Wednesday, October 17, 2012

In short: The Mutilator (1985)

It's origin story time! A kid named Jack (Trace Cooper, soon to grow up to become Matt Mitler) accidentally kills his mother while cleaning one of the many, many guns his father (Jack Chatham) doesn't lock away. Daddy and Jack - who faults his son but not himself for what happened - become estranged, with the old man ending up an alcoholic trophy hunter. Birth of a slasher movie killer.

When Jack is in college, fall break just coming up, he gets a call from his father, who wants him to close up his house at the beach for the season. Despite misgivings about his father, off Jack goes with a bunch of friends, including his virginal girlfriend Pam (Ruth Martinez), and the usual assortment of character types which are for a change played as if they actually were friends and not just doing things together for no discernible reason. Alas, Daddy is hiding away in the house cuddling with his favourite battle axe, ready to pop out with said battle axe and various other pointy and sharp objects to finally add some choice college kid heads to his trophy collection, so this vacation isn't going to be very pleasant for the meat.

For most of its running time, The Mutilator (initially to be called "Fall Break" in keeping with its theme song and slasher movie naming traditions), the only film directed by a certain Buddy Cooper, is a perfect encapsulation of a middle of the road regional slasher, the kind of film that never strays far from the obvious genre beats, and provides its audience with decently realized kills, some moody shots of a house and a beach in the dark.

The Mutilator really is as generic a slasher as possible, not as sleazy or nasty as some (well, except for one kill very late in the proceedings), gorier as some others, not very weird (he said about a film featuring a killer mounting heads on a garage wall) yet also quite entertaining as far as these things go. The reason for the film's entertainment value for once isn't outrageousness of any kind, but the surprising competence of the filmmaking. Cooper does really know how to block scenes, with some moments even suggesting he didn't just watch Halloween but actually learned some of John Carpenter's simpler tricks. For example, there's a nice shot of the characters going to the beach at night that foreshadows doom by letting the characters seem as if they were already buried by their surroundings, and some nice moments of important things happening in the frame's background later on. The editing is on that level too, and while probably nobody will watch this and die of excitement, the film has a nice, natural flow to it that can't have been easy to achieve.

Nice and natural is also a description that fits the acting performances by the bunch of one-time actors well enough. There are no great thespian achievements here, but most everyone comes over as sympathetic enough one doesn't automatically wish them dead as early as possible. Even better, the characters of the two worst actors are killed off as soon as possible.

All in all, this is the sort of bread and butter slasher to watch when you have seen all the good films of the genre, don't want to go for a train wreck and just want to while away some time watching college kids get dismembered. Surely, we all are in that sort of mood from time to time.

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