"The Mutilator"/"Fall Break" (1984) Review
So, I want clear up the title of this review real quick. This is a review for one movie. It just so happens that it has two titles, and both feel like they're worth writing into the headline here. It illustrates the dissonance that the film operates on and should give you a pretty good idea of where this movie is headed before I even describe the plot (and if you need anything else to help you out with the plot, just keep in mind that this movie came out in the mid-1980s and you can take some stabs in the dark to figure out the rest).
If you guessed "a slasher film involving college students on their fall break," you're right on the money. The Mutilator (I'm just going to roll with this title for the rest of the review from here on out) has a pretty standard story to tell, but manages to find some odd niches to fill during its runtime. The tragic backstory of the film's killer is the most unique part about it to be sure, but even after a shockingly bizarre prologue, the movie manages to pull some more surprises out of its sleeve. They're not really good surprises most of the time, but they're always interesting.
The prologue shows a young boy named Ed Jr. cleaning his father's gun collection (Big Ed) on the father's birthday. But the birthday celebration turns for the worst when the gun goes off and kills Ed Jr.'s mother. It causes an immediate psychotic break for Big Ed, who barely manages to not to beat his kid into submission.
Years later, Ed Jr. is in college and doing just fine. He's actually the most socially well-adjusted character in the movie, all things considered. He, his girlfriend, and four other friends, don't have anything to do for their Fall break, but Ed Jr. has to take care of Big Ed's beach front condo. His friends see an opportunity for a party, and they all whole-heartedly go for it. Unbeknownst to them is the fact that Big Ed is waking up from a raging hangover in the garage and the noise sends him over the edge to finally start a murder spree.
I'm not kidding. Loud asshole college kids waking up a guy from his hangover leads to nearly all of them being brutally murdered. It's a flimsy premise, but it ends up being an excuse for some of the most brutal kills in the slasher genre. Some of them are as simple as a pitchfork or a drowning, others involve boat motors and giant fish hooks. Oh, and Big Ed's signature battle axe.
You didn't read that last part wrong. For some reason, an alcoholic hunter has a battle axe just hanging around his beach front condo, and boy does he get around to using it.
I'll freely admit that The Mutilator isn't a particularly innovative horror film, especially in the litany of 1980s slasher film (would it surprise you if I told you that a couple wanders off to skinny dip?). But these films were rarely if ever meant to be judged as high-grade pieces of technical filmmaking or character driven mastery. They were about the kills, and The Mutilator has a few murders in it that are absolutely brutal beyond words. The one with the giant fish hook in particular is so genuinely disturbing that it feels like it belongs in a completely different movie.
But none of the kills are as stunningly absurd as the film's final kill. I don't usually say stuff like this, but it's really worth sitting through the entire movie to get to The Mutilator's final act of violence. Don't just look it up on YouTube either, it's about the experience of sitting through the entire movie up to that point that makes the end of The Mutilator truly bizarre. I'll leave one hint here: I know slasher films always have the moment where the killer gets back up after everyone thinks he's dead, but this movie takes it to the next level.
As far as horror schlock goes, The Mutilator isn't even a super remarkable entry in that pantheon, but it has just enough insanity to recommend it to horror enthusiasts. Again, just like the last movie I reviewed though, this is not the horror schlock film that's going to convert you over if you're not into this stuff.