I'd have to say that my favorite actor is Brion James. He became a recognizable face when he got a part in `Bladerunner,' and since then kept himself very busy; landing supporting parts in dozens of B-movies. I was quite upset when I found out, through this website a month after it happened, that he had passed away in August of 1999, a heart attack at 54. Since then I have made it my mission to see as many of his movies as I can. Slowly I have been chipping away at my list (I currently have 50 legitimate titles remaining). Recently, I went on a Brion James binge, and tracked down five titles I had not seen before. The fifth one, `Mutator,' I found in the horror section completely by accident and was very glad to have stumbled upon it. See, James was a character actor, and rarely headed the cast. Previously, I had assumed the only starring role he had was in `The Horror Show' (and even in that Lance Henrikson was top-billed), so I was overjoyed to find this, his only other starring role.
The plot is neither new nor creative. A genetics corporation named Tigen did some bizarre experiments, adding newly created cells to a female cat. The cat gave birth to a litter of deformed creatures that subsequently escaped. The bullheaded corporation head, worried about the company's reputation, kept any word of the experiments quiet and apparently chose not to look for the creatures, which are hiding out somewhere in the large laboratory complex. One day, one of the security guards `disappears' (although, during a slow opening credits sequence, the viewer knows he is killed by a creature). With a security guard position freshly open, Tigen gives David Allen (James) a call. Allen's living in a run-down boardinghouse, and is more than happy to accept the position he applied for at Tigen. That night, he goes to Tigen and is shown around by the head guard. Meanwhile, the corporate head's rebellious, animal-rights fanatic daughter and her two friends sneak into the complex with the plan of setting free the test animals. Also in the building are the corporate head himself, the public relations head (the most horribly underdeveloped character), and a scientist. Coincidentally, the cat creatures choose this night to all come out to feast on anyone they come across. So when Allen figures out what is happening, he rallies everyone together so they can all get out of the building. Problem is, there is a time lock on the front doors, so the only exit for escape is through the sewers, and to get to it they must get past the creatures.
While this may all sound familiar, I didn't think it was that bad. I might be a little biased in that James is heading the cast, and he is good in what little he has to work with. There are moments in the dialogue that made me think James was improvising, such as the moment he is mixing two chemicals together in a bottle and has the scientist hold a funnel while he pours:
JAMES: `Hold it steady.'
SCIENTIST: `Don't spill any.'
JAMES: `That's why I want you to hold it steady.'
In addition to James, there were other good cast members. Yes, that is really Embeth Davidtz in the cast, good as the rebel daughter, though her character, like most of them, gets sidetracked in the final act. I also liked one of the other guards, nicknamed Professor (Denis Smith), who was funny in his dialogue and hand gestures that you rarely see in such a low budget movie. Speaking of the budget, there wasn't much of one here. I usually respect filmmakers that can make good entertainment with modest money, and set the rule that no filmmaker should ever try to do more with special effects than their budget allows. John R. Bowey does not exceed his limitations. He keeps the lights low to produce a decent feeling of creepiness, but not so dark that you can't see what is going on. He also doesn't give us a full shot of the creatures, showing as little as possible, and it usually works. It's more eerie just seeing the creature's hand reaching out to grab someone than if we saw the whole thing, given that a full shot might produce laughs with such a low budget. There aren't too many gore effects, but they are done in an effective manner, though cheap enough not to exceed the budget. That's not saying that the film isn't without other problems. MAJOR SPOILERS ALERT!!! For one thing, an interesting aspect is that David Allen was a former head scientist at Tigen before being fired. For reasons known only to him, Allen wants to get hired as a guard so he can do some unfinished business in the lab. I kept thinking they were going to get into this, that Allen's reason would be exposed, but it never is. Not even a hint, and whatever it was, it had nothing to do with the cat creatures. Even more annoying is the timing of it all. If the creatures have been hiding in the complex for a number of months, why haven't they been seen before and why haven't they come out and attacked someone prior to the previous night? I don't think it would have taken too much to explain this plot point away, but it isn't addressed. Finally, the chase during the second half loses momentum with both the viewer and the cast. The final showdown feels hurried and is lacking in action that was desperately needed. END OF MAJOR SPOILERS
`Mutator' winds up being neither good nor bad. I think the presence of Brion James makes me more forgiving of it (but that is not always the case; even I was embarrassed watching `Return to Frogtown' as James must have been acting in it), yet at the same time he elevates what would otherwise be a poor creature feature. It could have and should have been better, I know, but I was still glad to have seen it. I miss Brion James. It was great to just see his name on the top of the credits.
Review by Zantara Xenophobe from the Internet Movie Database.