Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Census Bloodbath: Mutilate Me, Daddy

Year: 1984
Director: Buddy Cooper
Cast: Matt Mitler, Ruth Martinez, Bill Hitchcock
Run Time: 1 hour 26 minutes

Plot: The Mutilator follows six bored college students on Fall Break deciding to visit the beachside condo owned by Big Ed (Jack Chatham). The group contains three couples: Ed Jr. (Matt Mitler), a horndog who loves bragging about all his father's hunting trophies perhaps as a blind for his obvious daddy issues, and Pam (Ruth Martinez), a Virgin Who Notices Things Are Slightly Off who just might have a chance at surviving this movie if you catch my drift; Ralph (Bill Hitchcock), a horndog and the resident prankster, and Sue (Connie Rogers), a living breathing woman; and Mike (Morey Lampley) a horndog who loves sex and in his spare time has sex, and Linda (Frances Raines of the same year's Disconnected), who gets along with Mike because they share a keen interest in sex.

Little do they know, but Big Ed harbors a grudge against his son for this one time when he was a kid and he accidentally shot his mother in the back on his father's birthday (it's a long story). He is lurking in the garage and ready to take the first opportunity to use his cornucopia of hunting equipment to turn these lithe young bodies into pincushions.

Analysis: When it comes to slasher films, there are classics like Friday the 13th, Halloween, and Psycho. You know, things even babies have heard of. But once you start to skim the surface of the genre, there is a whole B-tier of what you might call "in-the-know classics." Movies that have a huge reputation, even if it doesn't spread beyond the sphere of horror fans. Things like Sleepaway Camp or The Burning or Slaughter High. The Mutilator is the very last one of those films that I had yet to see, and it's entirely appropriate that it holds that distinction, because I now realize it is the last gasp of the slasher genre as it existed in the early '80s.

Just one month after the release of The Mutilator, A Nightmare on Elm Street would swoop in and resurrect the genre wholesale after it had begun to peter out in late 1983. This, plus the rise of video stores, would send the slasher careening into its Silver Age, but things look a lot different beyond that point, largely because of all the Freddy clones and more supernatural storylines that began popping up around every corner. The Mutilator doesn't know about this and is firmly looking back, planting its flag as a dyed-in-the-wool, meat and potatoes slasher. It has everything: the traumatic event from a decade ago, the annoying virgin who gets to live, the kids partying in an unwelcoming locale, the wide variety of edged weapons... It's even unusually tidy in its presentation of the formula, with an exceptionally easy to parse slate of meat divided evenly into three couples without many extra characters to fiddle around with.

That alone makes The Mutilator go down real smooth. This is a very good thing, because there is plenty to dislike about the film. It boasts a lot of the same flaws as the early classics it emulates, only with an even more threadbare approach to filmmaking. The "kids having fun" sequence, for one thing, is exhausting and spins its wheels for what feels like an entire evening presented in real time as the characters resolutely refuse to just go to bed and chase down their whims like a walk on the beach, a game of Blind Man's Bluff, a peculiar bit of foreplay involving bobbing up and down in a swimming pool that nearly rivals Madman for maddening horny aquatic nonsense, and - oh - maybe just a little more unpacking while we're at it. It doesn't help that this stretch of the film features the most Morey Lampley, and his wooden, booming line deliveries that sound like someone taught a hollow tree to speak and asked it to do an impression of Patrick Star.

The filmmaking is also aggressively mediocre, in ways that even Mr. Sean "just let that flashlight bob in the middle of the black screen for three minutes" S. Cunningham managed to avoid. They clearly learned how to build tension from an IKEA instruction manual, and the lack of mystery around the killer doesn't help. He's just this middle-aged white dude who is visible the whole time. Also, in a transparent effort to hide the seams in the effects, the filmmakers have rendered many of them completely illegible, either keeping the important information exactly out of frame, shredding it to pieces in editing, or drowning it in murky shadow sometimes to the point that even the weapon being used is difficult to parse. 

People will tell you that the film's most memorable kill is its nastiest one - in which a woman gets a giant fishing hook inserted where the sun don't shine. However, in addition to being immensely sleazy in a way the film doesn't really commit to elsewhere, it's one of the most befuddlingly presented sequences in the film, making it difficult to actually parse out what's going on other than the fact that it's fucking gross. Luckily, the other kills in the third act are as a whole cleaner, more legible, and more excitingly conceived (to contrast: the very first body count kill is a drowning that is 1) boring and 2) presented in needless slow motion).

There are kills that I think are better (see Best Kill below for more info, but I am a sucker for a pitchfork) and nasty moments that I think are more effective (see: the dream sequence involving multiple extremely graphic child murders), so that's nice at least. There are also only pleasures that come from the film's soundtrack, including the original song "Fall Break" which is the most lyrically inane and delightful piece of music this side of "The Best Times (Of Our Lives)" from Killer Party. There is also a genuinely terrific moment where the composer incorporates a minor key rendition of "Happy Birthday" to underscore a tragic sequence. 

So, all in all, it's a balance. While there was enough that was frustrating in The Mutilator to prevent me from declaring it a new all-time favorite, it was certainly a breath of fresh air in this run of particularly off-kilter slashers that we have been getting at this point in 1984.

Killer: Big Ed (Jack Chatham)
Final Girl: Pam (Ruth Martinez)
Best Kill: After Pam rams Big Ed into a wall of cinderblocks, she backs up the car to reveal that he has been halved as his torso bloodily separates from the rest of him.
Sign of the Times: I don't think a single person in this film escapes having a sweater wrapped around their shoulders at one point or another.
Scariest Moment: Ralph goes walking on the beach wearing shoes.
Weirdest Moment: At one point, Mike flirts with Linda by undressing her using a pair of pliers.
Champion Dialogue: "Lightning is not one of my favorite things."
Body Count: 7
    1. Ed's Mother is shot in the back.
    2. Linda is drowned in a swimming pool.
    3. Mike is has a running boat motor inserted into his gut.
    4. Cop has a fencepost jammed into his face and is then decapitated with a battle axe.
    5. Ralph is stabbed in the neck with a pitchfork.
    6. Sue is stabbed in the groin with a fishing gaff, then decapitated with a battle axe.
    7. Big Ed is slammed into a wall with a car, resulting in him being cut in half.
TL;DR: The Mutilator is reassuringly formulaic, though it only infrequently does much to earn that goodwill.
Rating: 7/10
Word Count: 1284

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