top

Mutant
(a.k.a. Night Shadows)
(1984)
 

Director: John "Bud" Cardos        
Cast:
Wings Hauser, Bo Hopkins, Lee Montgomery


Several hours after extroverted Josh (Hauser) and his younger and more reserved brother Mike (Montgomery) have had their car run off the road by some cretinous rednecks (while driving through an area probably not far from where the events of Baker County U.S.A. took place), they walk into the tiny village of Goodland that night. Before entering the village's bar, Mike hears a strange noise coming from a nearby alley. Curious, he looks in the alley to see what made the noise, and finds a body that has had its face seriously fried by something. This seriously freaks them out, so they go looking for the village's sheriff. Bringing the sheriff back with them to the alley, the three of them find.... now, I am sure you are thinking that the body has disappeared, right? That's what usually happens in similar situations in the movies. But to our surprise, the body is still actually there. And it's only after this that we are thrown a twist.

Also what's interesting is that although the sheriff soon becomes pissed at the brothers, we can tell he's not a hateful guy, he's just angry right now. In fact, as the movie progresses the sheriff becomes more sympathetic. Throughout Mutant, there are several more spins on standard clichés one frequently finds in horror movies. Whenever there's an example of this, it causes the viewer to sit up and pay more attention, because it sometimes means that the story then heads off in a somewhat different direction than what the viewer was expecting. Clearly, the screenwriters did put some effort into taking a fairly predictable story and trying to give the audience some surprises. Even what the audience might have seen before in countless horror movies can usually be accepted once again if these elements are well executed. And indeed, some of these familiar elements have an attractive polish to them, enough so that at the beginning of the movie there was enough promise that this was going to be a skillful rehash. Unfortunately, despite the occasional good moment that subsequently happens, the movie in general soon collapses because of a few yet vital areas that are severely botched up.

Despite the title, there isn't just one menace, and you can't really classify it as mutation. What we have here are the first Redneck Zombies to be featured in a movie, four years before the famous Troma movie of that name first hit video stores. What is the cause of this outbreak of rednecks looking more inbred than usual? Well, early on in the movie, the two brothers pass some fenced property near Goodland that has a sign out in front saying, "Property Of New Era Corporation - Research Today For A Better Tomorrow" and much later in the movie we find out - well, I think you more or less figured it out just now.

The zombies in this movie are a different kind than we usually get - they are very aggressive, move very swiftly, and they really let out loud growls. With them being so vicious, some of their attack scenes are exciting, and other scenes where the protagonists try to barricade themselves while the zombies try to pound their way in are suspenseful. It's very convenient, however, that the zombies have a weakness against light. With all the attacks happening at night or in dark rooms, it's usually extremely difficult to get a good look at the zombies, or for that matter anything else in the same scene. No doubt it's to hide what seems to be substandard makeup put on the actors playing the zombies, though it's nowhere as bad as the "makeup" used on the actors playing zombies in Night Of The Zombies (which may be the worst zombie movie of all time, by the way.)

I guess I shouldn't have been surprised by the many dark sequences in this movie. After all, the movie was released by FVI, the same studio that gave us dark movies like Don't Go In The House and The Daaaaaarkkkk, the latter also directed by Cardos. Here his direction has somewhat improved since that movie. Although the movie is obviously a low budget production, there's less sign of this than its brethren of the time. Though the night and dimly lit sequences look terrible, the daytime sequences are cleanly shot, having some polish to them, and we are taken to a number of different locations that seem to have been chosen with some care, so the movie can look a bit more expensive. Also, there some genuine atmosphere; the feeling of being stuck in the middle of nowhere in a hick village surprisingly does come across, and the sight of shabby and closed businesses on the deserted main street is a little eerie.

The acting also isn't bad. Hauser plays a goofball, yet he manages at the same time to give his wild character a likeability that gives him the right amount of sympathy without piling it on. Montgomery has made a big leap from his awful stint as a child star in 70s movies like Ben and Burnt Offerings and gives a perfectly acceptable performance. And Hopkins does well as a sympathetic sheriff who struggles with a personal problem while perplexed by the situation at hand. So with the merit this movie has, why does it fail? Well, as I mentioned before, all the horror scenes take place in an environment too dark to see properly. We go to see a horror movie so we can see horror sequences, so this movie almost becomes a drama because we can't properly see this horror. (Incidentally, from what can be seen, it appears that we wouldn't have seen much, if any, blood or gore had there been more lighting, making it a mystery why this got an R rating.)

But here is also a second problem. The movie takes its sweet time, taking forever to get to both explaining what we early on guessed, and start delivering some serious zombie action. We have to wait until the last third of the movie before the movie gets down to business. Before this happens, we have to wade through countless scenes that are either not necessary to the plot (such as when the two brothers have a long and pointless conversation before they bed down for the night) or play out twice as long as it should play out (such as when the sheriff visits the doctor with a sample of goop for her to test.) To say that Mutant is a whole bunch of nothing actually isn't much of an exaggeration. While the movie never really gets annoying, most viewers will probably start to wonder why they are bothering to watch the whole thing. The only people I can see getting their money's worth from this movie are the most die-hard zombie fans, and aspiring editors - as an example as to what not to do.

Check for availability on Amazon (VHS)
Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)

See also: Baker County, U.S.A., Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, Nightmare At Noon

homeindexgenree-mail