‘By sword, By pick, By axe, Bye bye’. So goes the tagline of Buddy Cooper’s all-but-forgotten slasher, The Mutilator, an effective subtitle for a film that can’t decide whether it’s a black comedy or straight horror, and ends up being little of either. Originally titled Fall Break, The Mutilator is framed with a prologue that sees a young boy accidentally kill his mother while playing with his father’s shotgun. The story then jumps forward in time, and while the incident drove the boy’s father to alcoholism, it has had apparently no ill effects on his son, Ed (Matt Mitler), who seems content to rack up high scores on ‘Video Machine’ with his friends. A trip to his beach house is instigated by an unexpected call from his father, who is mysteriously absent when they arrive.
The Mutilator‘s somewhat unusual approach to tone is apparent as it jumps from a graphic scene of matricide to a sub-American Pie teen vacation comedy set-up. It’s unclear what the film is aiming for here, intentional juxtaposition to emphasise the brutality, or creating a tone of black comedy, neither of which have any meaningful bearing when the kills finally start coming. Elsewhere, the young cast are hampered by a flat script that does little to differentiate its characters, a problem which is exacerbated by performances atrocious enough to make even Tommy Wiseau blush. One character, for example, in the process of being minced by a motorboat engine, is just about able to muster the emotional experience one might expect after having missed the bus to work. There’s a lot of fun to be had, though, and the amateurish nature of the entire production – a tension-breaking, laughably shot game of Blind-Man’s Buff is a particular highlight – invite genuine, if ironic, pleasure.
There is no reasonable measure by which The Mutilator could be classed as a good film, lacking the quality of a true classic like Halloween or Black Christmas, and the charm and personality of low-rent fare like My Bloody Valentine or Blood Rage. It isn’t a disaster either: some imaginative kills, a derivative but effective score, and a finale that finally manages to amp up the tension elevate The Mutilator above the level of irredeemable dreck, but unfortunately, these elements can’t save it from an also-ran mediocrity that pervades throughout. Cheap slasher fare often succeeds on the effectiveness of its gimmick: a grieving mother and her supernatural hockey mask-wearing son for example, or a killer that targets only cheerleaders, but The Mutilator lacks this crucial piece of the puzzle. It doesn’t fail on the basis its cheap-jack acting or veering tone, but it commits a sin worse than mere shoddiness: rather, it is simply bland. Christopher Machell | @MagnificenTramp