Josh Cameron and his younger brother Mike decide to get away from it all with a drive through the countryside. However, their car is run off the road by rednecks and they are forced to hike into the nearby town of Goodland. Mike discovers a dead body in an alleyway but this is gone when they return with the sheriff. They spend the night at a boarding house only for something to snatch Mike from underneath his bed. The next day, Josh goes searching for Mike. He and others realise that something strange is happening around the town. They discover that toxic waste dumped nearby by the New Era Corporation is infecting the bloodstream of locals and turning them into zombies driven by a need to devour blood.
The team-up between Kantor and Montoro on Mutant resulted in a smoother production. The project began with a script from unknown authors. “I was at a party about eight months ago,” says Kantor. “There were a lot of young filmmakers there and a kid came up to me and introduced himself; he said, ‘I’m Michael Jones and understand that you’re a producer. ‘When I told him I was, he said, ‘I have a script. Do you read unsolicited material?’ I said, ‘We read everything, because you never know when you’ll find a good script. So, two weeks later I got a script in the mail at Film Ventures called Pestilence from Michael Jones and another kid, John Kruize-they had written it as a team. It was a story about toxic waste which is an interesting subject because no one has done a picture about that.” When Montoro agreed that Pestilence was a script with a valid premise that could be produced inexpensively, a deal was made with the writers.
Originally, this script about people turned into murderous creatures by toxic waste, characterized the Army as the villain of the piece. The idea that the Army was responsible for the script’s disastrous occurrences was not acceptable to Kantor. “You don’t want to make the Army the bad guys, maybe a private corporation, but not the Army. Especially the way it was written-it just wasn’t plausible, it was too much of a fantasy. If the story involved nerve warfare, then that would’ve been a different ball-game because the Army could conceivably be involved in that. But the original idea didn’t fit together. Additionally, at the end the Army destroys the whole town to cover up the evidence. That was too farfetched. I would have gotten so much flak.” The writers agreed to change the script (under the new title of Night Shadows, subsequently to be replaced by Mutant) and instated a private corporation as the cause for the movie’s mayhem. Fix-up man Peter Orton was then called in to apply the final touches to the screenplay.
As pre-production on Mutant progressed, the scope and main thrust of the picture changed. “Mutant started out as a small picture,” Kantor says, “but we kept building it up, and bringing in bigger actors like Wings Hauser and Bo Hopkins, and making it bigger and bigger. The budget started off as under a million and the final budget will be a little over two-and-half million dollars. The movie also started out strictly as a horror story-it’s not a horror film today. It is an action, adventure, terror film. It’s more like a Jaws than it is, say, a Night of the Living Dead. It’s got a tremendous amount of action.
At first, Mark Rossman (director of Film Ventures’ House on Sorority Row) was assigned to direct instead of Cardos. Kantor says, “Mark was doing a good job with the original script in preproduction, but as we kept expanding the picture, I went to Mark one day and said, ‘Mark, I don’t think you can handle this, because you’ve never done this sort of thing before. This is a big picture. I suggest we get a second unit director to do the action scenes.’ So, originally, it was really my idea to bring Bud in as second unit man. Mark accepted this graciously and said, ‘Yes, it’s true I haven’t done action. I could use some support from a second unit director.’ Well, when we got on the set a couple of months later, right away I could tell that it was too big a picture for Mark. And he didn’t want Bud to actually direct the action scenes. He wanted Bud to whisper in his ear and tell him how to do it. But it doesn’t work that way; you can’t direct by committee. In the first week we had some action stuff right off the bat and we were running further behind and the scene was not getting finished. Now, I had already anticipated the problem; in fact I told Bud before we started, ‘You better familiarize yourself with the script very thoroughly because, in case Mark can’t handle it, you may take over.’ And, sure enough, at the end of the first week, I knew I was in trouble, so that was it. I told Mark and there was no animosity. He admitted it-it was too big.
Replacing Rosman at the last minute, veteran film director John “Bud” Cardos stepped in to film. “Mark Rosman was no dummy.” he continued. “He’s very good in a lot of ways, but he didn’t have enough Experience to handle the crew. Seriously, these are ‘budget pictures. They may be made for millions and millions of dollars, but you still have to watch your budget.
With Bud Cardos at the helm, Kantor was then able to stress the action elements in Mutant. Here we have a terrific horror opening, to start off with a bang, but after that we take the time to establish the people. And then in the last three reels, the last 30 minutes of the picture, there’s non-stop action and terror. If the activities of the makeup staff are any indication of the action involved in this picture, then there seems like there is a good deal going on in Mutant; Kantor says that the makeup crew included as many as 12 people at one time to work on around 50 creatures.
“Any time you work with a lot of creatures, it’s difficult.” said Cardos. *The first ones weren’t so good, so we had to take the time to develop them and work around the early versions.”
Some of the more difficult scenes include a shot of a hand melting through a window, scores of pulsating heads, throats and faces, and a rousing conclusion in which Wings Hauser throws Molotov cocktails at the monsters.
“That scene was very difficult because you have to worry about the actors,” said Cardos. “And you’ve got to take care of the stunt people so they don’t get burned, and you’ve got 50 or 60 other people working around them to watch out for.”
BEHIND THE SCENES/LOCATIONS
Once on the set in Atlanta, though, the leading players weren’t familiar with him, a situation that caused some trepidation amongst the cast. At that point, says Wings Hauser, “I was ready to say, ‘Pack it in. I’m going back to LA. My agent flew down and said, ‘Let’s go, let’s get out of here. This isn’t going to work.’ But then I got to talking to Bud Cardos the night before he took over. For me it’s very important that a director have some kind of sensitivity, and I had no idea really of who the guy was. We started talking about an old friend of his who had recently died, Jim Davis (of Dallas fame). They had been best friends. Bud started talking and all of a sudden he started crying. And I said to myself, ‘Now, wait a minute. This guy might be a stunt coordinator, but he’s got some sensitivity here, right?’ So I decided to hang out for another day or so and really get to know him. For what he was given in the amount of time he had to prepare, he did a hell of a job.
“When he took over, he really grabbed the ball and started to inspire us. He has a tremendous way of admiring people. Often, I would be doing a scene, and I would catch Bud out of the corner of my eye just looking at the scene and you could see that he actually enjoyed it. And when somebody enjoys it, you want to do better, you want to do more. I think that’s his love for this kind of thing. He loves what he does and he’s got the confidence-and that starts to spread to everybody else.”
Hauser appreciated the freedom he and the other actors were allowed in developing their characters. In particular, he was allowed to develop the relationship between himself and Lee Montgomery who played his younger brother in the film. “Normally, in a situation like that,” Hauser explains, ”the older brother would be the more cautious one and the younger brother would be the one filled with freedom. The dialogue in the script lent itself to that kind of characterization, but we all decided that my character should be the one who could care less about certain things, not the type to be overly cautious and uptight about situations. That whole scene in the bedroom between my younger brother and me was basically born out of improvisation. There was a tremendous freedom in that if you felt like saying something you just said it. Between Bud Cardos, producer Igo Kantor and the other actors and myself, we got to play with the characters.”
Mutant looks like it will be Bo Hopkins’ first significant horror release. In this picture he plays a sheriff who has come to his present job in a small Georgia town after getting kicked off the Atlanta police force-he had a shot a man in an alley whom he had mistakenly thought was armed. Hopkins describes the sheriff as a “strong willed guy who tries to be fair,” who now finds he has to deal with a case of mysterious disappearances in his town that eventually leads to the discovery of the horrific effects of a toxic waste dump.
Hopkins is pleased with the way the characters in Mutant were developed. He says, “I enjoyed working with Bud Cardos and Igo Kantor because they wanted to make Mutant a better movie than what was written. We did a lot of work on the characters. Wings Hauser, Jennifer Warren, myself and the rest of the cast would go in and rehearse, and if something wasn’t right then we’d try to fix it with Bud and Igo. Igo’s a hard worker. He’s been in the business a long time and knows the ups and downs of making movies. You need somebody around like that. Usually producers make me nervous when they’re on the set, but I got used to go. He’s very smart at this kind of thing; if it’s not written right, then he wants to make it better.”
A generalized objective of this work, according to Hopkins, was to get across “a sense of what was going on within the town as far as the nuclear waste was concerned. We had to emphasize that part of it more, so that we could make it appear that it actually could happen, in any town.”
More specific, Hopkins worked on his scenes with Jennifer Warren who plays a doctor who helps the sheriff in his investigations of the mysterious deaths plaguing the Georgia town. Hopkins and Warren worked on developing an on-screen rapport that was not originally included in the script and, says Hopkins, a good relationship “sort of happened while we were shooting the scenes. For one thing, we tried to add some humor. When you do a movie like this, as much humor as you can get into it, the better it is.”
The final result resembles a bigger budgeted version of George Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, complete with elaborate makeup effects handled by a large crew. The film’s makeup is by Eric Fiedler and Louis Lamara, with Dave Miller in charge of latex prosthetics and effects, including bladder work. “The original director was Mark Rothman, who did House on Sorority Row,” David Miller recalls. ‘We got together and worked up a design for the mutants, which looked pretty good, a swollen-faced thing. I flew down to Georgia, got casts on the actors, and came back here to make appliances. While I was in the lab, Mark got replaced by John “Bud” Cardos, who changed all the stuff around—he had the makeup artist down there doing up people in solid white clown-colored pancake, with black—black in a color film!—makeup around the eyes, and little strawberry-shaped things on their faces. This was his zombie mutant. So, because they’d already shot a lot of that, I had to paint my appliances to match that!
Mutant was a production of Edward L. Montoro, and this film’s budget was one of the contributing factors to the downfall of Montoro’s company, Film Ventures International.
Directed John “Bud” Cardos
Produced Igo Kantor
Peter Z. Orton
John C. Kruize
John C. Kruize
Wings Hauser as Josh Cameron
Bo Hopkins as Sheriff Will Stewart
Jody Medford as Holly Pierce
Lee Montgomery as Mike Cameron
Marc Clement as Albert Hogue
Cary Guffey as Billy
Jennifer Warren as Dr. Myra Tate
Danny Nelson as Jack
Eric Fiedler … makeup artist
Louis Lazzara … makeup artist
David B. Miller … prosthetic makeup effects
Brenda Shopher … hair stylist
Claudia Thompson makeup artist
Bruce Zahlava … assistant makeup artist (as Bruce Zalhava)