I find myself very much conflicted about where to land on the mid 80s by-the-books slasher The Mutilator. That kind of indecision seems to be appropriate for the film’s tone, though, which is hilariously at war with itself, maybe even intentionally so. After a brutally cold introduction in which a young boy accidentally shoots his mother dead, The Mutilator switches to the schmaltziest sitcom music imaginable as the same kid, now college age, vacations to the beach with a group of friends. There’s an interesting, even amusing clash in those two tones, the horrifically violent & the lightheartedly goofy, that makes The Mutilator at the very least memorable despite its adherence to every known slasher trope. The problem is that only one side of that divide is at all interesting to watch and it ain’t the snappy dialogue between the college age victims.
Like with most slashers, there’s no real mystery to who’s killing off these beer-swilling knuckleheads one by one. The little boy who accidentally commits matricide on his father’s birthday (while cleaning the dad’s guns as a present) is responsible for driving his old man homicidally insane. Before the teen slaying begins, the old man fantasizes about shooting, slashing, and axing the young child down in his dreams, which is usually a place even the most brutal of horror films won’t dare to go. The brutality only deepens form there, as The Mutilator tries to justify its existence in the variety & viciousness of its kills. Characters are destroyed by chainsaws, pitchforks, battle axes, and fence boards, then hung out to dry on meat hooks like gigantic fish waiting to be gutted. The film even boasts one of the nastiest kills I’ve ever seen on celluloid, one involving a woman’s genitals and a gigantic fish hook, which is where I imagine it got saddled with an X rating. Unfortunately, the stretches between those kills are brutal in their own way, as they’re desperately devoid of any entertainment value, a hopelessly dull exercise in treading water (sometimes literally so).
The Mutilator’s comedic failure is in mistaking a funny joke for someone making a funny face while saying anything. The most amusing the film ever gets is in its musical cues, like an early motif during the matricide intro that includes the saddest version of the “Happy Birthday” song imaginable. There’s also a titular “Fall Break” theme song meant to match the film’s original title, Fall Break. It’s too bad that the acting in this film is unbearably awful, with line readings like “Jeez, would you look at all this shit,” that make John Waters dialogue seem subtle by comparison. The brutality of The Mutilator’s gore and the frivolity of its pop music soundtrack make it fascinating as a novelty, but it’s too boring for too many lengthy stretches to justify a recommendation. I’m not at all shocked to learn that this is filmmaker Buddy Cooper’s sole feature, but I do think he managed to make something that could at the very least be called a memorable oddity. This is the exact kind of slasher fodder that would’ve inspired the dumb horror movies I was watching as a teen, particularly I Know What You Did Last Summer, but that context isn’t going to hold the same personal significance for everyone tuning in. For most folks, I’d suggest seeking out The Mutilator’s vicious kills through a YouTube highlight reel or a curated .gif set. That’s all most people will remember from the film anyway, as they are strikingly brutal.