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Appalling gore fails to daunt film audiences

October 16, 1985

Imagine this: It's a sunny holiday afternoon in autumn. Birds sing. Teenagers lounge on Haulover Beach. Joggers trot through the Grove.

Yet in a dark downtown theater, redolent of foul hot dogs, more than 40 people are watching one of the most abominable movies of all time.

The film is called The Mutilator. Its profoundly repugnant newspaper advertisement features a gleaming marlin gaff and promises: "By sword. By ax. By pick. Bye bye."

I have not come to review this motion picture, but rather the audience. I anticipate a cavalcade of geeks, troglodytes and sociopathswho else would pay $2.50 to watch a bunch of dumb white college kids get hacked into corned beef?

But a quick survey before the action starts offers these demographics: A well-dressed young couple, sharing Polaroid snapshots; a moody guy in a dingy tank top, girlfriend on his lap; several teenagers, slightly rowdy but too muscular to rebuke; up front, an entire family, including a 6-year-old, a toddler and a nursing infant.

And, of course, sitting by himself: the obligatory strange pale man with the baggy pants and bucket of popcorn. You know the one.

The film begins, and even before the opening credits there is a gruesome killing that would send most normal folks scurrying for the door or the restrooms. Not this buncha true gore corps.

The titles flash: The Mutilator. "Written and directed by Buddy Cooper." Enough said.

Then the actors, none of whose names are remotely familiar (aliases, no doubt).

Then: "Special appearance by Ben Moore."

Who the heck is Ben Moore? No one seems to know, but instinct suggests that he plays the title role.

The plot unfolds:

A group of boisterous, beer-guzzling college kids talks a pal into crashing Dad's beachfront townhouse for the weekend. The father happens to be a demented lunatic who sleeps under some gardening tools in the garage and has a respiratory disorder so severe that his breathing can be heard all the way to Seattle.

Beyond this, The Mutilator follows the identical script of Friday the Thirteenth, Halloween and all other teen slasher movies:

1. The Trampy Co-Ed is the first to die, but only after the mandatory semi-nude swimming scene.

2. The Dumb Blond Jock is the next to be mangled.

3. The Goofy Comic-Relief Guy is third on the menu (and the only character whose mutilation seems to sadden the audience).

4. Next is the Concerned Cop, who gets beheaded.

5. Then there's quite a tedious Stalking Sequence, with lots of bad camera work and bass violas.

6. The climax is the tired old Car-Won't-Start-Scene, with Mr. Mutilator clumsily hacking his way through the convertible top.

7. Finally the killer is gored, stabbed, burned and run over by the young collegiate heroine, who is (I swear) a self-proclaimed virgin and proud of it. She also is a master of kung fu, as any Southern California virgin must be.

During all this carnage I expect raucous outbursts from the crowd, but the theater is reverently quiet, as if we are watching Olivier do Hamlet.

According to my notes, the only audible exclamation comes during the decapitation scene when a man in the back row cries, "Oh s!" Which pretty much sums up my sentiments, too.

Sitting one row ahead of me is a handsome gray-haired woman with an embroidered shopping bag. She watches the entire film silently, without a murmur or a flinch. In fact, she is sitting so still that I begin to worry that she might have passed away during the marlin-gaff scene.

But, moments after the final mutilation, the old woman bolts for the exit, understandably eager to escape before the house lights come on. I catch up with her and ask what she thought of The Mutilator.

She smiles and says, "It's incredible, yes?"

Oh yes.

On the beach, reality doesn take a vacation August 9, 1985 | Kick Ass: Selected Columns of Carl Hiaasen | Crowd gripped by "real" crime drama April 12, 1986