Mutant (aka Night Shadows) [DVD]
Screenplay : Peter Z. Orton, Michael Jones, and John C. Kruize (story by Michael Jones and John C. Kruize)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1984
Stars : Wings Hauser (Josh Cameron), Bo Hopkins (Sheriff Will Stewart), Jody Medford (Holly Pierce), Lee Montgomery (Mike Cameron), Marc Clement (Albert), Cary Guffey (Billy), Jennifer Warren (Dr. Myra Tate), Danny Nelson (Jack), Mary Nell Santacroce (Mrs. Mapes)
Mutant is a mutant itself, a cross-bred horror film that is moderately successful in mixing some of the most overworked genres of the '70s and '80s, including redneck thrillers, the zombie flick, and what horror critic Kim Newman has termed "the toxic waste movie." Originally released in theaters under the title Night Shadows, Mutant is part Deliverance (1972) and part Night of the Living Dead (1968). In a fast-paced 100 minutes, it packs in as many threats as possible, from homicidal hillbillies to blood-crazed zombies, all of which is wrapped up in paranoia about ecological disaster.
The movie opens with two brothers in their 20s, Josh (Wings Hauser) and Mike (Lee Montogomery), driving down a rural country road in an unnamed Southern state. Their '68 Camaro and Walkman headphones immediately code them as being from the city, which does not sit well with an angry local named Albert (Marc Clement) and his band of cronies who use their pickup to drive Josh and Mike off the road and into a ditch.
Seeking a tow truck, Josh and Mike end up in the tiny, seemingly deserted town of Goodland, where strange things are afoot. They discover a dead body that then disappears when they go to find the sheriff, an alcoholic refugee from the city named Will Stewart (Bo Hopkins). The next day, things only get stranger as Mike disappears in the boarding house where they spend the night, and Josh stumbles upon a corporate conspiracy that involves the ironically named New Era Corporation dumping chemical wastes nearby, a practice that is turning the townsfolk into vampiric zombies with acid blood. Teamed with Holly Pierce (Jody Medford), the local barmaid/school teacher, Josh searches for his brother while simultaneously fending off increasing hoards of ashen-faced zombies.
As that simple description makes clear, Mutant is hardly a film teeming with originality. The plot is almost absurdly straightforward, with nary a surprise anywhere. The movie has a fairly unrelenting nature, which includes a completely merciless stance toward children, who are often threatened in horror films, but rarely made into victims. Perhaps taking a cue from George A. Romero's turning a child zombie into the most horrific creature in Night of the Living Dead, Mutant supplies a whole army of zombie kids.
Director John "Bud" Cardos, a veteran of B-horror flicks like Kingdom of the Spiders (1977), keeps the pace quick, perhaps because he knows if he slows down, we might begin to question all the loopholes in the plot. The movie becomes increasingly strained toward the end when the script requires over and over that Josh leave Holly behind, which causes problems every time. I know, this is an expected part of the genre, but couldn't the screenwriters have at least devised dialogue for him other than "Stay here, I'll be right back"? Or at least paid lip service to the fact that, after the fourth time, Holly would catch on to the fact that every time Josh leaves her she is almost killed?
Despite the inanity of some of their characters' actions, Wings Hauser and Jody Medford, who are not particularly accomplished actors, still manage to make Josh and Holly into a sympathetic hero-heroine duo. Hauser is a particularly interesting choice in that his goofy looks are quite contrary to that of actors typically employed in low-budget horror movies. Rather, it appears that he may have been chosen for his (gasp!) acting ability. Plus, his less-than-stellar appearance grounds him as a more down-to-earth character with whom the audience can readily identify. (It is interesting to note that the actor who plays his brother looks like a Calvin Klein model, replete with a buff body that is constantly on display via his unbuttoned shirt, and he becomes a victim in the first half hour.)
Mutant competently moves through its generic material with a surprisingly limited amount of gore. There are some quick shots of people in the process of mutating into zombies, and there is one downright hilarious scene in which a determined doctor (Jennifer Warren) dictates her autopsy of a zombie girl while her assistant mutates just a few feet behind her. Scenes like this let us know that Cardos is not particularly serious about the subject matter. He knows it's ridiculous and unoriginal, so he simply lets go and has fun with it. Mutant will never be included in the pantheon of great horror films, but for a low-budget Romero knock-off, it's not half-bad.
|Supplements||Original theatrical trailer|
|Since Mutant is a mid-'80s horror flick that has been mostly relegated to obscurity on video store shelves, I was not expecting much in terms of the image quality. As it turns out, Elite has done a solid job of making the film look as good as it possibly can, considering its low budget. Presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), the movie looks much better than expected. Colors are not particularly vivid, and some of the night scenes have a high level of grain. Still, the image is sharp and clear with almost no dirt or damage. A few of the sequences appear to be a little darker than they should be, but the action is always discernible, which was a constant source of complaint with earlier video versions.|
|The soundtrack, presented in Dolby Surround, is generally good. The musical score by Richard Band is nicely broken up, and some of the zombies' vocal sound effects display good imaging. Dialogue is always clear and easy to understand, and there was no hiss or distortion.|
|The only supplement included is the original theatrical trailer, which is presented in full-screen.|
©2000 James Kendrick