Even if it was the ‘Golden Era’ of the slasher, not every slasher title released in the 1980s found an audience. Before the slasher franchise cycles kicked into effect and a Friday the 13th or Elm Street sequel released every year, micro-budgeted slashers still snuck into theaters. By the late 80s, the direct-to-video market offered a new venue from low-grade knockoffs. Now streaming platforms like Tubi and Shudder let new and older horror fans alike re-discover these lost ‘classics’. One of the more obscure 80s slashers, The Mutilator, has achieved a bit of cult classic status among genre fans.
When he was just a young boy, Ed Jr. accidentally killed his mother while cleaning his father’s hunting rifle. Finding his wife dead pushed ‘Big Ed’ over the edge. Years later, Ed Jr. is a college student looking for something to do with his friends over the fall break. When his father calls to ask him to close up their family beach condo ahead of the winter, Ed Jr. decides it’s the perfect party weekend getaway for his friends. But Big Ed hasn’t forgotten that awful family tragedy – and he’s waiting to finally take revenge on the son he still blames.
The Mutilator a Tonally Weird B-Slasher That Knows What Fans Want
Despite its release right in the middle of the 80s slasher craze, The Mutilator looks like the kind of micro-budgeted Grade Z movie that proceeded the Friday the 13th sequel cycle. This is a purely derivative schlockfest that offers nothing new except unintentional laughs. Originally titled Fall Break, its opening scene channels exploitation fare like Pieces and The Driller Killer. But writer and director Buddy Cooper (along with co-director, John S. Douglass) inexplicably switches the tone to 80s teen romantic comedy. There’s even an upbeat pop song – conveniently titled Fall Break – accompanying the opening credits. Everything about the movie’s story structure feels textbook even in 1984 including its cheap synth score. When the Fall Break song returns for a cheery closing credits montage complete with some outtakes it’s almost like you watched a completely different movie.
This is a fairly well-paced B-movie that knows exactly why you’re watching – a body count with some impressive practical gore effects.
But Cooper gets something right and, as a result, The Mutilator is a pretty watchable slasher. This is a fairly well-paced B-movie that knows exactly why you’re watching – a body count with some impressive practical gore effects. No, Tom Savini (Friday the 13th, Maniac, Alone in the Dark) isn’t the effects man behind the carnage. But The Mutilator’s death scenes recalls some of Savini’s best works. Though the killer himself is visually unimaginative, Big Ed dispatches of characters with a boat motor, a flounder gig, and a battle-axe. In the slasher’s most gruesome scene, Big Ed guts one character with a fishing gaff in a manner that feels like it could have influenced a certain scene from Terrifer.
The Mutilator Features a Forgettable Killer, Forgettable Performances
There’s not much to say about the cast and characters. If you’ve only watched a handful of slasher movies you know the characters and learning their names will have no impact on your enjoyment of this one. Cooper’s characters are cookie cutouts of familiar tropes. Two characters venture off on their own to go skinny dipping. We have the Final Girl who won’t have sex with her boyfriend on the weekend getaway. And there’s also the practical joker. None of the performances are remotely good. Fortunately, most of the cast at least aren’t too wooden. Nonetheless, Morey Lampley’s dramatic response when his character is attacked with a boat motor is hilariously over-the-top.
No catchy mask, no elaborate costume – Big Ed is a pretty forgettable slasher antagonist. And it feels like a missed opportunity.
It’s too bad the slasher’s killer, Big Ed, is so middle-of-the-road for most of the movie. No catchy mask, no elaborate costume – Big Ed is a pretty forgettable slasher antagonist. And it feels like a missed opportunity. The opening scene and Big Ed’s immediate descent into madness upon discovering his dead wife promises some later scene-chewing. But Cooper makes us wait to the climax before he lets actor Jack Chatham go a bit off the rails. Watching the actor chuckle with his dying breath after his body is severed at the torso is the kind of splatter silliness that could have pushed this one higher up on the slasher food chain.
The Mutilator Almost Defines Cult Classic
No one is ever going to confuse The Mutilator with good horror movies. Everything about this obscure 80s slasher screams cheap B-movie. Its story is derivative and uninspired, often bordering on nonsensical. All of the performances are weak with some approaching high camp. But The Mutilator gives slasher fans enough of what they want – several inspired, graphic kills. And that turns out to be just enough to justify watching this one to the end. Eighties horror fans should love it – everyone else should just take a pass.