1984’s MUTANT (a.k.a. NIGHT SHADOWS) was one of several eighties-sploiters starring the hunky, scraggly-haired Wings Hauser (see also THE HIGHWAYMAN, THE CARPENTER, TOUGH GUYS DON’T DANCE, THE SIEGE OF FIREBASE GLORIA and STREET ASYLUM). Most of them suck, and MUTANT is no exception.
The director John “Bud” Cardos has a long and varied history in the industry. In truth his work as a director (on grade-B fluff like KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS, THE DARK, THE DAY TIME ENDED and this yawner) is far outshined by his credits as an actor (which include the Richard Rush films HELLS ANGELS ON WHEELS, PSYCH-OUT and THE SAVAGE SEVEN), production manager (on DEATHDREAM) and second unit director (on THE WILD BUNCH).
Brothers Josh and Mike are vacationing in a sleepy southern community–yet they’ve barley cleared the town limits before they crash their truck. A bit later they get into a barroom brawl, and so have no chance to tell anybody about what they saw outside the bar: a hideously mutilated corpse!
This is the first of many corpses, courtesy of runoff from a local chemical waste dump that is turning the townspeople into mutants with a taste for human flesh. Josh is unaware of this, and so is caught off guard when Mike goes missing. He’s been killed by a mutant, but Josh nonetheless spends the following day searching for his brother; the search is not in vain, as in the process Josh strikes up a relationship with the attractive Holly.
But the mutant population is growing. A woman doctor, upon discovering the cause of the madness, is killed in her office by an infected person. Around this time Josh manages to infiltrate the chemical waste dump responsible for the mess. He’s threatened by the slimy overseers, but Holly saves him by crashing her car through a wall in the nick of time.
It all leads to a standoff inside a tiny building, where Josh and Holly face down a veritable army of mutants in an all-out battle to the death!
This film contains quite a few promising elements, but the results are lifeless and uninspired. Even an over-the-top set piece in a school packed with mutated children fails to ignite; ditto the interchangeable car chases, explosions and frequent mutant attacks, which for some reason are done with NO gore (MPAA meddling perhaps?). By the way, if the “mutants” of this film sound like George Romero-esque zombies, well, that’s exactly how they play—only watered down appreciably.
Things aren’t helped, I might add, by the presence of Wings Hauser in nearly every scene. Yes, he appears to have been trying his best, but Mr. Hauser was never much of an actor, a fact more than born out by this film.
MUTANT (a.k.a. NIGHT SHADOWS)
Director: John “Bud” Cardos (and Mark Rosman)
Producer: Igo Kantor
Screenplay: Michael Jones, John C. Kruize, Peter Z. Orton
Cinematography: Al Taylor
Editing: Michael J. Duthie
Cast: Wings Hauser, Bo Hopkins, Jody Medford, Lee Montgomery, Marc Clement, Cary Guffey, Jennifer Warren, Danny Nelson, Mary Nell Santacroce, Stuart Culpepper, Johnny Popwell Sr., Ralph Redpath, Larry Quackenbush