Sunday, March 6, 2016

Mutilations (1987)

Directed by:
Lawrence Thomas

Here's an ultra low-budget regional production made for peanuts in Tulsa, Oklahoma that managed to get a VHS release. The distributor was the hitherto unknown label Baron Video Distribution Limited, which was formed in, you guessed it, Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1990, the same year the tape was released. In other words, Baron Video was likely formed for the sole purpose of issuing this particular movie. On the Oklahoma Secretary of State's website, the company is given a suspension status for having “... not complied with Oklahoma tax requirements.” Uh oh. 

Extremely dopey Plainsfield University astronomy professor Jim McFarland (Al Baker), who speaks all of his long-winded dialogue in bits and pieces with long pauses in between as if he's trying to remember his lines, and his secretary / assistant Ann Bennett (Katherine Hutson) take six students out into a field to look at the stars. While they're gazing, a red, glowing, meteor-like object passes overhead. Said meteor is actually a spaceship with vicious alien creatures aboard. One of them comes out of the ship and uses its three-clawed hand to mash in the face of a drunk bum after he reads a newspaper story on cattle mutilations in the area. The next day in class, the professor tries to link the possibility of alien life to the bible (“Even the prophet Ezekiel had his encounter with the Wheel of Light!”) and suggests to his students they “... contemplate on the existence of life... elsewhere in the vastness of space... remembering that there's always room for more concepts... in this area of speculation.”

Jim, who plans on dedicating the rest of his life to proving aliens exist, and Ann take six lucky students; Jerry (Richard Taylor), Libby (Shelly Creel), Roger (Matthew Hixenbaugh), Fran (Jackie Shook), Eugene (William Jerrick) and Connie (Pamela Michaels), to a small farming community outside of the city called Berry Hill to investigate “strange aerial sightings.” The entire town has been on edge because of burnt-out patches on the ground as well as frequent instances of cattle being “...slaughtered, mutilated... and... HALF EATEN?!” On their way to the town, our heroes get out of their van long enough to bear witness to the death throes of a skinned Claymation cow. From there, they're chased down the road by a toy spaceship until they arrive at a diner. Stopping in for a bite to eat (one of the girls passes on a burger considering what she's just seen), they get additional information from unfriendly diner owner Buck (Bill Buckner) and redneck farmer Charley (Harvey Shell), whose two dogs were among the many animal victims.

The professor is pointed in the direction of a man named Oliver Matson (John Bliss), who claims to have had frequent encounters with aliens since the 1950s. The gang go to his house and find that he's a mean, old, scar-faced, religious-fanatic hermit who lives by himself in a shack and goes on and on about being terrorized by the aliens, how no one believed him and how his nephew got him institutionalized for a spell because of it. He then takes a break from his ramblings to espouse the virtues of Mormonism and praises Joseph Smith! The alien spaceship then puts us out of our misery by crashing into the house and killing him and one of the girls. Multiple stop-motion aliens then begin attacking and killing off everyone else while a smoke machine rolls and blue, red, purple and pink lights flash. The survivors make it down into some tunnels beneath the home, where we get more of the same. I guess the highlights would include a neck squeezed by a rubber alien hand and an alien arm thrust through a woman's chest.

I admire what the people behind this one were trying to do on a tiny budget, just not the end product so much. The extremely colorful comic book approach to the lighting was a plus and there are lots of charmingly cheap special effects sprinkled throughout. Much stop motion is used in this one and it's incorporated into the live action with about the same amount of finesse as WINTERBEAST (1991). Meaning, with not much finesse at all. Still, the various effects are certainly fun to watch and these people get an A for effort for all of their home grown visuals. Fans of low-budget 80s creature feature films like The Deadly Spawn (1983) may want to give this a look regardless of what I'm about to say below...

The fatal flaw here is really with the horrendous acting and incredibly mundane dialogue (well, I'll give “Eat my biscuits, you bloodsucker!” a pass). At first I was perplexed trying to figure out just what they were shooting for. Were these people simply the worst actors they could find or were they intentionally being coached to speak all of their dialogue in a stilted, lifeless, brain-damaged, Shatner-esque constant-pause manner? The answer is probably both: Already bad actors attempting to do what already comes naturally; act poorly! It's amusing for all of five minutes but becomes tiresome very quickly. This film would have worked a lot better with sincere performances. They could still be awful for all I care, as long as they're actually trying to act.

I've seen a few defend this by claiming those who write negative reviews just don't “get it.” Now let me give my rebuttal. Just because a film has intentionally bad acting does not make it a good film. Just because a film has intentionally humdrum dialogue does not make it a good film. Just because someone has it in their mind that by making a “50s-style” sci-fi film it must contain terrible acting and awful dialogue in a “tribute” to the entire decade, does not make it a good film. Just because someone is striving to make an intentionally stupid or bad or goofy or campy movie, does not make it a good film. And just because a film has all or some of the above does not make it a cult classic. Some films are just too obvious for their own good and a piece of calculated, intentional schlock is never as endearing or fulfilling as the genuine article.

IMDb currently lists this as being released in 1986 though the copyright date is 1987 in the end credits so that's what I'm going with. It runs just 67 minutes and, despite many claims to the contrary, was shot on film, not video.

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