Sep 24, 2014

The Mutilation Man (1998)

While ‘arthouse-splatter’ might sound like an oxymoronic description for a film, a couple filmmakers have managed to somewhat successfully create such works that merge serious artistic pretense with sleazy celluloid trash. Indeed, underground filmmakers like Jörg Buttgereit (Nekromantik, Der Todesking), Andrey Iskanov (Visions of Suffering, Philosophy of a Knife), Marian Dora (Cannibal, Melancholie der Engel), Nacho Cerdà (Aftermath, Genesis), and Karim Hussain (Subconscious Cruelty, The Beautiful Beast) have, to varying degrees, been aesthetically fruitful with cinematically juggling gore and poetry. To me, a successful ‘arthouse-splatter’ flick manages to depict something morbid and grotesque in an aesthetically pleasing fashion to the point where it offends viewers who are not used to such works and feel outraged that they were ‘tricked’ into finding pulchritude in perversity. Naturally, as a fairly artistically and culturally vacant nation of the largely proletarian sort with virtually no great aesthetic traditions aside from a few scattered artists and novelists, America has not produced many, if any, notable filmmakers who have dared to make celluloid depravity delectable, but of course, some have tried and, for the most part, they have failed hard. A case in point is belated Dayton, Ohio-based filmmaker, horror fanatic, fanzine writer/blogger, and community college film professor Andy Copp (Black Sun, Quiet Nights of Blood and Pain), who is probably best known for his micro-budget directorial debut The Mutilation Man (1998), which I recently had the grating displeasure of viewing. Considering it stars underground cult auteur Jim Van Bebber (Deadbeat at Dawn, The Manson Family) as an abusive alcoholic father who beats children and rapes women after he has a little too much to drink, Copp’s first feature is something I wanted to like, but there is no way I can polish this turd and write a puffer-plagued appraisal about its virtually nonexistent merits as a mixed media fever dream of the gratuitously bloody and gory masochist sort. Indeed, as a disturbingly personal work created by a man who clearly suffered inner torment as demonstrated by his seemingly senseless suicide in early 2013 at age 40, I hate to trash The Mutilation Man, but it ultimately reminded me of something I would have created when I was in high school and not the dream project of a artistically enterprising man on a mission who spent four years of his life to assemble it. Shot on 16mm negative film and Super-8, which was absurdly transferred to VHS(!) for editing purposes, Copp’s film looks like a product of some sort of ungodly early-1990s heavy metal mullet hell.  Featuring real stock-footage from the holocaust and Vietnam War randomly spliced in throughout, Copp's work wallows in bad taste and senseless sensationalism and thus might give a semi-hard-on to some lonely jaded gorehound, but it left me feeling like I endured a tedious torture test of the aesthetically insipid and uniquely vapid sort.  The embarrassingly ‘confessional’ non-story of a morbid masochist who travels around a barren post-apocalyptic countryside and mutilates himself for small adoring sub-retarded metalhead and grunge dork audiences, The Mutilation Man is a sort of carelessly convoluted ‘metaphysical manifesto’ from an American-bred born-again nihilist who clearly has a lot of internal pain and agony but clearly has no practical or positive way to express it. Indeed, it may be the only film that made me consider that horror movies and trashy thrash metal might have a devastating effect on American youth. 

 Ivan (played by Terek Puckett, who previously played the murderous metalhead moron sidekick in Van Bebber’s absolutely hilarious 1994 short My Sweet Satan) is an ugly, swarthy, and out-of-shape beta-male G.G. Allin wannabe who seems to have the same barber as Kevin Smith and who is so emotionally damaged from the emotional and physical abuse that he endured from his dipsomaniac rapist father (Jim Van Bebber) that he has dedicated his non-life to mutilating his body for young sadistic audiences in what one might describe a traveling ‘postmodern post-apocalyptic performance art show.’ Indeed, Ivan is a sort of troubadour for a fallen zeitgeist of atavistic depravity where love, beauty, poetry, and creativity have become a distant memory. In a scene that will only make sense to people who have listened to the director’s audio commentary for the Sub Rosa Studios DVD release of the film, young Ivan (Robbie Crellin) digs a grave and somehow buries himself (while standing over his own body at the same time!) in a symbolic scene representing the character's attempt to bury his traumatic past into his subconscious, so that he can put his ugly childhood to rest and be reborn. Flash forward a couple years later and Ivan arises from the grave completely naked as a full-grown adult and immediately encounters a post-apocalyptic hellhole where the landscape is covered with the unclad bodies of countless homely young girls.  A collage and montage heavy work shot from three different yet intertwined perspectives (1. Reality 2. Ivan’s Memories 3. Ivan’s Hallucinations) that are jumbled together in a completely convoluted fashion that makes little, if any, sense (aside from reflecting the cognitive dissonance of the protagonist/director), The Mutilation Man ultimately seems like a hokey yet mostly humorless hodgepodge of the director’s dreams, fantasies, horror film fanboyism, and plaguing post-traumatic stress. Indeed, while watching the film, one certainly gets the impression that the director has a lot of bad memories as a result of child traumas and failed romantic relationships.  In other words, things get a little bit ugly.

 Ultimately, The Mutilation Man is mainly comprised of mentally perturbed protagonist Ivan treading along in a morbidly depressed lackluster fashion and doing a couple of ostensibly perverse performance art shows, as well as the character’s quasi-spiritual interaction with two very different and seemingly imaginary women that more or less subconsciously guide his messed up mind.  Indeed, Ivan is compelled by both good and evil as represented by these dichotomous female beings. The first woman is credited as ‘Fetish Demon’ (Kristy Bowersock) and she is a discernibly sadistic soul-sucking mutilated bitch with a pseudo-Gothic outfit who looks like she got gang-raped at a Skinny Puppy concert. The second woman is the ‘Angel’ (Jollie Scott) and she is a loving ‘guardian angel’ and a sort of spiritual arch enemy to‘Fetish Demon’ because she wants Ivan to follow a positive path whereas the demoness merely contributes to his self-destruction and spiritual degeneration. As depicted in mostly dimly lit nightmarish flashback scenes that are incessantly spliced in throughout the entire film, Ivan owes virtually all of his malignant masochism to the fact his Father—a lanky lunatic that looks like a cross between Charles Manson and tragic Gothic prince Rozz Williams—was an abusive alcoholic asshole who raped him, his mother, and a prostitute, hence why the film opens with the quote: “THE SINS OF THE FATHERS SHALL BE VISITED UPON THE CHILDREN.”  If it were not for the degenerate dipsomaniac daddy that got him addicted to masochism in the first place, Ivan would probably would not want to deal with an unhinged bitch like ‘Fetish Demon,’ but his appetite for self-disintegration is an innate part of his being and compels him to be attracted to bat-shit crazy bitches who leave him in stitches.  In the end, the post-apocalyptic femme fatale ‘Fetish Demon’ gets bored with brutalizing and torturing Ivan, but luckily the protagonist manages to find so much needed redemption by saving a pregnant woman from some goofy looking borreby untermensch who starts an impromptu massacre during one of the mutilation man shows. In what is a quasi-happy ending to a uniquely unhappy movie, Ivan walks in front of the ‘Angel’ while heading towards a new chapter in his life, thus reflecting that he has finally taken lead of his own destiny. 

 While shot over a four year period and aiming to be a sort of wildly idiosyncratic splatter-tinged Jodorowskyian mystical quest that also pays homage to great Guido gore masters like Lucio Fulci and Ruggero Deodato, The Mutilation Man ultimately seems like a hokey homemade horror mix-tape that was haphazardly assembled over a couple weekends while the director was drinking cheap beer and dropping acid with his buddies. Naturally, the fact that Jim Van Bebber, who was drunk for at least part of the production, is constantly featured in the film drinking beer and liquor only all the more adds to this glaring ‘beer buddy’ vibe. Of course, I would be lying if I did not admit that I found the film at least partially disturbing, albeit not in the way that the director probably originally intended. Indeed, while I was watching The Mutilation Man, I got the sense that the director is a troubled fellow with low self-esteem and a lot of emotional battle scars and internal open wounds who does not have a real outlet for his emotional and mental afflictions aside from watching old school horror flicks, listening to soulless heavy metal music, and making no-budget ‘auteur’ pieces. As director Andy Copp describes in the audio commentary for the DVD release of the film, he grew up in a poor white trash ghetto where he was routinely tormented by his abusive father (who the director lovingly describes as “my son-of-a-bitch dad”) and ironically grew up eating the same sort of cheap meat that was used as special effects for the film.  Undoubtedly, for better or worse, the film brings new meaning to the famous The Wizard of Oz line: “There's no place like home

 While the film would have probably been a little bit better if Copp had chosen to cut and edit the work together the traditional way by using a flatbed editor as opposed to transferring it onto video (after all, what is the point of shooting on real film in the first place if it is eventually going to be degraded to VHS quality?!), The Mutilation Man is ultimately a mutilated movie made for masochists and misfits that is full of half-baked ideas and fanboy horror fantasies and that was directed by a man that clearly loved horror and film in general but lacked the artistic talent and focus of vision to create something truly worthwhile.  Indeed, something is certainly wrong with a film when its own director states of it: “I don’t know how clear it is in the film…and some people get it and some people don’t…I think it is more of my fault as a director for just not shooting it and editing it in such a way that it comes across…” For fans of jumbled video horror trash like the shot-on-video collage pieces of Charles Pinion (Twisted Issues, Red Spirit Lake), The Mutilation Man might seem like an unsung masterpiece, but I guess I am just not masochistic enough to truly dig such a aesthetically degrading work.  Of course, there is one good thing I can say about the film and that is that it has a highly personalized essence about it that might inspire aspiring filmmaker to get off their asses and spill their guts.  Indeed, The Mutilation Man may not be my cup of tea, but it managed to attract a loyal, if not marginal, fan base.  After all, America is a placed full of damaged individuals who were brutalized as children and somehow found solace in the seemingly unlikely world of horror cinema.  While Copp's film is in no way comparable to Jodorowsky's films, it is surely a rare example of American ‘proletarian art,’ as a less than literate and rather visceral expression of a forlorn horror fan that was bred in a white ghetto who managed to slightly rise out of the cesspool he was spawned in, though as The Mutilation Man readily demonstrates, the cesspool never left him.

-Ty E

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