Just in time for Halloween, Liberation Entertainment has unveiled a duo of low brow, low budget, B pictures that, when approached with low expectations, can be quite rewarding, or at the very least, good for a cheap laugh.
While traveling down south, Josh (Wings Hauser, DEADLY FORCE) and his younger brother Mike (Lee Montgomery, BEN) find themselves stranded in the middle of nowhere after the roadside antics of a group of stereotypical hillbillies forces their car off the road and into a ditch. Hitching a ride to the nearest podunk town, the two brothers barely have time to find their bearings before stumbling over a discarded body. Freaking out, Mike seeks help in the town's sole watering hole, only to run into the same clichéd rednecks from earlier, all of whom are none to pleased to see city folk in their neck of the woods. Of course a brawl ensues and threats are made but thankfully Sheriff Stewart (Bo Hopkins, MIDNIGHT EXPRESS) is present and steps in to prevent any unnecessary rebel rousing. After failing to deliver on the dead body that Mike so insistently claims to have seen, Sheriff Stewart escorts the brothers to the house of a nearby good samaritan to crash for the night. Looking to keep his sleepy town as quite as possible, the Sheriff suggests that they gets some rest but be on their way by morning, a proposition that sound all too fine to Josh.
Waking up the next day, eager to get their car fixed and get the hell outta Dodge, Josh looks in on his brother only to find him missing. Desperate to be on his way, Josh goes into to town to find his brother, but instead finds a town practically deserted. Of the few residents still up and kicking, Dr. Tate (Jennifer Warren, NIGHT MOVES), the local physician, has been diligently working on a problem. Bodies have indeed been turning up in the small country town and with each case a strange yellowish bile has been present. Aided by Sheriff Stewart, whose wears his drinking problem like a badge, the doctor thinks she may be onto something but as darkness falls the neighborhood is turned asunder. There must be something in the water because once passive neighbors have somehow been mutated into bloodthirsty killers. Active only at night, the gruesome ghouls, hungry for flesh, terrorize the once peaceful community, leaving Sheriff Stewart, Dr. Tate, Josh and a pretty young teacher (Jody Medford) to fend for themselves, least they become a late night snack.
At what point in his career do you think Bo Hopkins just showed up on set dressed as a sheriff? It certainly would have saved the costume department a few bucks. While his screen time is minimal when compared to that of Wings, Bo does here what Bo does best; playing an authority figure trying to unravel a mystery, all the while maintaining a sense of civility and southern charm. The hook this time around is that Sheriff Stewart likes the sauce. Otherwise there is little difference between Sheriff Stewart and Sheriff Burke from SWEET SIXTEEN, which Bo portrayed a year prior. As leading men go, Wings Hauser is kind of a dick, at least for the first half of the picture. Somehow however by the time the crazed zombie like townsfolk start to attack, you actually begin to feel a bit of empathy for the guy. It’s hard not too, considering all he is forced to go through. He loses his brother, potentially meets the love of his life in Holly, the small town teacher, and has to protect himself and his new sweetheart from a legion of mutated good ol’ boys eager to rip at their face and eat their flesh. Both Bo and Wings would again work together a few years later in Nico Mastorakis’s NIGHTMARE AT NOON, which features an almost identical plot to MUTANT.
While admittedly very bad, I must confess not feeling altogether let down by the time MUTANT's end credits rolled. Truth be told I was pleasantly surprised by the bleak tone the picture hints at towards its conclusion, although an obligatory turn at the film's final moment shattered any notion of an original ending. The picture is also surprisingly well paced. John 'Bud' Cardos (KINGDOM OF THE SPIDER) doesn’t pull off any particularly memorable shots, save for the final, potentially dire set piece mentioned previously, but the picture's overall flow is steady enough to allow for an enjoyable, if at times bumpy ride.
The heat is about to come down on Walter Graham (Alex Cord, Michael Coldsmith Briggs III on “Airwolf”) and his associates. In a desperate attempt to recoup as much of their assets as possible before the government freezes their funds, Walter, along with his right hand man Mike (George Kennedy, DEATH SHIP) and their bumbling cohort Albert (Clu Gulager, THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD), hop on a private boat en route for the Cayman Islands, where their stolen funds rest peacefully in an off shore account. Accompanying the three business men, much to Mike’s dismay, are a duo of bikini clad beauties, Bobbie (Clare Carey) and Suzanne (Shari Shattuck), picked up along the strip in Fort Lauderdale by Walter the previous day. Walter did not however expect the ladies to arrive with their own guests, a trio of college men, Martin (Eric Larson, DEMON WIND), Lance (Beau Dremann, MY SCIENCE PROJECT) and Corey (Rob Estes), as well as a stray pussy cat Rachel found roaming the docks. Having fired his previous crew, and upon the suggestion of his young captain Rachel (Toni Hudson), Walter agrees to let the three men stay as his employees. While Walter and Mike are the last men you would want to cross, it turns out that the three men have more to fear from their feline stowaway than their new bosses. Having escaped from a scientific lab, the precocious pussy makes quick work of the ship's crew, gnawing off any limb that gets too close to its ravenous teeth. With the ship's fuel line having been chewed through and all navigational tools damaged, the crew's numbers begin to dwindle as the killer pussy's infectious bite causes panic in open waters.
Personally I have never found cats to be very effective implements of horror. They can certainly be creepy, I’ll give you that, but rarely do they instill dread. Maybe it’s the fact -- and I don’t mean to sounds cruel or get PETA all up in arms- - but in a defensive situation, I can kick a cat. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a cat lover. I have three cats myself. All I’m saying is if a demonic pussy cat starts to charge at me, hell-bent on making my ankles its next meal, well, I’m not afraid to bend a kitty like Beckham in order to protect myself. That said, the pussy in Greydon Clark’s UNINVITED is anything but terrifying. Obviously a puppet, and a poorly constructed one at that, Greydon’s killer feline is so mangled and visually confusing that am I still not sure what exactly it’s suppose to be. Either it’s a mutated cat that has a small demon spawn living in its belly or the cat is able to turn itself inside out, morphing into a mangled, hellish creature with a craving for blood. Either way, it looks like the business end of a dirty mop.
Easily UNINVITED's most recognizable face is that of George Kennedy’s. I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that George didn't have to delve all that deep to get into the easily irritated mindset of Mike, as it’s pretty clear that George would have liked to have been anywhere else at the time other than making this film. Maybe DEATH SHIP left a bad taste in his mouth in regards to horror on the high sea. Looking quite fine in a bikini is Clare Carey, another familiar face who also stared in WAXWORK, shot the same year. Clare is probably best known from her work on television, both as a regular on the early 1990s sitcom “Coach” and more recently on the short lived, post apocalyptic television drama “Jericho”. Having partook in a number of cult titles, including SCHOOL SPIRIT and LEATHERFACE: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE III, Toni Hudson will stand out, at least to anyone who grew up in the 1980s, as Terry’s (Joyce Hyser) best friend in JUST ONE OF THE GUYS. Toni is cute as a button here and is one of the few actors whose performance seems somewhat grounded and not wildly over the top. Fans of prime time soap opera dramas will get a kick out of seeing a young Rob Estes, who would move on to a number reoccurring leading roles on “Silk Stockings”, “Melrose Place” and most recently on the revamped “90210”.
No stranger to low budget exploitation, Greydon Clark delivers a manic if somewhat rushed monster picture with UNINVITED. Maybe it’s just the slapped together killer cat puppet but it feels like the whole of the picture was shot in about three days. I’m sure this is not the case, as according to comments left on his official website, www.greydonclark.com, Greydon used his own pool to shoot the interior of the sinking ship. Proof that he gave it his all, despite budgetary limitations in getting UNINVITED in the can. Still, in comparison to MUTANT, UNINVITED's cheese level may be higher but the final product is not nearly as appetizing, and it fails to stack up to Greydon’s earlier work, such as the highly entertaining SATAN’S CHEERLEADERS.
Liberation Entertainment originally released MUTANT, also known as NIGHT SHADOWS, on DVD as a stand alone title in 2006, as have several other distributors, including Westlake and Elite Entertainment. While past releases have apparently featured the film in widescreen, this double bill features the film full frame with a visual presentation that can be described as watchable. The picture tends to get drowned out in several night and dark corner scenes, but for the most part, you can follow the action just fine. There is surprisingly little in the way of dirt and debris and the Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track does a serviceable job to both dialogue and Richard Band’s original score.
Back when VHS was king, UNINVITED was released into American homes by New Star Video with a cover that gave a fair assessment as to what viewers could expect, but in comparison to the U.K. cover (which featured a skull capped boat flanked by a flaming demon cat head!), was a grade school doodle not worthy of placement on the refrigerator door. Pretty much on par with its companion film's presentation, UNINVITED is on hand full frame in a passable transfer that allows one to get enough of a glimpse of the less than ferocious feline to illicit more than a passing chuckle. Colors are fair but far from crisp and the audio track is strong enough to follow dialogue, but dammit if that cat never shuts up. As of this writing, a stand alone release of UNINVITED is scheduled to be released courtesy of Cheezy Flicks with a street date of 10/20/2009. Honesty, if you’re going to fork over your hard earned dollars to see a killer kitty flick, you might as well opt for this release and consider MUTANT an added bonus. Each feature comes with chapter menus, otherwise the only extras are trailers for TOKYO!, ONE EYED MONSTER and JUST BURIED, which play before the main menu. (Jason McElreath)
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