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Story for this flick is simple. Brothers Josh (Wings Hauser) and Mike (Lee Montgomery) are on a bonding getaway when they are forced off a rural road by a group of locals. This leads them to staying in a small town, one unfortunately close to a chemical dumping site. The chemicals are slowly changing the locals into vicious killers and when Mike disappears, Josh joins forces with cute teacher Holly (Jody Medford) and alcoholic sheriff Will (Bo Hopkins) to investigate. Soon it becomes a fight to survive as the infected locals multiply and overrun the town, killing everyone they come across.
Mutant is basically a zombie flick as directed by John “Bud” Cardos (The Day Time Ended, The Dark) from a script by Peter Z. Orton, Michael Jones and John C. Kruize. Cardos’ direction is rather straight forward and by-the-numbers, though it moves well enough. For a zombie film, it’s got minimal bloodshed, despite a high body count and really doesn’t crank up the action till the last act. It’s still a fun horror flick and there is plenty of 80s nostalgia now, all these years later. The zombies, or infected, are fast moving and their touch burns their intended victims, much like in the 1980 flick The Children, which also featured toxic chemical zombies. They also have an aversion to bright light and can be gunned down easily without the necessity for a head shot. There is also the usual out-of-towners vs redneck locals subplot, here, too, especially before anyone starts believing Josh that something is terribly wrong. Add to that a conspiracy/cover-up sub-plot that works well and doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. The last scene at the gas station is pretty intense and makes for a solid climax. On a production level, the film looks good and makes good use of it’s rural Georgia locations. The make-up FX, including some cool Howling-esque transformations, are well done. The zombies look scary and Cardos isn’t afraid to have children fall victim to them or become them. There is a low gore quotient, but the attacks still have impact. Flick also has some atmosphere and overall is a good time.
It has a fun cast. Wings Hauser is his usual bug-eyed self and it’s fun to see him play a good guy, as he is best known for portraying the psychotic pimp “Ramrod” in 1982’s Vice Squad. Jody Medford makes for a very likable heroine as local school teacher and bartender, Holly. Despite being attractive and charming, she only did one other movie, Chained Heat. Veteran actor Bo Hopkins is also solid as the drunk sheriff, who sort of transforms into a noble hero over the course of the film. The supporting cast are all fine in their roles, including Lee Montgomery (Burnt Offerings) in the brief role of Mike and Close Encounters of the Third Kind’s Cary Guffey as student Billy.
In conclusion, this was a surprisingly good time on the revisit. Actually caught this flick in a theater in 1984 and was disappointed, back in the day, that it wasn’t more in the style of Dawn of the Dead or Zombie. With those expectations gone, it’s now a nostalgic and fun monster movie and one of the earliest films to portray it’s zombies as more fast moving and vicious. Cardos may not have been the most stylish director, but his workman approach suits the small town setting and rural local characters and keeps the film grounded. A fun zombie flick that does things a little different.
Rated 3 (out of 4) permed and bug-eyed Wings Hausers.
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