Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Mutilating The Mutilator
In the mid-80's I worked for a Melbourne production company. It was based in Blackburn, an Eastern suburb, and was, for a time, a hive of activity. We produced commercials and corporate videos, but the company had tape dubbing (VHS) contracts with Palace Home Video, K-Tel Video (what a classic catalog that was!), and various porno companies like Caballero.
I did a bit of everything. When I started there, I did the graveyard shift (it was the only shift available); that lasted for close to a year. It totally fucked up my sleeping patterns and turned me into a zombie, but it got me through the door and into production. Initially, I dubbed K-Tel titles and porn. Since the company was a "respectable" outfit, all porno dubbing was done outside of regular office hours.
When I would roll in at 10:45 pm, 1" tape masters would be stacked up for me with yellow order forms. A typical night's work would be 200 copies of Hal Freeman's Caught from Behind 2, 400 copies of Hard Rock Zombies, and 300 copies of Jean-Marie Pallardy's classic White Fire (with Robert Ginty!).
Once I loaded the machines (single-handedly), I would go into another room and check the opening few seconds of every tape on a 20-machine checking bank. It usually took me half an hour to check a full run of 200 tapes.
It was an interesting job, and I did get time to watch the movies. Although the Palace titles were particularly noteworthy (I Spit On Your Grave, The Killing of America, The Slayer), the K-Tel titles were fascinating -- Dog Day with Lee Marvin and David Bennent, Sergio Martino's magic 2019 - After The Fall of New York. I used to ask myself: Who the fuck is picking these? They were mostly cheap and nasty, but crikey!, they were so damn entertaining.
Around 8 o'clock each morning, the day workers would drift in. Some would drift in an hour earlier to catch a glimpse of what I was dubbing. A strict rule was that all porn had to be off the machines by 7.30. If you rolled in at 7, you could catch Ron Jeremy fellating himself in Fascination or Annie Sprinkle sprinkling in Inside Annie Sprinkle.
It was well known that I was a serious film fanatic. It was a joke, actually, because my bosses treated most of the stuff we dubbed like it was the world's worst trash (by association, I got no respect).
I remember standing with my boss, Ross, in the dubbing suite during a scene in White Fire where Robert (The Exterminator) Ginty attacks a leg with a chainsaw. Ross was understandably sensitive about legs because he had a serious limp (the result of contracting polio when he was a youngster). Well, Ross caught me grinning during this bloody sequence and said: "What are you grinning about? You sick or something?"
I turned to him and shrugged. "No. It's just funny."
He shook his head and his face tightened up. "Funny, is it? What's so funny about cutting someone's leg off?"
What could I say? Clearly, Ross didn't get exploitation films. He stared at me, waiting for an answer, but I didn't have a clever one. So I changed the subject.
"Have you seen Up and Coming, Ross?"
"What's that?" he said.
"A porno with Marilyn Chambers."
"She was in Insatiable."
"Oh yeah. She's alright. You wouldn't throw her out of bed if she farted, would ya?" That got his interest.
I just nodded. Then I found him a spare copy of the Chambers film . I guess he forgot that I'd laughed at chainsawing legs. Well, half forgot.
A couple of months later, I was working the day shift. I was dubbing and doing production now. Anything involving "weird" movies would be pushed in my direction. Anyway, Ross limped out to see me in the studio. I was changing light bulbs.
"I have a little job for you, mate, " he said. "Walk this way."
I did just that. I limped behind him to the office. Whenever Ross said "walk this way", employees would walk like he walked. He didn't mind them taking the piss. He was more sensitive about chainsaws and legs.
He led me into his office and placed a blank looking VHS in front of me that had a tiny, hand-scribbled label on it. It read "Mute."
"I got a call from a bloke," Ross began. "Said he's got this stupid horror film for distribution."
"Mute?" I said.
"No. The title's The Mutilator. It's some rubbish about a bloke going around chopping up girls in bikinis. Blood and guts stuff. Real garbage."
I looked at the tape. "I've heard of this."
Ross looked at me with unconvincingly veiled disgust. "I thought you'd say that." He sighed. "Look, Marky (yes, he called me Marky), the film's already been to the censor, and they banned it. Too bloody. I need you to make it a little less bloody. Make it nicer. Alright?"
"Marky, it's not all about blood and guts, you know. Even though you might find blokes getting their legs chainsawed funny, most normal people don't think that way. Capisce?"
I nodded. "But it's a horror film, Ross."
Ross fumed. "Do something with it, would ya? Make the killings a bit nicer."
As I left the room, he fired a parting shot: "And don't let me hear you laughing at people being killed."
Jesus, this guy really didn't get it.
My first task was to watch the film from beginning to end. I liked it immediately. A kid accidentally kills his mother and gets beaten by his dad (who then gives the corpse of his wife a drink). I didn't laugh at that.
In consistent slasher form, the film speeds ahead ten years and establishes the kid as a moronic, wise-ass teenager. The plot involves a group of teens (male and female) helping to close dear old dad's beach property. Trouble is, daddy's still lurking about, and he's not welcoming.
Although the film was slow at times, I was impressed. It was genuinely gory and the atmosphere was kinda dirty and macabre in the way Scavolini's Nightmare (one of my favorites) was dirty and macabre (although that's better).
The gore effects (by Mark Shostrum) were quite good. There was a lovely death by fish hook, the cutting of a youngster's throat, and a head impaling.
By lunchtime, I was was hooked. This was a great little film. I needed my own copy.
Then I remembered that my job was to make the killings "nicer". What the fuck!? How could I make someone chopped in half by a car "nice"? How could I make stabbings "nice"? Most importantly, how could make shoving a fish hook up a girl's vagina and out her belly "nice"?
Fuck that! I thought. I ain't nice'ing up no fuckin' gore film. Hell, that'd be like betraying my family.
By the end of the day, I was in a state of deep anxiety. I'd been watching the gore scenes over and over again because I liked them. I could see where stuff could be cut, but there was no way I was going to do that. I just couldn't. Around 6 o'clock, Ross dropped by.
"How's the cutting going, Marky?"
"Not much in there to laugh about, is there?"
"So you've seen it, Ross?"
"Fuck no. I don't need to see a turd to know it stinks."
With that pearl of high wisdom, he limped off, leaving me to ponder my future with the company.
I tossed and turned that night. I had a serious moral dilemma. Do I mutilate The Mutilator to keep the boss happy, or do I say no to mutilation and retain my integrity?
Or was I just being a young idiot?
Well, I did cut The Mutilator, and it did make the boss happy.
And I got to be a young idiot, too.
Around 3 o'clock the following afternoon, I announced to Ross that The Mutilator job was done.
"How much did you cut out of it, Marky?"
Ross suddenly looked like Marilyn Chambers had just agreed to give him a blowie. He was all smiles.
He even slapped me on the back buddy-style. "Twenty minutes?! Well done, Marky. It's not all about blood and guts, is it? Eh?"
I gave him a fake nod of victory and said "Nah."
Ross limped home a happy man.
I bathed in the glow of his satisfaction for a couple of minutes.
If you've seen The Mutilator, you know it has a lot of slow spots. Hell, there's a twenty-five minute slow spot in which almost nothing happens.
Well, that's what got mutilated.
I spared director Buddy Cooper the indignity of having his name on a "nice" slasher film, I made Ross (who I knew would never watch the film) a happy man, and I got shifted out of my Jack Of All Trades role a month or so later (by Ross) because he was convinced he'd made me see the error of my blood and guts ways. Somehow, it got me respect.
I guess he figured I could now be trusted not to get all orgasmic about the latest chainsawed leg or stabbed vagina on a film shoot at a church candle factory.
So what did the censor do with the re-edited, faster, just as gory version of The Mutilator?
The re-edited master tape sat on Ross's shelf for six months. The upstart distribution company that had planned to release the film on VHS in Australia mysteriously folded a couple of weeks after they'd given Ross the job.
Clearly, somebody down there liked me.