Whether one calls it Mutant or Night Shadows as it was originally known, this unassuming movie about zombies is almost like a hidden gem amongst the many films released in 1984. When it begins, it has a slight air of Deliverance about it as two brothers named Josh and Mike have a run-in with some rednecks who force their car off the road. That only lasts for so long though for once the two make it to town, they find that not all is as it seems. The people for one, are strange – more than strange and the sooner they can get out of town the better. That plan falls by the wayside though when Mike disappears and Josh discovers that it is not the people of the town that are the problem but the violent, zombie-like creatures they become once infected by others and it is not long before he and a young woman he meets are running for their lives.
Given the title of the film, it is easy to guess that horror is going to be the name of the game and director John Cardos does not beat around the bushes in getting to it. The man sets up a good pace, introduces the main players to the audience and delivers almost an hour and a half of solid thrills and suspense. Taking the lead would be Wings Hauser as the affable Josh who takes things easily and loves his brother played by Lee Montgomery more than anything. Bo Hopkins is the local Sheriff who knows that something fishy is going on but has his own problems to deal with while Jody Medford is the beautiful young local girl whom Josh eventually ends up meeting in the search for his lost sibling. Additionally starring Marc Clement, Cary Guffey and Jennifer Warren, the cast may not be the most well-known but they are able and the film does not lack for talent.
As for the horror, it slowly builds after the discovery of the first body with a slow-rising tension that continues to increase as Josh makes his rounds around the town. The zombies for lack of a better term are not so much as scary when it comes to the special effects, instead their overwhelming numbers, their speed and their ferocity more than make up for it. Infection is spread through the hands which burn the victims quite severely and when seeing it in amongst the melee that takes place, it looks like there are a pair of yellow lips on the hands of the zombies or some sort of wound where transmission takes place. Whatever the case might be, it is nice to see something a little different than the usual bit where zombies simply bite or scratch their victims – not that Cardos completely does away with the teeth-gnashing.
While some might think that zombie movies are interchangeable and it is a valid argument, each of them including this one offers up a little fun, gets the blood pumping and provide a measure of entertainment that only these films can do. Mutant is not the greatest zombie picture to have ever been made but it is a good one that features something a little different at the very least.
3 out of 5