Often it’s the production ephemera that’s more intriguing than the low budget film, and while Elite’s okay DVD (the compression is sometimes quite evident) contains no extras beyond a trailer, the recent CD release of Richard Band’s score includes a dense booklet with a compelling narrative that really should spawn a special edition of Mutant, or Night Shadows, as the film was originally titled.
Both the art campaign and the revised title clearly infer Alien transplanted to some Midwestern town, but Mutant is really just a zombie film, with people infected by neon puce goo from a nearby chemical plant. The premise makes no sense, given the chemical exposure is slowly transforming people on a cellular level to zombie-like creatures craving blood. Once they hone in on a victim, a slit in their hands opens up, dribbling a corrosive goo that burns the flesh of their dinner, and enables the absorption of blood.
Of course, if the goo is corrosive, wouldn’t it burn, if not cauterize a wound, thereby preventing any blood from seeping out and denying the fast-moving zombies their nutrients?
That was apparently a minor concern for the hack script written by a handful of crewmen/wannabe writers, as well as original director Mark Rosman (The House on Sorority Row) who was fired by producer Igo Kantor when the first week’s shooting went deadly slow. Second unit man John ‘Bud’ Cardos (Kingdom of the Spiders) took over and finished the film, and the editing manages to hide glaring differences between the Rosman and Cardos footage (shot by each director’s own cinematographer).
Mutant, though, is still not a good movie, and that may have been the real culprit in foiling much box office revenue for executive producer Edward Montoro, whose last film as a hands-on producer this was. Costing $2.5 million, it was a pricey sum for a low budget project, and the talent above and below the line is a real mixed bag, with continuity errors or abrupt edits often suggesting a filming schedule that was rushed, and a script riddled with a lot of inconsistencies.
On the plus side, the Georgia locations are excellent, and co-star Bo Hopkins invests way more subtleties than expected, making his clichéd character of an alcoholic, ex-big city cop traumatized by the death of the town doctor/ex-lover (Jennifer Warren) work within the overall dumbness to which he has to react.
Wings Hauser plays his goofball character with an increasing level of gravitas, and the approach sometimes transcends maudlin scenes of tragedy, like a bizarre, trapdoor death of the brother (Lee Montgomery, from Ben) whom he convinced should tag along on a fun-filled southern road trip.
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The script does offer some surprising deaths, and even kids aren’t safe from the chemically induced zombification process, but the direction of their assault in a school washroom is lame and made very silly by pasty and overlit skin and facial makeup.
The film’s best scene is the most simple: Hauser leaves the film’s babe (Chained Heat’s Jody Medford) alone in the car, while a thick mist slowly obscures her vision, setting up a sudden assault of zombies. The mist effects cleverly ratchet the tension, but the babe’s limited mental skills ensures she’s incapable of starting the car herself and driving off with Hauser once the danger becomes physical. This is a notable moment of stupidity because a short time earlier, she rescues Hauser from corporate chemical villains by driving the same car through a barn door like a professional stuntwoman.
Mutant has its share of unintentional laughs and ridiculous contrivances, but it’s a B-movie whose appeal is highly subjective: fans will either enjoy the local atmosphere that adds to this strange, dumb zombie riff, or find the whole thing a wan, dull mess.
Prior to Mutant, director Cardos also replaced the original director (Tobe Hooper) of The Dark (1979) for producers Kantor and Montoro.
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan