When it comes to the 1980s, the slasher genre was one of the most popular of phenomenons, with major franchises such as the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street series dominating the box office. Although with sequel after sequel, video games, and merchandising, the slasher film was descending into self-parody, but with 1984's overlooked The Mutilator (aka Fall Break), the genre proved that it still had some nasty tricks up its sleeve, because it is one of the more vicious, and mean-spirited of all the decade's stalk-and-slash outings.
As with most slasher films, there is a prior evil, where the prologue sets the tone for the rest of the movie, and the opening for Mutilator is no different: we see a woman decorating a birthday cake while a young boy named Ed is cleaning his father's gun collection as a present to him. Not knowing that the gun is loaded, he accidentally shoots his mother in the back and instantly kills her. Years later, against his better judgment, mainly due to the unhealthy relationship between him and his father, Ed and his friends decide to visit his father's condo to help clean up the place during fall vacation. This gives them the chance to let loose and have fun, but in true slasher fashion, this turns out to be a very bad idea as they are each killed off in some of the most grisly sequences in the genre's history.
Obviously the movie doesn't have a cult following because of the acting, which is unsurprisingly awkward and quite forced. However, that isn't really the case, because the gore and murders truly deliver where other slasher films wimp out. Each kill gets nastier and nastier, with two of the most gruesome moments: the death by boat motor, and the highly controversial fish hook scene. These two kills with the others in the movie are some of the best special effects that legendary makeup artist Tom Savini never designed.
As usual, the folks at Arrow have outdone themselves once again, giving the film its most proper release after years of low-quality and unsophisticated prints. In addition to the new 2k restoration, the special features are overwhelming:
- Introduction to the film with writer-director Buddy Cooper and assistant make-up effects and editor Edmund Ferrell
- Audio commentary with Cooper, Ferrell, co-director John Douglass and star Matt Milter ('Ed')
- Audio commentary with Cooper and star Ruth Martinez ('Pam')
- Fall Breakers: The Story of The Mutilator - a new documentary on the making of the film featuring interviews with Cooper, Douglass, Ferrell, actors Bill Hitchcock ('Ralph'), Jack Chatham ('Big Ed'), and more
- Mutilator Memories - special makeup effects artist Mark Shostrom discusses the film, which was one his earliest projects
- Tunes for the Dunes - composer Michael Minard talks about how the film's score was created
- Behind-the-Scenes reel
- Screen tests
- Alternate Opening titles
- Trailers and TV Spots
- 'Fall Break' Theme Song (Original and Instrumental Versions)
- Opening Sequence Storyboards
- Motion Stills Gallery
- Original Fall Break Screenplay (BD/DVD-ROM content)
Rounding out the release is a booklet featuring new essays by Ewan Cant and Tim Ferrante; and reversible cover with original artwork. This is one of the prime examples of why Arrow is considered the Criterion Collection of cult horror, scifi, and comedy releases.
Closing this review, I thought that the special features added some unusual honesty to the history of the movie's production, because everyone involved were just making a fun little gorefest. They knew that it wouldn't win any awards or accolades; they just wanted to a make a horror film, one that will now be considered quite an interesting discovery, thanks to Arrow Video. You have to respect that kind of straightforwardness.