Certificate: 18
Running time: 99 mins
Director: John ‘Bud’ Cardos
Starring: Wings Hauser, Bo Hopkins, Jody Medford, Lee Montgomery
Genre: Horror
Format: DVD
Country: USA

What sort of Zombie film should you expect from the director of Satan’s Sadists and Kingdom of the Spiders?  Cardos’ “motorcycle maniacs on wheels” is to this day one of the true cinematic joys to come out of the ‘bikesploitation’ genre but hardly one that most people would call a classic.  Fortunately the people who watch Bud Cardos’ films rarely consider themselves most people.  Mutant [Top 100] sees brothers Mike and Josh Cameron (Montgomery and Hauser) come undone as they drive across the southern states of the U.S while on vacation.  In true hixploitation style the ‘city folk’ are not just treated with suspicion but are also forced off the road by a pickup and it’s inhabiting hillbillies leaving their car damaged and them stranded in town until they can get the local mechanic to fix their ride.  While in town the brothers discover something strange about the locals, something that’s turning them all into violent zombies.

Like the greatest exploitation films Mutant establishes its universe by relying on firm stereotypes to place the audience firmly inside the narrative.  The cool big city brothers in contrast to the small town plaid riddled locals allows for much fun to be had with the initial set up and plays into the well established ‘Deliverance mind set’ that’s been in place ever since the piggy squealed.  In doing this Cardos has been able to take him time to unveiling the narrative which is very much of the mystery variety for the first act before planting its feet firmly in the horror genre and moving forward with great confidence in it’s own ability.  The dialogue is colourful and cuts wonderfully through to the heart of the story at all times, it’s difficult to recall a film that has such entertaining dialogue throughout though at a guess it would probably belong to Jack Hill or John Waters

Montgomery’s delivery as the younger, dare I say, smart ass brother is tone perfect and his skill is evident for all.  In the delivery of one line you can absolutely be on his side yet at the same time see why the locals might take a disliking towards him.  Montgomery has a balance in his performance throughout that is masterful but at the same time entertaining, this is a Bud Cardos film after all and they must always be entertaining.  Hauser is every inch the lead, it’s a shame that so many of his future films have gone unearthed or that he never really made it to the heights which, in 1984 when Mutant was made, looked almost certain (so strong was his light).  Nevertheless his physicality is unquestionable as he leads the push for survival against an ever growing army of undead rednecks.  What he manages to do brilliantly, which doesn’t often occur in these roles, is his physical actions are never certain.  He always acts the physical with a degree of uncertainty which doesn’t go unrecognised by the audience as it’s a situation that everyone could emphasise with being outside the norm and therefore doubt would often exist.  This gives the film, and his performance as Josh, a certain reality in a world of unreality.  Similarly Bo Hopkins (as Sheriff Will Stewart) is breathtaking.  Hopkins has a quality about him that dominates the screen, he’s ever inch the tough protector without adhering to the physical idea of the role.  He might not look like the type who could save the day but tough Sheriff types like Michael Parks are cut from the shin bone belonging to Hopkins (The Wild Bunch, Midnight Express).

The cinematography of Mutant is wonderfully ambitious, it’s always great to see a film that strives to be more than what it costs to make.  It’s even better when this is achieved and Cardos pulls it off again with Mutant.  The vast sprawling landscape of the beginning of the film is quickly scaled down in the town and as the tone of the film becomes more and more menacing the director’s use of lighting effects and close ups work together to create a real sense of claustrophobia that gives the film an extra level of menace. 

Mutant is a film un-belonging to its time, in 1984 it was underappreciated and went along unnoticed by a large number of horror fans only for elements of the film to be taken on board by other directors and transplanted into their own cinematic offerings with outstanding results.  At the age of twenty seven Mutant has matured into a blood spitting adult of a film and has already spawned one out of control child in The Taint, which shares a lot of narrative ideologies.  Few Zombie films are as entertaining and surprisingly good as this one.


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