Suburban Grindhouse Memories Presents:
By Sword, By Pick, By Axe, BYE BYE!
By Nick Cato
When you were a sophomore in high school, and a horror fan, sophomoric horror films were always a sure-fire hit. The bluntly titled THE MUTILATOR (1985) was no exception.
The audience didn’t know what to make of the opening sequence, where a young kid accidentally shoots his mother (through the kitchen wall) while he polishes his dad’s hunting rifles as part of a birthday present. Despite his good intentions, his father comes home to find his wife bleeding to death and his son standing there with a rifle. The kid manages to run away after his old man lays a beating on him, but the kid sneaks back and spies his father having a birthday drink with the mother’s corpse. Call me sick, but I laughed so loud at the absurdity of this scene a friend of mine elbowed my side, causing half of my valuable popcorn to fall onto the sticky floor.
Shot under the working title FALL BREAK, I’m assuming director Buddy Cooper changed the title when he realized his generic slasher film sounded too much like a generic teenage T&A beach movie. Either way, THE MUTILATOR’s “plot” jumps ahead to the aforementioned kid now grown up, hanging with his friends, when he gets a phone call from his father. Seems his old man wants his son (who he hasn’t spoken to in years) to help him shut down his isolated condo for the winter…and of course his son’s bored friends egg him on to do it (figuring they’ll use the place to party while they’re there).
It doesn’t take long for the body count to begin, and being we know who the killer is three minutes into the film, there are no surprises, no tension, and absolutely NO scares.
But what THE MUTILATOR does have going for it (if you’re a slasher film completist, anyway) are classic 80s gore sequences, including a guy gutted via outboard motor, some poor girl having a fishing gaff shoved into her crotch, plus various decapitations and amputations via axe, pick, and nearly anything else this kid’s crazed old man could get his hands on.
While I don’t know how this holds up on home video (I’ve only seen it once upon it’s initial 1985 theatrical release), THE MUTILATOR—for a film with such little suspense—managed to have the crowd screaming and cheering for more inventive (and graphic) kill scenes. Thinking back on it now, I’m sure if there were any psychiatrists in the audience they must’ve thought we had all flipped our lids. But at the time, this was a bloody good time for any high school horror fan.
(SPOILER ALERT!) ***
If any film had an ending that’s nearly as silly, twisted, and ridiculous as PIECES (1982), it’s the conclusion to THE MUTILATOR. After our slasher is cut in half at the waist (!), he manages to hack a policeman’s leg off with his handy axe, even though his guts are strewn all over the dirt floor. We all laughed. Some booed. But in 1985, the blood-hungry crowd still left my local suburban grindhouse oddly satisfied.
Director Buddy Cooper (who I met at a 1989 Fangoria convention in NYC) didn’t set out to break any new ground, and in fact his directing is nothing to write home about (the film also suffers from some horrendous lighting and acting). But what Buddy did was create a fun, gory slasher film that audiences were craving at the time…and while THE MUTILATOR is forgettable (except for the ending), I’m glad to have seen it in it’s prime. (There’s an “extreme uncut version” DVD available…but without a cheering, shouting, giggling audience, a home viewing can’t be half as fun…)
© Copyright 2011 by Nick Cato