Saturday, 29 September 2012

Mutant

1984, US, Directed by John Bud Cardos
Colour, Running Time: 95 minutes
Review Source: DVD, R2, Hollywood DVD; Video: 1.33:1, Audio: DD Mono

Two brothers - easy-going Josh and uptight Mike - are on a driving holiday in backwoods USA when a road rage encounter results in their car landing on the wrong side of a ditch, and the two lads having to hike to the nearest small town. The hostility continues when they arrive at the very bar that the so-called rednecks who drove them off the road are playing pool. The ensuing bar brawl ends with the sheriff driving them to a B&B before recommending that they get the car sorted out and get out of town the next morning. The sheriff is not particularly bothered about the lads' apparent discovery of a corpse near the bar either, especially when a drunken old man is found - alive - in the exact place where the body was previously discovered. Next morning Mike has gone missing; Josh heads into town and hooks up with a barmaid/schoolteacher to find out what's going on in the town as the population seems to be diminishing by the day.
Originally titled Night Shadows, Mutant kind of falls within the toxic waste/zombie sub-genre of films, though it has its own personality to an extent despite feeding off a number of well-used cliches. I don't think it's highly regarded but I personally have a soft spot for the film. Josh is a bit of a twerp (played by action man Wings Hauser) and his brother Mike is kind of a wet rag (boyish Lee Montgomery of The Midnight Hour), but they're a reasonably likable pair, particularly compared to the obnoxious film characters we often have to put up these days. As the mystery unravels it transpires that toxic waste may be transforming the local people into Carnival Of Souls lookalike ghouls, though the viewer has to forgive the writers for a number of illogical factors along the way (e.g. the unplanned but perfectly timed rescue of Josh as his last seconds approach during infiltration of the off-limits chemical plant). There are some strong supporting performances from the likes of Bo Hopkins as the believably alcoholic sheriff and Jennifer Warren as the sympathetic town doctor, plus some great set pieces. Most notably this includes a narrow escape as hordes of undead children attack the heroes during their search of the initially deserted school, a mass assault on the car that the barmaid is trapped in, and the fantastic climax as the surviving heroes hold up in a surrounded building. Unfortunately the pinnacle of the climax is a bit of a let-down, but the story is an otherwise satisfying one composed of a few thrills and a bit of fun alongside some groovy looking undead types.

The movie was notoriously mis-marketed back in the eighties. Having serendipitously discovered it via a satellite broadcast in the nineties I continued to view it using a taped recording until later when I picked it up as part of a Hollywood DVD boxed set. The company were renowned for lacklustre transfers and Mutant was no exception - which is a shame of course. After selling the set (there were too many films in there I couldn't face watching again!) I later picked up the film as a solitary release by a strangely unbranded company. Of course the Hollywood DVD logo fires up just before the film starts suggesting a direct port of the old disc. The image is soft, colours are not especially nice, but worse is the possibility that it's heavily cropped - the compositions look far too tight at the sides to me. Elite released the film in the US years ago - no doubt the best disc to pick up for this film, it boasted an anamorphic widescreen transfer with stereo sound and a trailer. This is no longer available and I fear we may never see a better release of Mutant.

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