Wednesday, March 2, 2016


The careers of actresses Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette have had similar patterns. Both started out with some huge hits under their belts but then things slowed a bit, then stalled for each. Neither has been in a box office smash in some time. Then again when most films demand spandex and explosions that’s not any wonder. So when a drama with a bit of laughter mixed in comes along for both of them to work together on to create meaningful characters it’s a nice change of pace.

The pair star as Milly (Collette) and Jess (Barrymore), two lifelong friends since grade school. As revealed in a quick montage at the beginning of the film these two have shared everything from first kisses on. It is Milly though who is the first to marry and have kids. Jess follows a few years behind with the marriage but not the kids.

Milly and her husband Kit (Dominic Cooper) seem to have it all. Both have successful careers and the kids while predictably annoying at times are adorable. Jess and Jago (Paddy Considine) on the other had are happy living a carefree life on a boat on the Thames and working hard at trying to start that family. The two families are entwined into one another’s lives with the husbands becoming close friends as well if not quite as close as the two leads.

All of that changes when Milly discovers she has cancer. Her life suddenly turned upside down it’s an aggressive cancer that demands immediate chemotherapy. The first person she tells after a week of contemplation isn’t Kit but Jess. As we soon learn while the film unspools the characters have a set pattern. Milly is the more carefree of the two and always in need of support in some form or another. Jess is the more stable and supportive of the two. This becomes one of the dramatic points of the film as Jago gets upset with Jess putting their lives on hold to take care of Milly.

The story of Milly as cancer patient moves in stages beginning with not just the diagnosis but the results of chemo. Hair loss and fatigue plague Milly with Kit doing his best to keep up while trying to work at the same time. It is Jess who comes to her aid at the costs of her own home life. On top of that as Milly begins to deal with her possible loss of life, Jess holds back telling her the news that after fertilization treatments she is finally pregnant.

When things move from chemo to a double mastectomy Milly begins to find more ways to become dependent on her friend and less so on her husband. Difficulties resulting from a misread signal after her surgery lead Milly to the arms of someone else. While there is a great deal of sympathy to be had for the character of Milly her life choices and self-centered approach at first will turn off some viewers. But within the flaws of her character lies the humanness that we all contain.

The movie is indeed a two or three hankie film that will have some weeping and others smiling at the joy of life. Most importantly what it does is take a look at cancer and how it changes not just those suffering from the disease but those around them as well. This is not to say that Milly is overlooked to focus on the others but most films target the main character alone rather than all of those involved in their life. With the number of cases diagnosed each year it is amazing how few films have been made that are as descriptive and revealing as this one is. It will be difficult for some to watch but it should be seen. And once seen the problems of cancer should be discussed, talked about openly so that there is no misunderstandings down the road should it appear.

Both lead actresses do a great job here with Collette as Milly getting the bigger share of dramatic moments. That’s to be expected and in truth reflects her character as well, the person who takes over a room while others just enter. Barrymore plays the self-sacrificing friend well here. Her more down to earth character helps form a yin yang relationship between the two characters.

In that world I talked about up front, one with explosions and superheroes and covert ops it is nice on occasion to sit down and watch an adult drama that features a story that can be taken to heart. That this one examines something that has touched everyone on the planet and makes the difficulties of the disease and its effect on everyone is to be commended. It might seem odd to say that the movie is entertaining but a solid story with great performances even when discussing a problem like this can indeed be entertaining. Not a movie to be taken lightly but one that should be seen.

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As a college student I was there when the slasher genre began with first HALLOWEEN and then FRIDAY THE 13TH. After graduation I managed a theater where I had the chance to see a number of the subsequent low budget attempts to mind for gold in the genre released. Most were not bad but a majority of them were not worth seeking out once home video erupted. One that played in my theater did fairly decent business but nothing stupendous. I watched it one afternoon and thought it was one of the better movies to come out. After that I’d forgotten about it, another in the long list of movies that have faded from my memory.

When I heard that THE MUTILATOR was being released by Arrow Video I was excited at the news. First because I knew that Arrow would treat the movie right and secondly because I remembered it being one of the better slasher movies. Well Arrow has treated it right and my memory of how good the movie is was a correct one, perhaps better than I recalled.

The story opens with a young boy, Ed, accidentally shooting and killing his mother while polishing his father’s gun collection. The father, Big Ed, returns and blames the boy, going mad in the process. Fast forward to years later and the Ed (Matt Mitler) is now a college student as fall break approaches. Along with his friends they have no plans and are bored. When his father calls to ask him to go to their beachfront condo to lock it down for the winter, his friends are happy to go with him turning a chore into a fun weekend at the beach while on break.

As luck would have it the three couples arrive to find the place a shambles. With the place to themselves they don’t care and set about cleaning it up. Unknown to them is the fact that Big Ed is hidden in the back area of the garage, still a bit off his rocker after all these years. Knowing slasher films we know immediately that it won’t be long before Big Ed begins to attack the youngsters. That’s one of the things that sets this film apart from many others in the genre. While most had a surprise killer leading you to believe it was one person instead of the most obvious, THE MUTILATOR tells you up front who the killer is and goes forward from there.

The weekend continues and much beer is downed, hookups are planned and games are played. Of course there is a virgin among this group, one of the tried and true plot devices from the genre. And we know ahead of time that if anyone survives it will be her. What is interesting is to see who else does or doesn’t survive.

The other thing that fans of the genre always rely on is not just that people are killed but the way they are killed. Kill scenes and gore scenes can make or break a slasher picture. THE MUTILATOR delivers on all counts with some of the most gruesome kills on screen, enough so that when presented for release several scenes had to be cut first to get an R rating. Those scenes have been reinserted here for the most complete version of the film ever offered. One involving a fish gaff will leave you cringing even now 32 years after the film was first released.

What sets this film apart from many others though isn’t just the kill scenes or location. It’s the fact that the movie offers a higher quality product than many of its contemporaries offered at the time. I can remember slasher films that had some of the worst acting, some that had blood squirt out in such high pressured torrents that there was no way they could have come from the victim and some that were so intent on red herrings (false leading clues) that they ended up making no sense whatsoever. This film tells you up front who the killer is, why he’s doing it and then lets things fall where they may, or at least bodies fall where ever. The acting is better than many of those films in the genre. Perhaps not Oscar worthy but at least believable for the most part. The characters are cardboard cutouts but defined enough that you care for them. The killer is one of the most dangerous and deadly ever filmed but sympathetic because of the circumstances that brought him where he is. All of these things combined make this one of the better films in the genre and it’s great that it has been saved by Arrow Video.

If all of this weren’t enough to make this worth seeking out Arrow has done a tremendous job of putting together a fantastic version of the film AND noteworthy extras. The film is a 2K restoration using original vault materials. It has an introduction from director Buddy Cooper and assistant make-up artists/editor Edmund Ferrell. There is audio commentary tracks with Cooper, Ferrell, co-director John Douglass and star Matt Mitler as well as another audio commentary track featuring Cooper and star Ruth Martinez Tutterow. A feature length documentary on the making of the film, FALL BREAKERS: THE STORY OF THE MUTILATOR is included, FALL BREAK being the original title of the film. MUTILATOR MEMORIES, an interview with effects coordinator Mark Shostrum. TUNES FOR THE DUNES, an interview with musical composer Michael Minard. A behind the scenes reel. Screen tests. Alternate opening titles. The “Fall Break” theme song. Opening sequence storyboards. A still gallery. Even a copy of the script for the film accessible as BD/DVD-ROM content is here. Is this an amazing amount of extras for what many would consider nothing more than a slasher film or what?!?!?

After watching the movie I found myself with a smile on my face. No I’m not some ghoul who enjoys seeing young people slaughtered. But in watching the movie I was taken back to a time when theaters didn’t just flood multiscreen theaters with the same movie on half of their screens but were willing to offer at least one for little known or low budget films. A time when you could see something that was well made and entertaining without it having to be a huge blockbuster. A time when a horror movie didn’t have to feature million dollar CGI effects and yet could still make it look more realistic than those coming out today. That Arrow Video has brought this movie back from the past and made it seem like something new is an amazing feat and they should be applauded for doing so. When the Rondo Awards come out this year I’m hoping that this film is not only nominated but a big winner. It is just that good.

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When I first moved to Indiana the only theater in town was a drive-in. I spent many a summer there and was able to develop a decent movie poster collection when the owner told me he threw away those posters and I offered to take them off his hands. Among those posters was one that someone had used the back of to announce an upcoming movie but it was the actual poster that caught my eye. It was for this movie, one that had played before I was driving and able to go there with friends. I’d never heard of it but it intrigued me and friends who had seen it told me how scary it was.

It wasn’t until the VHS boom that I was finally able to see the actual film. I watched it and wasn’t all that impressed having built up my expectations based on that poster and the word of mouth on the movie. Sure it was a decent horror film but by this time I’d seen three George Romero zombie films and countless others as well. This movie lacked the fine tuning of those when it came to quality of production, screenwriting, etc.

So now the movie comes out from VCI in blu-ray format. They’ve released it earlier in standard DVD format but this was a special edition. Has it improved in the 44 years since it was first released? Truth be told, yes it has. I was surprised at how much better it seemed after all this time. Not only that but the quality of the print here, remastered by VCI for this edition, actually made a difference as well. No washed out tones, not scenes too dark to see in and sharper than before, enough so that the titles seemed to pop off the screen.

The movie is definitely 70s material with a hip acting troupe taking a small boat out to a mysterious island that director Alan (Alan Ormsby) says is haunted and filled with the dead bodies of murderers and criminals. The island does have a huge graveyard in it, one that we saw a gruesome ghoul of a creature digging in and attacking the caretaker. Alan moves his group through the wooded areas of the island, across the graveyard and to an old abandoned building that they break into.

He has brought the troupe here with the intent of raising the dead with a book of demonic spells calling upon Satan to help him. At the same time what might be his bigger objective is to insure that all members are put in their place, beholden to him for a paycheck and willing to do whatever he tells them to. Their inclusion in this ceremony is just an example of his control over their lives.

The group heads to the cemetery and digs up a grave, Alan speaks the spell in the book and…well I’ll leave that surprise for those who haven’t seen the film. Once that finishes he orders the group to take the body that was in the grave back to the house where he talks to it, ridicules it and basically tempts fate with his desecration of a corpse. Stereotypical characters surround him from the diva to the handsome lead actor to the trippy backstage assistant who seems to see something mystical in all things. Eventually all come together when the spell that Alan uttered actually raises the dead and people begin to fall under their attacks. Just who if any will survive and how they can fight this evil waits to be seen.

The first thing many should know about this film is that it was directed by Bob Clark, listed here as Benjamin Clark. If that name sounds familiar it should. Clark went on to direct the cult classic horror film BLACK CHRISTMAS, then created/directed the PORKY’S movies, the great Sherlock Holmes movie MURDER BY DECREE and eventually A CHRISTMAS STORY, that perennial favorite come Christmas time. When this film was made he was just starting out having directed only two other features by this time. What he accomplished here with a miniscule budget and an aspiring cast is quite good actually. There is some dialogue that is questionable when it comes to being believed but much of it rings true. You can actually believe that these characters are saying what was written. The hippy/trippy portions that are found might seem dated at best but there were plenty of movies using that same style of dialogue at the time.

The movie itself offers a few jump moments and actually does have some truly scary parts that will be sure to haunt the dreams of young viewers who are allowed to watch. The movie is unrated and doesn’t include any nudity but the gore effects (quite well for the time) and mentions of Satan will make this a movie parents will want to offer supervised if at all. For most it will be a harmless creature feature, one that terrified their parents years ago but might seem mild for kids these days.

This version comes along with a load of extras that will please most fans of the film as well as horror film collectors. Included are liner notes, commentary tracks featuring Alan Ormsby, Jane Daly and Anya Cronin, an alternate UK version with commentary by Alan Ormsby, a tribute to Bob Clark, a grindhouse Q&A session from a screening of the film, interviews, music videos, trailers, radio spots and more.

Look, I grew up with the drive-in as a source of entertainment with new movies twice a week. Some were the best Hollywood had to offer at the time, some were low budget films that were coming out and many of the second features were movies that were there just to offer a second film. Those movies were made by people who loved movies, who wanted to make the attempt at creating something original and who wanted to see their efforts on the big screen. That the people behind this went on to make bigger films (those noted by Clark as well as Ormsby going on to write MY BODYGUARD, CAT PEOPLE and THE SUBSTITUTE) shows that in some of the smallest films there is talent waiting to explode. That they could make a movie this good with no budget speaks volumes as well. Kudos to VCI for making sure that a movie like this isn’t lost and has received such caring treatment. If you love horror movies then this is a must have for your collection.
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