To be honest, I’m not sure anyone I know will particularly appreciate today’s movie and, unlike most of my posts, I am not going to argue or rave about its fine qualities in an effort to convince anyone otherwise. That’s not because I think the movie is bad, but because I think it’s a movie not everyone should see or needs to see. It wasn’t made to be that kind of movie.
THE MUTILATION MAN is probably one of the finest examples of “independent” film, in the metaphorical sense, in that it was made by and for people with very particular issues and sensibilities…a very small audience. Perhaps, after all, it was made only for the filmmaker himself. Because of this it is a very “honest” film, but it reads more as an artifact of the director’s therapeutic journey into his own pain and history of abuse rather than a “horror film,” or even a “film,” in the traditional sense. It is, rather, a desperate attempt to escape, or transform, the pain that is caused by child abuse into something that makes sense and can offer redemption for its creator. That does not mean that it will offer redemption, or even the hope of redemption, for the viewer. That is why I cannot insist that you see it. At the same time, it is a remarkable and, for me, extremely touching example of how the creative act, the production of “art,” can be a powerful, essential tool for healing when it is applied honestly, without flinching, to the darkest aspects of our selves.
I had a short “online relationship” with Andrew Copp, the director of THE MUTILATION MAN, several years ago…probably almost ten years ago now. He emailed me a compliment based on one of my online reviews of a horror movie (or art movie?) on imdb, I think, and we continued our correspondence via MySpace. I think it was MySpace? It was a long time ago so the details are fuzzy. I remember, however, that he was an extremely intelligent critic of both horror and art films and, like me, enjoyed long, entertainingly opinionated rants. Some of our “back and forth” may still be on the imdb chat boards recorded for posterity. We fell out of the rhythm of contact eventually, but we had some good conversation while it lasted. I regret that I will unfortunately never get to meet him in person as he committed suicide last year. That makes today’s film particularly poignant for me. To the extent that THE MUTILATION MAN was an attempt to escape his own demons, it can be considered a failure. My only hope – and I am sure it is a hope that Andrew Copp shared – is that its success can be measured by its positive influence upon others who suffer like he did.
THE MUTILATION MAN is an experimental movie filmed in a poetic style similar to the films of Derek Jarman. It is not as concerned with narrative as it is with the slow accrual of images and scenarios the meaning of which are only made clear after their repetition in different contexts. Understanding this meaning, obviously, involves careful and patient viewing. This is less difficult for Derek Jarman films as they are often beautiful and technically impressive. Though his films are by no means sentimental or decorative, Jarman is inclined to repeat images of gardens and water and pretty colors in different contexts. Copp, on the other hand, repeats images of mutilation, atrocity footage, sexual degredation, corpses, and all manner of abuse.
THE MUTILATION MAN is not, however, simply a montage of horror. There is a narrative presented in the abstract. Copp provided his own synopsis for imdb:
“Ivan is a young man who travels a barren wasteland performing shows of self mutilation to small but adoring crowds. He is doing so to attempt to understand the cycle of child abuse he has been a part of. Through flashbacks and halucinations we see his Father murder his mother as well as the psysical abuse Ivan suffered. He must make peace within himself through a sacrifice of blood and honor.”
This story becomes clear while watching. Other elements, presented symbolically, may be more obscure even for attentive viewers. The character Ivan buries himself at night and carries a shovel with him through the imaginary, post-apocalyptic and ultra-violent world within which he performs his “self mutilation” act. Some elements of his story are buried in allusion. Apart from witnessing the murder of his mother, he has likely also been physically and sexually abused by his father. His own sexuality, distorted by the violence and pain he has suffered, is something he works through as the film unfolds. At one point described as a “negative god,” Ivan returns to a repeated fantasy scenario in which he is born from an embryonic sack, looking much like the “god” from the cult movie THE BEGOTTEN, and is seduced and “taken care of” by a sadistic woman with devil horns. The full significance of these passages not only requires a familiarity with THE BEGOTTEN, but also an understanding of the mythology presented within that film (which is by no means apparent even if one has seen it!)
Such symbolic references, however obscure, are par for the course if one considers the movie for what it is: a ritual of exorcism. Such rituals always require signs and symbols specific to the religion under which they are performed. In this case the religion is the cult film, specifically the horror film, and certain images only make sense to initiates. Don’t watch the movie, however, expecting an amusing, detached game of “spot the reference”. This game is very serious.
I should be very clear, for friends who are curious, that this movie contains gory images in a context that is not for “fun.” This ain’t DEAD ALIVE, or even NECROMANTIK, and it shouldn’t be approached that way.
In any case, for those who get the picture and are still interested in watching, I hope you have some appreciation or get something positive out of it. For others, I’m attaching several little statements memorializing Andrew Copp as well as an interview and an entertaining little collection of his “vlog” episodes (all of which I love). One of the IMDB reviews of THE MUTILATION MAN describes him as “pretentious.” I think you’ll see he was actually anything but…
Finally, I’m posting an amusing little stint he did as a “horror host” for the strange, rare and awesome movie NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR. I don’t usually like it when movies I enjoy are given the “horror host” treatment, but I think you’ll agree that the movie, as well as Andy’s campy bookending of the movie, are pretty damned fun. So it’s not all just depressing shit today after all!
All of these Youtube videos, apart from THE MUTILATION MAN, came from a Youtube channel called “A Tribute To Andy Copp” should you want to see more.
INTERVIEW WITH ANDY COPP:
ANDY COPP’S CULT CORNER:
ANDY’S SLUMBER PARTY OF HORROR – NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR:
THE MUTILATION MAN (1998):