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Monday, October 16, 2017

Mutant (1984) review




MUTANT aka NIGHT SHADOWS 1984

Wings Hauser (Josh Cameron), Bo Hopkins (Sheriff Stewart), Jody Medford (Holly Pierce), Lee Montgomery (Mike Cameron), Jennifer Warren (Dr. Myra Tate)

Directed by John "Bud" Cardos

The Short Version: FVI's tale of toxic horror had a similarly poisonous effect on audiences back in 1984. Starting off on a high note, the flick briefly segues into a Southern Gothic MACON COUNTY LINE (1974) thriller before returning to horror, then action horror for the final thirty minutes; there's even a surprising amount of exposition to go around, so it's a busy, fleetingly suspenseful, if unsuccessful movie. No reason is given, but toxic chemicals are being dumped into the water supply of a small town turning the inhabitants into blue-faced bloodsuckers that drain the plasma from their victims through these slits in their palms that ooze acidic green goo. It's silly fun, if slow in spots. MUTANT is reminiscent of those lower-tier 50s SciFi'ers and about as memorable.


Two brothers traveling in the south are run off the road by a truckload of rednecks. Left stranded, they find their way into a small town and immediately notice something is wrong. The townsfolk become increasingly ill, bodies turn up, and and much of the population slowly disappears without a trace. It isn't long before it's discovered a toxic chemical spill is having a deadly effect on the citizenry.


One of the last movies to be released through Film Ventures International before their bankruptcy in November of 1984, MUTANT isn't particularly memorable, but it is a decent time-waster if you don't mind your movies percolating from the B category. The reliable John "Bud" Cardos fumbles a bit considering the movie mutated from its origins; but manages to drum up some genuine suspense in a few sequences. The bulk of these come during the last 30 minutes when the action is more or less non-stop.


MUTANT begins as a straight horror picture--crossing over into MACON COUNTY LINE (1974) territory; then casually adds action sequences to the mix. There's lots of running and physicality with the title deformities once we get to see them. It's important to note that if you've only seen the promotional advertising for this movie, you may be disappointed to discover there's no mutant monsters to be found; they're actors painted blue with black circles around their eyes! Somebody must of been a fan of CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1961). Their hands have these vagina-like slits in the palms that secrete this green, acidic goo that burns anyone they touch--shades of THE CHILDREN (1980). Essentially vampires, the blood from a victims body is sucked through these palm labias. Even though the script wasn't taking any cues from Romero's flesh-eating favorites, the smell of zombie funk is in the air just the same.


Beginning life as 'Pestilence', two young writers (Michael Jones and John Kruize) fashioned a story about the military dumping toxic waste in a small town turning the population into monsters.This was back when you could submit unsolicited material and sell it. Producers Igo Kantor and Ed Montoro thought it was a good script, but changed the responsible party from the military to some local company. Another writer (Peter Orton) was brought aboard to work on it and the title was then changed to 'Night Shadows'.


Mark Rosman, a former assistant to Brian De Palma, had just come off of the stylish THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW (1983), was signed as director. While Rosman fashioned one of the best 80s slashers, he was unable to handle MUTANT--a film that began as a horror picture, but rapidly turned into action-horror. Reportedly, Rosman was having difficulties handling action sequences so John "Bud" Cardos was brought in to direct 2nd Unit before ultimately taking over as director. Rosman left a week into production. It was said to be a mutual parting of the ways.

In a Fangoria interview, star Wings Hauser nearly left the production after Rosman made his exit. But upon talking with Mr. Cardos, he became more comfortable working with him and decided to stay on. 


Ambitious, but riddled with faults, MUTANT played to empty theaters much like the increasingly desolate town in the movie. Still, it had no shortage of press back in 1984. Fangoria gave multiple coverage in two issues; it even made the cover of issue #34. The film's failure hastened FVI's bankruptcy filing in November of 1984 and eventual selling in 1985. Reportedly, FVI owner Edward L. Montoro divested one million from his company and fled. Thought to have headed for Mexico, he has never been seen again.


Had MUTANT contained some splashy gore, we possibly would've had a minor cult item instead of the forgotten obscurity it remains today. Both Kantor and Montoro were adamant about delivering a PG rating, but they got an R anyways; so this was a missed opportunity. Even more sad, with MUTANT's failure and FVI's downfall (it was sold to another company), other movies in the production pipeline fell by the wayside--such as 'The Most Dangerous Man Alive' to have starred James Ryan of KILL OR BE KILLED (1976) and KILL AND KILL AGAIN (1981); and a sequel to KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS (1977) then titled 'Deadly Encounter'. Cannon would try to get a KINGDOM sequel off the ground in the late 80s, but it didn't materialize then, either.


As for the performances, the script does make an effort towards exposition--particularly with Wings Hauser. Playing the memorable psychopath in VICE SQUAD (1982), Hauser essays the hero this time out. The rapport between him and Lee Montgomery is good as the two brothers. He really throws himself into the action scenes, too. There's no choreographer so these sequences are sloppy in places; or inadequacies are covered up with editing. If nothing else, Hauser's enthusiasm keeps things moving and you from tuning out.


Having played a crazed sheriff in A SMALL TOWN IN TEXAS (1976), Bo Hopkins has a badge once more; only now he's on the right side of the law. It's not expanded upon, but this sheriff has a bit of a backstory. Hopkins has played many memorable characters throughout his lengthy career. He's good here, but MUTANT is of minor note. In an interview with Fangoria, Hopkins enjoyed working on the picture and added some additional characterization that wasn't in the original script.

Arguably, the best hand MUTANT plays is in Richard Band's energetic, oppressively moody score. The opening cue immediately grabs your attention. Unfortunately, the score occasionally feels like it'd be a better fit in a bigger, better movie. Still, it does improve the viewing experience.


MUTANT is one of those movies you'd see on the video store shelf back in the day and pass it by dozens of times, never to rent it. Well, it's actually a pretty decent, if underwhelming movie. It's akin to many of those 50s SciFi programmers that were fillers for double bills. The cast and director are the major selling points, so it's not a toxic waste of time.

You can purchase the bluray HERE.

This review is representative of the Code Red bluray. Specs and Extras: 1080p 4K scan from original negative 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen; audio commentary with Lee Montgomery, John Cardos and Igo Kantor; interviews with Bo Hopkins and Lee Montgomery; original trailer; running time: 01:39:00

2 comments:

Steve Carroll said...

This movie was filmed right down the road from where I lived at the time in "old" downtown Norcross, GA. Everyone was all excited about "Hollywood" being just a few miles away. I don't think it ever even played at a local theater, but I did rent it back in the day. It's not a bad little horror movie and it does wear its Romero influence on it sleeve. It probably holds a dearer place in my heart than for most people. I went with some friends and located most of the locations after seeing the video. They're all pretty much within a mile or two of each other.

Francisco Gonzalez said...

It's true, just like you said, I passed by this one at the video shop thousands of times, never to rent it. But the pictures you posted make it look like a promising watch! Those mutant zombies look pretty cool. Infering from your review, this looks like the type of movie that has a lot of boring exposition, stretched to infinity to fill up running time, I hate it when movies do that.But the few moments with zombies feel like its worth a watch.

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