Release Date(s)1987 (October 25, 2022)
Studio(s)Beyond Infinity/Empire Pictures (Vinegar Syndrome)
- Film/Program Grade: D
- Video Grade: B-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B
Low-budget horror has its fans, but some efforts really push the limits of human endurance with inept writing, dreadful acting, and low-rent special effects. Mutant Hunt is remarkable in its ability to check all those boxes in a 77-minute excursion into the absurd.
The film takes place in what appears to be the remnants of an urban apocalypse in a futuristic New York City. Cyborgs are commonplace and coexist with humans. Many cyborgs are used for security and defense. But mad scientist Dr. Z (Bill Petersen), who aspires to world domination, has injected a group of cyborgs with a powerful drug called Eupheron that turns them into killing machines. Chief robotics engineer Paul Haynes (Marc Umile) attempts to stop the robot takeover, but he and his sister Darla (Mary Fahey) are kidnapped. Darla escapes and turns to tough guy Matt Riker (Rick Gianasi) for help.
Riker assembles a team to hunt down the evil cyborgs before they destroy what is left of humankind. His “team” consists of a mechanic and a stripper. Another obstacle to Riker is Domina (Stormy Spill), intent on building a cyborg army of her own.
There are so many inconsistencies in the ludicrous script that it seems like a Mel Brooks spoof. But it’s played completely straight. The appearance of the cyborgs is curious. They wear sunglasses and have buzz haircuts (before they became stylish), move robotically, and spew yellow goo when they’re destroyed. They seem oddly easy to kill, yet it’s pretty late in the film before a character realizes that shooting them will do the trick.
The single halfway decent special effect is an animatronic cyborg with limited movement created by effects expert Ed French. The effect deserves a better film.
The acting is uniformly terrible, with dull line readings, lack of emotion, and awkward physical action. An extended fight features Riker in only his tightie whities duking it out with a cyborg. Shot in a long take, the phoniness is magnified. Some editing could have made the fight look more convincing, but that would have taken time and in moviemaking, time is money.
Director Tim Kincaid, who also wrote the script, is inept at putting together a film that makes sense. The overall look of the film is cheap, with limited locations and characters’ homes looking more industrial than homey. Lighting is flat. An attempt at a sex scene is clumsy and is present only to titillate. In a scene in which a cyborg attacks a woman on the street, the camera cuts to a couple making out and casually watching. When the cyborg rips the woman’s head off and the couple gets splattered with her blood, they stroll off as if what they have just witnessed is as commonplace as a friendly disagreement.
The action scenes are poorly choreographed, with high kicks landing visibly far from their target and moments borrowed from the Bruce Lee playbook minus style and finesse. Scenes of triumph over the cyborgs play too long, diminishing the intended effect. Camera work is rudimentary, with mundane set-ups and few tracking shots. The most interesting shot is of Domina, seen through a large glass container. The editing can’t liven up a sluggish pace. Even with its brief running time, the movie seems endless.
Mutant Hunt was shot by director of photography Tom Murphy on 35 mm film and presented on video in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1. Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray release is newly-scanned and restored in 4K from its 35 mm original camera negative. Color is garish and artificial looking, with blood too bright. Lighting overall is flat with little attempt to create a sense of depth or include atmospheric shadows. The camera is usually stationary with action played in a limited area. Because of this, interiors have a claustrophobic feel. Art direction seems non-existent, with little attempt to dress the sets. The deserted Brooklyn Navy Yard location is mildly impressive, though it’s not fully exploited. Red “rays" from ray guns are superimposed. Fights are poorly staged.
The soundtrack is English mono DTS-HD Master Audio. English SDH subtitles are available. Dialogue is clear and distinct but line readings are flat and lifeless. Sound effects include punches hitting bodies, footsteps in deserted alleyways, a head being ripped off, small ray gun explosions, blazing fire, and electronics in the cyborgs’ heads short circuiting. The music by Don Great is distinctive in its use of tinkling percussion and adds yet another layer of weirdness to the film.
Bonus materials include the following:
- Audio Commentary with Elizabeth Purcell
- Mutant Maker (18:21)
- If You Want Me to Box a Kangaroo (55:41)
- Long Arm of the Hunt (24:17)
Film historian Elizabeth Purcell discusses the career of director Tim Kincaid, also known as Joe Gage, director of all-male hardcore pornographic films of the 70s and 80s. Kincaid started his career as a young actor in New York, studied under Lee Strasberg, did commercials, worked on the adult film The Deviant, subsequently worked behind the scenes on other such films, and eventually directed many under the name Joe Gage. Mutant Hunt represented Kincaid’s attempt to move on to mainstream films. In 1986, Kincaid also directed Breeders, set in a Manhattan hospital that admits a series of young women raped by something otherworldly.
Mutant Maker – Ed French created all the special effects for Mutant Hunt. He also worked on Amityville II: The Possession and Sleepaway Camp. He speaks about having a good relationship with director Tim Kincaid. The effects were all done “in camera,” since this was well before CGI. The make-up was designed to make the cyborgs look increasingly affected by disease. Clips from the film are interspersed with the interview. Many dummy heads were created along with pyrotechnics. The effects were storyboarded. A cyborg puppet took the most time to create. Among the old-school effects is a body on fire, which is described as a dummy manipulated by a wire as an image of an actor raising his head is projected onto the scene. French recalls thinking the film looked pretty good when first released. Now, however, he believes it’s an artifact of its time.
If You Want Me to Box a Kangaroo – Actor Dr. Buzz expounds in lengthy detail on his career. He discusses studying at NYU, auditioning as a young actor, meeting Tim Kincaid, and shooting scenes from Mutant Hunt at the deserted Brooklyn Navy Yard. He and the other actors in Mutant Hunt hated the haircuts they had to get. He describes the make-up process. The director was trying to establish an “Arnold Schwartzenegger vibe.” He compares the disease in the film to the actual AIDS epidemic that was raging when the film was shot. The low budget didn’t allow for many multiple takes. The shoot, according to Dr. Buzz, was a lot of fun.
Long Arm of the Hunt – Mark Legan notes that working on Mutant Hunt “was a life-changing experience.” He refers to himself as a monster kid—as a child he loved all things horror. He moved to New York right after college and did voiceover work. The Times Square area at the time of filming had many grindhouse theaters, and several scenes were shot in the area. He recalls the era as “a weird and interesting time.” He eventually moved into writing and producing. As far as Mutant Hunt, Legan notes that “it’s shlock, but I love shlock.”
This dreary picture may be of interest to exploitation aficionados but others will find it a waste of time. It could have been entertaining as a so-bad-it’s-good movie but never reaches even that level. As you watch, you can’t believe what you’re seeing.
- Dennis Seuling