By Sword. By Pick. By Axe. Bye Bye.
When he was a child, Ed accidentally killed his own mother in a tragic gun cleaning accident, and ever since that fateful day, the relationship between him and his father (Big Ed, naturally) has been what one might call strained. Something else that has been strained is Big Ed’s psyche, and both reach the breaking point when Ed and his college cohorts decide to stay at Big Ed’s beachside condo over fall break. Big Ed is there, lurking in the shadows, looking to pick them all off one-by-one.
The storyline is painfully simplistic, the acting is a bit stiff, and there’s no big surprises waiting in store for the viewer. All that this movie has going for it is the kills and the special effects—and that’s fine, because both are pretty damn great. If you press play on this film expecting just an animalistic and brutal good time, you probably won’t be disappointed.
Man tries to kill teenagers, teenagers try to stay alive. As far as the story goes, that’s pretty much it. This is Slasher Plotting 101, just about as generic as it comes and with no attempt at delivering twists or surprises. There’s no myth and no mystery—Hell, we know right out of the gate that it’s Big Ed doing the slicing and dicing. All we don’t know is why. Sure, his wife was killed…but is that enough to turn someone into a crazed killer? And if so, why did he wait so long to exact his revenge on his son, and why did he murder all of his son’s friends, too? You won’t find any answers here. Let’s just assume that he woke up on the wrong side of the bed that morning.
The acting is mostly mediocre, without anyone standing out as particularly good or particularly bad. It must be said, though, that the victim characters are portrayed as actually rather likable and not nearly as obnoxious and unbearable as young people are typically presented in these sorts of films. Nothing grates on me more in horror films than when teenagers are represented solely as drunken, braying jackasses in order to get you to cheer on their deaths. THE MUTILATOR manages to sidestep this tired character trope and give us people who we, if not care for, at least don’t actively resent.
The only one here we are meant to despise is Big Ed, who is also something of a big game hunter. As evidence of his undocumented descent into madness, we are shown his collection of weapons and trophies, which includes a photograph of a man he accidentally (?) killed by running over with a boat. Having a photograph of a bloody corpse laying around the house may seem odd to you and me, but to Big Ed, it’s just another trophy, the equivalent of a stuffed moose head hanging on the wall.
It is in the grotesque handiwork of Big Ed that this movie really gets to shine. The death scenes are gloriously gruesome and really quite spectacular, even when they venture into the absurd. Ed doesn’t stick to a singular weapon, either, choosing to rotate through his arsenal. The fantastic tagline pretty much sums it up:
“By sword. By pick. By axe. Bye bye.”
The most memorable death scene is cruel and vicious, and a little difficult to watch. One of the female victims is held down while a fishing gaff is inserted into her vagina until the hook tears through her stomach. That’s a certain kind of sick that you don’t find just anywhere.
These special effects were overseen by Mark Shostrom, who also garnered similar credits on A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE (1985) and 3: DREAM WARRIORS (1987), FROM BEYOND (1986), THE SUPERNATURALS (1986), EVIL DEAD II (1987), PHANTASM II (1988) and III: LORD OF THE DEAD (1994), DEEPSTAR SIX (1989), NETHERWORLD (1992), and many others. So if the death scenes make you feel squeamish, you can thank him for that.
THE MUTILATOR was written and directed by Buddy Cooper, who has no other credits to his name, with a special assist by “co-director” John Douglass, who was brought in to tighten up the film. The boy playing Ed as a child was Trace Cooper, and his doomed mother was Pamela Weddle Cooper—both doubtlessly relations of Buddy.
Leading man Matt Mitler (Ed) also appeared in GALAXY, DEADTIME STORIES, BREEDERS (all 1986), MUTANT WAR (1988), and has lent his voice to multiple characters in animated POKÉMON series. Frances Raines (Linda) pops up in DISCONNECTED (1983), BAD GIRLS DORMITORY (1986), and was reunited with Matt Mitler in the previously-mentioned BREEDERS. The rest of the principal cast didn’t go on to any real substantial film appearances, but I have to imagine that having THE MUTILATOR appear on their résumé helps them out in any number of every day situations.
THE MUTILATOR was originally titled FALL BREAK, as the cheesy pop theme song that remains in the film can attest to. It is woefully out of place in a gory slasher film, and would work much better in a teen sex romp—which may have been the intention. The first section of the film closely resembles this genre, and if not for the opening sequence which shows the accidental death of Ed’s mother, the sudden shift in tone from breezy to sleazy would have spun your head around. It’s a shame that the opening scene wasn’t saved for a flashback a bit later in the movie to preserve the cinematic whiplash.
“Fall Break Theme” was written by Michael Minard and Arthur Resnick, and performed by Peter Yellen and the Breakers. As a composer, Minard has credits on SPECIAL EFFECTS (1984) and RETURN TO SALEM’S LOT (1987), but both his and Resnick’s pop culture credentials stretch even beyond that. Minard was once a songwriter on staff at SESAME STREET, while Resnick had a hand in crafting classic hit songs like “Under the Boardwalk” for The Drifters and “Yummy Yummy Yummy” for Ohio Express.
Interestingly, Resnick teamed with Mark Barkan and Robert Harari in 1994 to produce Scaree Tales, an album of horror songs. It featured tracks named “Vampire Baby”, “Wolf Woman of the Mall”, and “Flesh Eaters from Outer Space”, but none named after THE MUTILATOR.
Some people get a taste of success and just forget where they came from.