Thank you for joining us for another weekly edition of Late to the Party! This week I’m pining for cooler weather (it’s hot, fight me) so I took an easy, breezy, end of summer trip to the beach with The Mutilator (aka Fall Break).
The Mutilator opens with a bang. The opening scene is perfectly set up for a big fall – a young boy cleaning his father’s rifles. Everything in you is prepared for the inevitable (particularly as the kid looks right down the barrel of the rifle he’s cleaning) but an unexpected twist makes a strong impression.
From that moment, I was intrigued. When the original theme song began, I was fully hooked.
I give you Fall Break by Peter Yellen and The Breakers. Sorry but I’m going to need to play this on a loop for the entire month of September because it’s so silly and I love it.
The film follows a group of college coeds as they make a trek to a secluded beach-side property for their fall break. The home is owned by a capable trophy hunter, Big Ed – who also happens to be the deranged father of one of the students, Ed Jr. (played by Matt Mitler).
Now, just to get something out of the way. This set design is bonkers. I love the detail of the framed photograph of a battered, bloody man that Big Ed accidentally ran over with a ski boat. Kept as a keepsake. You know, as you would.
Generally speaking, there’s a lot to discuss with The Mutilator. At face value, it’s a pretty standard 80s slasher flick, but there’s something deeply satisfying about it. Yes, a large part of that is probably the gore, but there’s actually something about the film that made me care about that group of windbreaker wearing weirdos.
The acting is of the caliber you’d expect from this fare, but the characters are endearing. Comedic relief Ralph (Bill Hitchcock) has the goofy charm of your schlockiest friend and – while he can absolutely get on your nerves – you just can’t stay mad at him.
Each character plays to their particular strengths as a horror film archetype (as films like The Cabin in the Woods have so perfectly parodied) with the sincerity of a group of young actors who found a harmonious on-set chemistry.
Evidently, the young cast would stick around between their scenes and after their final scene was completed (the film was shot in chronological order) to watch the rest of the filming and support one another. That said, these acts of comradery were apparently avoided by Morey Lampley, aka Mike, whose presence I was often baffled with.
How did he get in this movie? Was he a relatively famous athlete or something? He looks significantly older than the other students and has the personality of a bedazzled leather shoe… though his death scene did contain the most ridiculous death throes I’ve ever seen.
Unexpectedly, on more than one occasion, I found myself actually physically tense while these unsuspecting knuckleheads traipsed right outside death’s door. They were somehow completely likeable, even despite a lack of strong personality traits or any empathy-inducing personal conflicts.
I have to give a special shout-out to Pam (Ruth Martinez) for consistently making wise decisions. Without any spoilers, I do feel like the end of the film kind of sold her short. But, I guess we can’t all be Ripley.
The Mutilator creates atmosphere with its musical score in a subtle yet clever way – beyond just the opening bop that is “Fall Break”. Earlier scenes use bright, peppy, jaunty daytime tunes to echo that carefree feeling. But as soon as day turns to night and the body count is mounting, the score switches to a dark, tonal ambiance with stretched out bass chords and an ambient, guttural static. They build an unsettling soundscape that grinds away at your comfort.
As long as the characters are unaware (and why would they expect any foul play?), you never really lose that lighthearted vibe. When their situation is fully discovered and the identity of the killer is revealed, you feel that realization in the pit of your stomach. It was never a surprise reveal, but Mitler’s line delivery got to me.
Overall, I was honestly pleasantly surprised. The Mutilator was everything I wanted and more than I expected.