait for it to heat up is a nice touch). She burns Dad’s hand, which he seems to find more painful than getting stabbed in the fucking chest the way he goes on about it. He releases Ed and the car finally starts. And the sheriff shows up helpfully. But loony Dad isn’t ready to give up yet. He’s still hanging on the back of the car so Pam reverses back into the wall and kills him. ‘It’s my dad’ says Ed, all a wonder, so he’s just fucking realised? Really? Crazy dad must be related to the black knight from Monty Python as even severed in half he’s still kill happy as he slices the sheriff’s leg clean off, laughing manically all the while. Quite a cool moment actually.
Fuck It, I Probably WOULD Go For A Drink With This Guy.
To the hospital, where Ed and Pam are recovering and we hear…the sad walking away music from Incredible Hulk? Ed reassures Pam and they star out of the window like the end of Empire Strikes Back. Fin. And we get the song again. And outtakes, yay! They really love the song, as we get the instrumental as the credits for proper kick in. I love in when horror films finish with a chirpy happy song, another thing the Friday 13th sequels were good at.
This is actually, quite a fun little film. While not by any means a classic, it seems odd when this film is relegated to obscurity; many other films from the period are held in much higher regard. The characters are actually not complete dickheads down to a man. This is a group of people you could actually believe were friends. In modern horror films, the group of delectable young things are usually such utter bastards, mostly to each other, that you just could not conceive of these people being mates. Or even having any friends at all. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say I was devastated beyond all belief when any of them died, I wasn’t actively cheering the villain on. One overriding theme of other 80s horror franchises such as Friday the 13th and Nightmare On Elm Street is that the audience are usually rooting for the killer, as the ‘heroes’ are all so cardboard cut-out and unlikeable. As I mentioned before, all the couples seem to genuinely care about each other, and not just be fuck hate buddies. The characters are all a smidge beige, and other than Pam being a very vocal virgin (unless that’s meant to be a jab at ‘the virgin always survives’ aesthetic), there aren’t many actual opinions or thoughts floating about. So is it better be, at worst, faintly indifferent to the victims as opposed to filled with the loathing of a thousand suns at the very slight of them? Loathing is the stronger, more passionate response, which traditionally shows more investment in the entity, but in this case I would take the first option, as you’re more likely to notice other aspects of the film, as opposed to concentrating all your energies on wishing instant firey death on everybody. The effects are pretty good, and I believe this film had some of the gorier scenes cut before release, which is a shame. Not because I’m a gore hound, but because you would expect a high level of blood and guts from such a film, and I think this time it would have added to the film. There is a lack of suspense that you would inevitably feel when the killer is known from the very beginning, there’s no mystery there, so the film makers need to use other tactics to hold the audience’s collective interest. Jack Chatman, who plays the insane dad, gives a good performance the right side of full blown ham (although why is he listed in the credits as Jack Jnr and the son is known as Ed Jnr? How is Ed a shortened version of Jack?), and he stalks the screen menacingly enough. And I actually really like the scene at the end where he slices the cop’s leg off, it was a nice character send off. The script, while slightly clunky, is decent, as is the directing, of all the films I’ve reviewed so far, this is the only one I would gladly watch a second time, and would actually seek out the uncut version.
This Rambling Is Going On And On So Here’s Another Fucking Awesome 80s VHS Cover To Break It Up A Bit (NB: I NEED To See This Film)
And what of the grand comparison, set forth at the beginning of this review? It still goes without saying that I would take one Mutilator over a million Sickles. And while one can’t make a sweeping vote for or against the case of old slasher being better than new based on a few films, I do believe generally the old films are better. These days it seems that the makers of new films take the basic elements from the old – the stereotypical teens, the partying, the lone nut of a killer, the jump scares and gruesome deaths – and strip them of all charm, inventiveness and fun. Oh, and make them a 12 or 15 certificate. Of course there are incredibly ham-fisted 80s slasher films, but they have more going for them than the new, even if some of it is nostalgia and laughing at the crapness of it all. But I just can’t believe in 30 years time folk will be popping Hostel into whatever high tech wizardry has replaced DVDs by then and having an entertaining experience. And yes, I may as well admit that I am being snobby. I am being snobby as fuck. Some of these new films I have dismissed straight out of hand – I still haven’t seen Rob Zombie’s Halloween, and yet I do disparage it, so I am not only a snob, but a hypocritical one at that. But I just know, deep in my bones and soul, I would hate it. It would impossible for me to judge the new version on its own merits (should it have any – giving Michael Myers a tragic back story? Jaysus) as I just fucking love the original so much. So, we’ve added ‘precious’ to the list of personality traits that already contains snobby and hypocritical. At the end of the day, what do I know I guess? Not much. But in the words of whoever said that, I know what I like. And I’m sure you do as well. If you like all the new modern horror, good for you. It doesn’t stop you being wrong though (I jest, I jest). This is turning into an epic, and increasingly dull, ramble so I’ll wrap it up now. I recommend The Mutilator if you’re after a fun little 80 slasher you may have not been aware of before, and I’m chalking this one up to a win in the ‘Old Slashers Are Better’ column. If you’ve made it to the end, God bless your patience and tolerance for snobby, hypocritical, precious arseholes (who are also rubbish at maths, science, and anything to do with technology…Oh, and Monopoly). Yeah, I know you want to be me.