Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #533
Also known as Fall Break
Number of Views: Three
Release Date: January 4, 1985
Sub-Genre: Eighties Slasher
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 86 minutes
Director: Buddy Cooper, John S. Douglass (co-director)
Producer: Buddy Cooper
Screenplay: Buddy Cooper
Special Effects: Mark Shostrom, Anthony Showe
Cinematography: Peter Schnall
Score: Michael Minard
Editing: Stephen Mack
Studio: OK Productions
Distributor: Ocean King Releasing
Stars: Matt Mitler, Ruth Martinez, Bill Hitchcock, Connie Rogers, Morey Lampley, Frances Raines, Jack Chatham, Ben Moore, Trace Cooper, Pamela Weddle Cooper
Suggested Audio Candy
Michael Minard “The Mutilator”
verb: inflict a violent and disfiguring injury on.
The horror genre really is unlike any other. Ordinarily if a film is considered as bad then there can be no redeeming it, whereas a substandard horror wears that ominous mantle like a badge of authenticity and often secures its fan base as a result of such foibles. Movies such as John Grissmer’s Blood Rage are then forgiven for any of their crimes against cinema and celebrated for the exact same crimes. Maybe us Grueheads are just an easy breed to please and, if so, then I’m very much guilty as charged. It’s not that I don’t have standards, more that said standards don’t necessarily apply with horror. Poor acting, lousy script, uninspired cinematography, gaps in logic large enough to drive an eighteen wheeler through – as long as our basic requisite for splatter is met then bring it.
Buddy Cooper’s The Mutilator knows the rules and gets by simply by living up to its name. Originally titled Fall Break, Cooper’s film was rebranded on request of the studio and appeared in early 1985, just after the whole video nasty debacle began winding down. Slasher was still alive and kicking, though starting to show signs of fatigue and the arrival of dream master Freddy Krueger on the scene was beginning to hint at a fresh direction for the genre. Cooper didn’t have lavish sets, bloated budget, or a big name cast at his disposal but he did have the ingenious tag-line “By sword, By pick, By axe, Bye bye” and the promise of plenty of gushing grue. Hilariously, only one of those weapons ever make an appearance but there is no reason to feel hard done by as pitchfork, outboard motor and gargantuan fishing gaff more than make up for any exclusions.
The Mutilator starts by setting the tone as a young Ed Jr. decides to polish his father’s rifle as a surprise birthday present, only to accidentally blow a hole through his poor mother’s yolk-sac just before pops returns home. Needless to say, Ed Sr. (Jack Chatham) is less than thrilled by the gift and introduces his boy to the palm of his hand before calmly cozying up with his wife’s cold corpse, swigging liquor, and pouring some into her lifeless mouth. If we’re looking for clues that the lift doesn’t travel to the top floor, then this one is something of a tell-tale sign. While father and son become estranged as a result of his son’s kind gesture, it’s pretty much business as usual for Ed Sr. in the years that follow as life goes on in such circumstances after all.
“So my philosophy is, let’s have some beer.”
Fast forward to present and Ed Jr. (Matt Mitler) has well and truly put the past behind him. Along with his girlfriend Pam (Ruth Martinez) and friends Ralph (Bill Hitchcock), Sue (Connie Rogers), Mike (Morey Lampley) and Linda (Frances Raines) he is at a loose end with fall break approaching so, when he receives a call from dad to request that he help close up his beachfront condo for the winter, it’s time for a good old-fashioned road trip. Cue the customary cringeworthy montage accompanied by a suitably screwball eighties pop song, and we have ourselves six lambs all set for the slaughter. On their arrival, they engage in the usual Blind Man’s Bluff and Monopoly shenanigans, blissfully unaware that daddy dearest is catching up on his afternoon nap in the basement below and ready to begin grinding his medieval axe.
“That’s strange. My dad’s battle-axe is missing.”
Cooper doesn’t bolt the gate and, instead, plays the patient game as we get on first name basis with our disposable teens. Actually, there’s little to learn about these nonentities and far more to be gleaned about Ed Sr. A keen fisherman and trophy hunter, he possesses a competitive streak as wide as Sherman Klump’s gastric band and, judging by the amount of empty beer bottles strewn around, something of a drinking problem which explains the need for afternoon Siesta. Eventually it is time for the group to do what teens traditionally do in such scenarios: disband and head off for a dash promiscuous sex and moonlight skinning dipping. Time for our titular terrorizer to live up to his name and, to his credit, mutilation is very much on the menu.
The kills are where it’s really at and Cooper’s film comes good on its oath with some real doozies. Each dispatch is preceded by a fair few minutes of build-up and pays off in style. Of course, The Mutilator being the gift that keeps on giving, there is more going on here than the grue. My case in point is this: one victim’s reaction to being torn asunder by the business end of a boat motor is wonderfully OTT, while another unfortunate receiving an oversized fish-hook to the vagina responds as though undergoing a simple smear test. Sometimes you just have to grab the belly laughs where you can and there are an abundance of them to be had here.
My personal standout moment comes at the close as our psycho killer is ripped in half by an automobile and still finds time to suddenly burst back to life with a piss-guzzling grin and take one last opportunist hack with his trusty battle-axe. Presumably, he’s just relieved to no longer suffer from the gout in his left leg due to all that excessive drinking. Jokes aside however, it has a real ominous tone to it and Cooper can never be accused of not trying his best to create an atmosphere.
Let’s be honest – The Mutilator is, in no way, a good film. However in slasher, where being considered inept is little more than a term of endearment, it gets by just fine. Hell, any slasher film with the cojones to dedicate its end credit sequence to outtakes deserves kudos for self-awareness. Cooper got lucky here as a sudden $86k windfall left him with the option of either investing in a vineyard or shooting a movie. I like a glass of red wine like the next man but I like slasher movies more and they don’t leave you with a banging headache the following morning. This one may not be vintage and, indeed, thirty years of being stored at room temperature don’t appear to have matured it any. But it is honest and has the very best of intentions to come good on its title so you can’t say fairer than that.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 6/10
Grue Factor: 4/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: There may not have been much in the way of available resources but Mark Shostrom deserves great credit for his gruesome creations. We have planks of driftwood thrust through cheekbones, heads rolling, pitchforks plunged through throats, legs chopped away at the knee, chests sliced wide open by outboard motors and fishing gaffs thrust into abdomens. There’s even a dash of good old-fashioned T&A thrown in for good measure. How could I even dream of being too harsh on a movie that ticks all of the slasher boxes?
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
© Copyright: Rivers of Grue™ Shadow Spark Publishing™