JULY 25, 2011
Sometimes I wonder if I should stop doing “research” about the movies I watch and going through all of the bonus material, and instead just review the film on its own terms. But then I find something when doing said research that is far more interesting than the movie itself, which makes it worth the time and effort. In this case, I learned that Mutant producer Edward Montoro (who also produced Pieces and Grizzly) lost money on this movie and was also facing a messy divorce, and thus grabbed a million or so from the company safe and went into hiding, and hasn’t been seen since.
Of course by now he’s probably dead, as he was reportedly sick at the time, and dudes in hiding don’t really get the best medical care (plus after 30 years that million would be long gone; I’d think he would have surfaced by now to get care and/or a new job). But if not, he’d be about 83 today, and the strongest rumors suggest he fled to Mexico. So to my Mexican readers, if you see a weird American old dude asking for change or something, ask him if he ever produced a couple of Jaws ripoffs.
And I love that it was this movie that played a huge part in this mystery, as it’s pretty much the only notable thing about it. It played in theaters, but it feels very much like a DTV or made for cable movie that you might watch on Cinemax while waiting for their more celebrated programming to start. Incidentally, Mutant (aka Night Shadows, if you care. You shouldn’t, though) co-stars Bo Hopkins, an actor I first saw in a silly action flick called The Final Alliance, which I recorded back in 1992 or so and “accidentally” kept recording in order to get some (rather lousy) Skinemax offering that was on right after. So that was a nice bit of lame serendipity, I guess.
Another thing I learned as I was reading up on its history is that it was heavily rewritten (reportedly under Montoro’s supervision), which might explain why it doesn’t succeed as a “small town harbors a dark secret” movie or a zombie movie, tossing in elements of both without ever feeling like a cohesive (or engaging) whole. It takes far too long to get to the zombie bits, and longer still to get a scene with more than one of them. Even those scenes are botched; there’s a potentially great bit with a bunch of zombie kids in a school, but it’s over in like 30 seconds or so. By the time we get a ton of zombies on screen going after our heroes, the movie is almost over. Worse, it ends on a shitty deus ex machina, as a bunch of cops (led by Hopkins) show up out of nowhere (and at the very last second) to save the day/our heroes from certain death.
And that’s another problem – the balance between Hopkins and Wings Hauser is way too skewed in favor of Hauser. I like the guy, but he’s not really a good fit for this sort of role, and his character is a total bore – he’s a city guy who was on vacation with his brother (who dies pretty quickly) and spends most of the movie trying to find him, a not very exciting journey as we already know he’s dead. Hopkins, on the other hand, is seemingly the only resident of the town that’s not part of the evil plot to dump toxic waste into the food supply (or something along those lines; the movie was boring me so much by this point I was finding it hard to concentrate on the exposition), and also is a much more interesting actor to me. But unfortunately, he disappears for pretty much the entire third act (save the stupid final scene), leaving us with Hauser and his pretty but equally dull girlfriend.
But at least we know he liked women. Hauser’s affection for his brother bordered on creepy at times; not only does he bemoan that this was “the first time we got to be alone together in a long time”, but he also describes his brother as “cute” when inquiring about his whereabouts. I’ve never had a brother, so I dunno, maybe that’s the sort of thing you do, but either way it comes off a bit weird. Hauser also gives the girl the least passionate first kiss in movie history, now that I think about it...
Anyway, after a while I was just entertaining myself by noting the other, better movies this one was reminding me of, such as the fact that the zombies were painted up exactly like the ghouls in Carnival of Souls, which is kind of awesome. Also, they had a toxic, burning touch, sort of like The Children, but used for more than just murderous hugging. In one of the film’s few exciting bits, they press against the glass of a car window and melt it, allowing them to reach through to get their intended victim. Story-wise, it doesn’t accomplish anything that smashing the window would, but it LOOKS a lot more interesting.
Also, shockingly, Richard Band’s score is pretty good. This is one of the few films I’ve seen him compose for someone other than his brother, and I can’t help but wonder if his generic, often terrible scores for those movies are the result of him being just as bored with those movies as I am. Not that this is much better than the Demonic Toys 2s of the world, but at least it’s not a carbon copy of 29 other movies Band had already written a score for. Curious what he’d do on a studio production. But a decent score and some melting glass is not enough to recommend this thing; unless you’re a die hard Hauser fan, I’d opt for Contamination .7, another “toxic town” movie that at least has the good sense to kill old people with mutant trees.
What say you?