Sometimes slasher films fail to live up to their titles – The Toolbox Murders, The Driller Killer, Nail Gun Massacre and countless others were nothing more than yawn-inducing drivel. Buddy Cooper’s 1985 no budget schlock The Mutilator may be devoid of character, plausibility and tension, but one thing it does boast are a variety of truly inventive gruesome kills. Released at a time when interest in the genre had begun to dry up, Cooper’s one and only directorial effort lacked the style of Halloween, the personality of Friday the 13th and the attractive cast of countless other slashers, but had a cruel streak a mile wide and enough blood and guts to satisfy most gore hounds. For one reason or another, The Mutilator remains one of the more obscure offerings of the early eighties.
As a sweet gesture for his father’s birthday, Ed Jr. (Trace Cooper) decides to polish his rifle collection before he returns home. Leaving a sign by the cabinet that reads ‘Happy Birthday Daddy, All Cleaned By ME!’, he takes the first one out and starts to clean it with a cloth, whilst his mother (Pamela Weddle Cooper) prepares a cake in the kitchen next door. Unfortunately, the father has left the rifle loaded and when Ed aims the gun and jokingly pulls the trigger, the bullets fires through the wall and bursts through his mother’s stomach, killing her instantly. Rushing into the kitchen, he sees his father (Jack Chatham) arriving home, and moments later he enters the house to find his wife dead and his guilty son standing over the body. Outraged, his father beats him and the grabs his gun but Ed quickly runs away. Dragging his wife into the lounge, he rests her down next to his chair and then shares a birthday toast with her, whilst Ed secretly watches from the hallway as police sirens grow louder.
Years later and Ed (Matt Mitler) has grown up into a levelheaded and respectable adult. Starting the fall break with no idea of how to entertain himself, he spends his day drinking at his local bar with his best friends – Pam (Ruth Martinez), Ralph (Bill Hitchcock), Sue (Connie Rogers), Linda (Frances Raines) and Mike (Morey Lampley). Complaining how they have nothing to do, Pam reminds him that she had been suggesting different ideas how they could spend their vacation since September. The phone rings at the bar and Ed is informed that the call is for him. He is given a message to call his father at a phone booth, whilst Pam tells their friends about the accident that happened when he was a child. He returns to the table and complains to everyone that his father is having another drunk spell and has asked if he will close up his condo for the winter for him. Sensing a possible adventure and a chance to visit the beach, his friends suggest that they all go for the break.
They eventually arrive at the isolated house to discover countless empty liquor bottles have been left lying around and one of his hunting weapons, a battle axe, has disappeared. Pam suggests that they call the police, believing that someone has ransacked the house, but Ed says that he will find a phone in the morning to call his father. As the kids explore the property, dad lies drunk with his weapon as he fantasizes about killing his son. Mike and Linda wander into the tool shed to find a selection of bizarre fishing and hunting equipment, whilst father watches on from the shadows. Later, they go for a swim in an indoor pool, when Linda is attacked and dragged from pool. Realizing that his clothes are missing, Mike heads outside, where he is gutted by a boat motor. The friends soon become concerned by their disappearance and are eventually hunted down and dispatched by a variety of weapons.
The Mutilator certainly does not rank as one of the better slashers. It is poorly lit, the direction is uninspired and the script, whilst trying a few new ideas, fails to provide anything unique. The characters sadly lack any kind of individuality or sympathy, each providing to simply exist for the purpose of being killed off later. The acting is laughable and Mike’s death in particular is comical due to Lampley’s ridiculous performance as he is being disemboweled. Ed proves to be the most realized character, with his childhood trauma providing an interesting back-story. Predictably, saving the day eventually falls to the final girl, and Martinez lacks any kind of charisma. The cast is also rather dull and ordinary looking for a slasher, rivaling The Dorm That Dripped Blood for the most generic actors to ever grace the genre.
But where The Mutilator does score major points is the kills. Cooper managed to conjure up an array of original and tasteless deaths, from one girl being impaled in the groin by a fishing gaff to a boy being stabbed through the throat by a pitchfork and then lifted off his feet. The villain receives a suitably grizzly end when he is chopped in half, his guts spilling out onto the floor whilst he is still alive. Despite this gruesome fate, he still manages to hack off the leg of a cop (John Bode) with his axe. All in all, whilst it may not be the most satisfying of slashers, Cooper deserves praise for adding such sadistic kills into his movie, whilst the special effects (courtesy of Mark Shostrom, who would work on A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge’s impressive transformation scene the same year) steal the show. The Mutilator is a sick and twisted little gem and one that every slasher fan should enjoy.