MUTANT aka NIGHT SHADOWS: LITTLE BILLY’S PARENTS DIDN’T COME HOME TONIGHT IN THE TOWN OF GOODLAND
Some years ago, I was at a friends house making small talk with the people that were in attendance. I wound up talking to my friend’s cousin for an extended period of time about this and that as people tend to do at casual gatherings. We got to talking about movies and we soon discovered that we had something in common, we both enjoyed horror films. It is not often, at least in my experience, to come across a young lady that not only enjoys the genre but is also knowledgeable about the subject. I quickly began quizzing her trying to find the chink in her armor but I could not find one. She knew her stuff. She knew her stuff so well that she stumped me with a movie I had not seen and I thought I had seen them all. She discribed the film and it sounded like something I should have seen. Sometimes it is nice to be surprised especially when it comes film. Now having seen the movie, I have to say that that young lady was right. The movie was as she described and then some. The movie that she had described was 1984′s Mutant (aka Night Shadows).
The movie opens as a lone figure makes his way through the front yard of a large rural home. The lone figure makes his way to the back of the house where he gains entry and we discover that he is a cop. While inside he discovers a body and then is ambushed and killed by someone or something. Things then move to Mike (Lee Montgomery) and Josh (Wings Hauser), two brothers making there way down a country road in a pretty sweet Chevy Camaro convertible. They are two city boys looking to get away to the country for some relaxation and fun. The only problem is that they are lost. While discussing their situation some country bumpkins run them off the road into a creek. The pair take to the road on foot and are soon picked up by an old coot who promises to take them to a gas station only to break the promise suddenly when Mike starts asking questions. He drops the guys off at a fork in the road. The boys pick a path and begin walking towards the town of Goodland. Mike and Josh arrive in Goodland after the sun has gone down and quickly notice the lack of activity. A man stumbles out of a bar and walks across the street to an alley. Josh suggests getting drunk while Mike worries about the stumbling man. Mike and Josh follow the stumbling man and discover his dead body. They head to the bar to report what they have discovered only to run into the country bumpkins that ran them off the road. A fight breaks out and is quickly put to rest when the Sheriff (Bo Hopkins) shows up. Mike and Josh inform the Sheriff about the body they found across the street. When they show the Sheriff the location of the body it is gone. The Sheriff does not want to deal with the young men’s stories of dead bodies so he takes them to the home of Mrs. Mapes to spend the night so that in the morning they can deal with their car situation. During the night something takes Mike. Josh awakes in the morning and begins to solve the mystery of his missing brother and a town that seems to have more going on than it appears.
Mutant spends the first half of the movie setting up situations that will pay off later. In the beginning it may seem slow but it is building story threads and introducing characters that will play an important role later in the film. Do not think that by slow I mean boring. Mutant keeps interesting events and characters coming at you. Once Mike goes missing the story becomes a bit of a mystery as the clues start to pile up. Two thirds of the way through the film, the mystery of the town and it’s dwindling population is revealed and from this point on it becomes a matter of survival for the film’s characters. Also everything that was set up in the first half starts to pay off as Josh and company battle for survival. It does not happen all at once. Each set up resolution is peppered through out the last third of the film. Mutant is actually quite a busy little film in this respect. My personal favorite payoff is when we reunite with Billy, a little boy we meet earlier in the film. Everything that happens with Billy at the school was a lot fun.
As much as I enjoyed Mutant, the performances are all over the place and sometimes even robotic. Wings hauser channels the hammy Doug McClure and in doing so kind of saves the movie from the otherwise stiff dialogue. The Sheriff character, played by Bo Hopkins, was an interesting one that was given some depth by making him a Sheriff that has a secret that has lead him to a drinking problem. A flawed hero if you will. Little details like that help to make Mutant a cut above the regular 80′s cheese.
Mutant is not a gory film, so if that’s is what you’re looking for, look elsewhere. What mutant does have is plenty of atmosphere and suspense. No blood and guts but we do get some cool makeup effects. The transformation of Dr. Myra’s assistant was a real standout. Instead of blood we get yellow goo. Once things get going we get a lot of gun action which ramps up the fun factor. Lots of white face paint with dark circles under the appropriate eyes. It may sound lame but it does work. When Josh and Holly, the school teacher, are trapped in their car just outside of Dr. Myra Tate’s office building, all of the painted faces pressed up against the glass was seriously creepy even if it was just face paint.
When Mutant ends and the credits roll what you end up with is a great example of eighties cheese that charms its way in by the time you get to the end. I love me some Wings Hauser. Being an 80′s film, Mutant works as a serious horror film but you can also point out the cheese and laugh at it with some friends. Humanoids from the Deep is another good example of tasty 80′s cheese that also works in this manner. Mutant being a cheese fest, it struck me how much I enjoyed the music, scored by Richard Band, and how effective it was at enhancing tension. The music is there, effectively so, when it needs to be and is absent when not needed. Mutant can be mistaken for a zombie movie but that would be a mistake. Mutant is something much different and that’s what sets it apart and gives it its charm. I you are a fan of 80′s horror, then 1984′s Mutant will definitely tickle your fancy. Give it a shot, I think you will be as pleasantly surprised as I was.