Elite Entertainment presents
"I tell you what. Ever since I arrived in this damn town it's been nothin' but insanity. I got rednecks tryin' to kill me, a dead little girl falls on me, and the doctor tells me I got a chemical reaction."- Josh (Wings Hauser)
Stars: Wings Hauser, Bo Hopkins, Jody Medford
Other Stars: Lee Montgomery, Jennifer Warren
Director: John "Bud" Cardos
MPAA Rating: R for (violence, language)
Run Time: 01h:39m:04s
Release Date: 2000-10-31
DVD ReviewMutant (a.k.a. Night Shadows) is a 1984 horror film about vacationing brothers Josh (Wings Hauser) and Mike (Lee Montgomery), who manage to annoy a pickup truck full of locals into running them off the road. Hitchhiking to the nearest town in search of a tow truck, they're picked up by Mel (Stuart Culpepper), a deceptively "simple-minded" sort who takes them a few miles and drops them off in a small, isolated town. Here, the brothers run into further trouble with the pickup gang and are advised to leave town the next morning by Sheriff Will Stewart (Bo Hopkins). They spend the night at Mrs. Mapes' boarding house, where Mike mysteriously disappears. Josh and local girl Holly (Jody Medford) attempt to locate Mike, discovering a secret chemical processing facility while Dr. Myra Tate (Jennifer Warren) investigates a strange "bug" going around amongst the residents. In the end, Josh, Holly and the Sheriff must fight off an onslaught of diseased, contagious townspeople armed with sucking hands and superhuman strength while waiting for help to arrive.
Despite its corporate eco-villains and Gigeresque DVD keepcase cover art, this is basically a zombie movie. There's no singular Mutant creature, just a bunch of rural townspeople somehow infected by toxic waste dumped at a "secret plant" nearby. Director John "Bud" Cardos' film is competent enough, with some good character performances and decent gore effects, but its plot is simultaneously overloaded and nonsensical. Bodies appear and disappear; "rednecks" froth ignorantly at the mouth and fight for no reason at all; zombies (oops) mutants who can melt their way through car windows but can be locked in a basement behind a flimsy door. While everyone seems to know about the "secret" New Era chemical facility, nobody suspects it might be doing something illegal until mutated residents start turning up—at which point, the unarmed Josh and Holly invade this "high-security" facility, knocking the bad guys into the toxic waste and escaping unscathed. Only some people who encounter the mutants are devoured or mutated themselves, the mutants' supposed sensitivity to light doesn't figure into the plot very much, and some mutants seem to mutate and die on their own while others go forth to infect others. There are some obvious continuity problems too—Josh's sweat stains undergo almost constant mutation themselves, and Holly's Uncle Jack suddenly loses significant weight when crashing through a second story window.
In fairness, the film does feature some strong set pieces—an attack by a gang of mutant schoolchildren is genuinely unsettling, and a few well-deserved death scenes are nicely handled. But Mutant overplays its hand: the first act struggles under the weight of a growing list of characters; the second is so brief as to be almost nonexistent, and the third suddenly unleashes endless streams of zombies, apparently coming from Mutant Storage somewhere, as few people have even seen a mutant until the town is suddenly overrun. It ultimately plays like "The Mutants of Hazzard", chock-full of car chases, "rednecks" and zombies, but ultimately empty-headed and contrived. Good fun in a cheesy way, but the laughs come at this surprisingly humorless film's own expense.
Rating for Style: C-
Rating for Substance: D+
|Aspect Ratio||1.85:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Elite Entertainment presents Mutant in its original 1.85:1 theatrical widescreen aspect ratio, with a solid anamorphic transfer from a very clean source print (aside from the well-worn Film Ventures International logo that precedes the film proper.) The DVD transfer is just slightly soft in a few scenes, but color and detail are solid overall and there are few distracting compression artifacts aside from frequent grain "clouding" in darker scenes, apparently due to the film stock used. Not perfect, but I can't imagine this low-budget 80's horror film looking any better than it does here.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: Mutant is presented with an effective Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround audio track. Dialogue is generally centered, but Richard Band's occasionally overblown orchestral score is well-distributed; most audio effects are in stereo and a few striking sounds emerge from the rear speakers. Dialogue is generally clear, though one scene suffers from background hum, and in general, Mutant sounds better than it ought to, given its budget and production values overall. A pleasant surprise.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Extras Review: Elite Entertainment's Mutant DVD features almost no supplements, just 14 picture-menu chapter stops and a 1.33:1 full-frame trailer in middling condition. The trailer is passably entertaining, if only because it does its best to disguise the film's derivative plotline by blaming "nature" for the film's tragic events while a narrator ambiguously intones that "its time has come" and that "mankind's most serious threat will not come from the skies." Of course, the clips make it quite clear that the film's only tangible threat consists of zombies attacking en masse, but it's an interesting marketing approach.
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsMutant is a generic Zombie Platter with more than the usual helping of plot, competently executed but far from original. Elite Entertainment's DVD features a solid audio/video transfer but few supplements. Might be a fun Halloween rental if you're willing to invite snide comments from the audience.
Dale Dobson 2000-10-12