Much like Blood Rage, all Arrow Video really had to do to make slasher fans happy was put The Mutilator (aka Fall Break) on legitimate disc with a respectable transfer, and we'd be satisfied. And even if that was all they did, it would still be the best release of the film, as it never actually came out (at least in Region A) even on DVD, with fans having to settle for questionable imports or convention bootlegs for the past twenty years. But those wacky bastards decided Mutilator fans deserved better (and we do!), opting to pack the disc with so many bonus features that this article is actually over a week late because I couldn't find the time to watch them all until now. Imagine that - I DIDN'T HAVE TIME to watch everything on The Mutilator. The Friday the 13th remake is one of the highest grossing slasher films of all time and you can get through the disc in about 1/5th the time it takes to get through this barely released indie. I kind of love that.
If you haven't seen The Mutilator or at least read my previous article on it, it's a pretty basic slasher movie at first look. You have the opening scene tragedy, you have the group of teens jumping in a car to go on a weekend getaway, and you have the maniacal killer who picks them off one by one with a variety of sharp instruments - total Slasher 101 material, right? But the devil's in the details - consider that the opening tragedy involves a kid accidentally shooting his mom to death, instantly turning his father insane. Consider that the killer is that same dad, who inexplicably decides to get his revenge ten years later by making up an excuse for his son to go to their beach house and lucks out when the now teenaged lad brings a bunch of his friends along. Consider that the movie has the most upbeat title song in horror (movie?) history in "Fall Break," which sounds like the sort of thing that might accompany an advertisement for a local theme park. Add in all the other weirdo elements (including what has to be the first slasher sequence where the killer has actually fallen asleep and is woken up by his now-next victim) and you have a very peculiar, very memorable entry in the slasher canon, all the more impressive when you consider how late to the party it was (it wasn't released until January of 1985, long after the slasher well dried up).
In other words, it's not the movie you'd normally expect to see released with a full length retrospective documentary, two audio commentaries, and another hour or so of additional bonus features. Writer/producer/director Buddy Cooper never made another film (and he's not the only member of the production with that status), so he's understandably more than happy to talk about it, appearing on both commentaries and supplying Arrow with a plethora of legacy material, including his behind the scenes videos, audition tapes, etc. Nothing about any of it is particularly revelatory or even that essential to watch, but that's besides the point - this is exactly how a movie should be treated on disc. Beyond the lack of participation from a few of the actors (which is nothing new) I can't imagine any Mutilator fan walking away disappointed with this release due to all the effort and respect that went into putting it together (especially so soon after the company gave Blood Rage similar treatment).
The retrospective is the big draw and obviously the best of the extras. If you don't have time for the commentaries, don't worry - you get the bulk of the info here anyway, as it runs almost as long as the film itself and features all the commentary participants and more. Cooper, a good chunk of the cast, co-director John Douglass, and others all share plenty of anecdotes and historical info on the sub-100k production, most of which occurred in/around one hotel in North Carolina that also served as housing for the cast/crew, production office, wardrobe, FX workstation, etc. Fittingly, many of the interviews are also shot there, and the few exceptions are noticeable, in particular actor Bill Hitchcock (jokester Ralph) who wasn't mic'd as well as the others and thus the audio is a little rough. Otherwise it's really well done (more than can be said about the movie itself in spots) and features plenty of good-natured stories. There's not a lot of "dirt" exposed in its 75 minutes; we hear about the usual production problems that accompany low-budget filmmaking (which would probably be worse if first-timer Cooper wasn't smart enough to hire a seasoned crew) and the film's struggles with the MPAA are discussed*, but whenever personnel issues are alluded to, they tend to move on pretty quickly.
Ditto for the two commentaries, which naturally regurgitate some of the same information given that it's the same people who were in the documentary. We get more info on specific scenes, and the actors get to dig a little deeper in some of their choice moments, but otherwise they're not exactly must-listen tracks. Cooper is a bit hard to hear on both of them for whatever reason (his thick southern accent isn't much help to my ears), though when I can make him out he's telling a lot of the same stories anyway - the MPAA stuff, the film placing 13th on the box office chart that weekend (we have to take his word for it - the film isn't listed under either title on BoxOfficeMojo and IMDb doesn't list any box office grosses for it), the original ending where Big Ed would be dissected by a turnstile bridge instead of a car/wall combination, etc. He and the others are also either hesitant to admit their influences or live in a bubble - when the moderator asks if a swimming scene was inspired by The Burning, he inexplicably replies with an explanation of why the death scene plays differently than scripted (and the moderator just moves on). It's possible that they simply don't know much about other slashers - when the subject of increasingly gory/inventive kill scenes in slasher movies comes up on the retrospective, the guy's go-to example for early days of kill sequences is Night of the Living Dead as opposed to any actual body count movie. And, like the retrospective, no one wants to talk trash - I noticed on the retrospective how actress Frances Raines was curiously unmentioned outside of the discussion of her death scene, and when her credit comes up on screen during one of the commentaries someone says "Who is that?" and there's a nervous chuckle, but no explanation for it. It would seem there's some bad blood there (Raines is obviously not part of any of the extras), but unless I totally missed something it seems they're not at liberty to tell that story.
FX artist Mark Shostrom doesn't appear in the retrospective, but they make up for it by giving him a solo interview where he breaks down the various kill scenes. He worked with Anthony Showe on the film, with the pair apparently designing a few kills each rather than design them together, and he explains that only two in the film didn't work as planned - one his fault, the other Tony's (Shostrom was on the on-set man as Showe apparently had to return to LA after designing the work). One was Raines' death in the pool, which was supposed to involve a spear (or something similar) going through her as she swam - the mechanism they designed didn't work, which is why she is simply drowned instead. The other was the outboard motor kill, where the material they used for the dummy torso was too thick for the blade to penetrate, making it bounce off instead of slicing it up and revealing all the blood bags within (which is why the kill shows plenty of blood hitting Big Ed but the slicing is all below frame). He also talks about the film itself, saying it's better than he remembered and was one of the more fun times he had making a film. This sentiment is echoed by composer Michael Minard, who mentions that he's worked for Larry Cohen immediately before saying that his other work hasn't always been pleasant (closest thing to dirt on the disc!). He plays a bit of his score, the "Fall Break" theme, and talks about his influences behind both; it's all fine but I wish it had been worked into the retrospective, as it's not compelling enough to sustain its own standalone piece.
And it would have been nice to hear Cooper and others talk about the score, because for everyone else "music" = "Fall Break". It's a catchy tune, but you'll be mighty sick of if you go through all the bonus features in one go; in addition to Minard's interview the song is also offered twice (with or without vocals) on its own, and accompanies the credits of the retrospective. The participants sing it on the commentary, and, naturally, it plays on a loop when you're on any of the Blu-ray menus. If I never hear that goddamn song again, it'll be too soon. Storyboards for the opening scene, the alternate title sequence, and trailers (with both titles) round things out, along with the aforementioned auditions and behind the scenes footage, most of which revolves around Connie Rogers' death scene (the gaff hook) and scenes with the kid playing young Ed. Again, this was not a half-assed release by any means - when an obscure slasher flick gets a Blu-ray that will take you over seven hours to watch in its entirety (and a 2K transfer to boot), you know you've been given your money's worth - and that there will almost certainly never be any reason to double dip (cough, Evil Dead/Halloween, cough).
Needless to say, if you're a fan of the film, there's no reason not to pick this up. You couldn't possibly be "double-dipping" unless you count some VHS-transfer budget DVD you imported from Germany, and you can be guaranteed there will never be another release to top it (unless they can find the lovely Ms. Rogers for a new interview - this was her first/last movie, which is a shame). And if you've never seen it, if you appreciate offbeat slasher movies, there aren't many that top this one for peculiarities; in fact there's a shot of a 42nd Street marquee advertising a double bill of The Mutilator and Pieces (also recently treated to a jam-packed Blu-ray), and I can't think of a better slasher to pair it with - they both exist in that same little sub-cult of slasher films that qualify as certifiably insane. No slasher collection is complete without it.
*If there's one omission of note here, it's the lack of the cut kill scenes to watch for comparison. We see one or two briefly in the doc, but they're not available as a standalone option. Since the film has been out of print for decades (and the bootlegs were usually of the uncut version), it's likely most fans have never actually seen the R version - it'd be nice to know how badly the movie was neutered.
This post is sponsored by Chiller. The new original series Slasher airs at 9pm ET on Friday, March 4 on ChillerTV.