One of the things people tend to forget about old studio horror movies from 1971-1985 is that many of them were done without a hint of irony, no matter how goofy they might have seen/been. In today's more cynical, jaded world, movies like "Prophecy" (the one about the mutant bear), "Lifeforce" and "Night of the Lepus" couldn't be made with a straight face, and the studios would play it all tongue in cheek. That's why a movie like "Mutant" doesn't just feel like a relic, but one of the last relics from a time when you could pitch a movie, and studios would at least consider it.
Josh (Wings Hauser) and Mike Cameron (Lee Montgomery) are two brothers on the lookout for a good time, until some rednecks run their car over. There's a little something that's worse than those pesky rednecks though-namely a chemical spill is causing people in the town to die. Oh, and then they become purple skinned, gray haired zombies that have mouth like growths on their hands. Can the day be saved by Josh (Mike doesn't make it), the local, hard drinking sheriff Will Stewart (Bo Hopkins) and elementary school teacher Holy Pierce (Jody Medford)? Can Mike escape the wrath of those angry rednecks? Why is the movie called "Mutant" (also known as "Night Shadows") and has a poster that looks like that of an "Alien" knock off, but it's actually a zombie movie?
"Mutant" is very much a meat and potatoes style drive-in-horror-flick from the 80's, originally intended to be directed by Mark Rosman ("The House on Sorority Row") but ended up going to Joe "Bud" Cardos ("The Dark" and "Kingdom of the Spiders.") By meat and potatoes, I mean there isn't any real gore (unless you count the green zombie blood) or nudity on display. The movie also suffers from some serious pacing issues, and it sure does take it's precious time with getting to the good stuff. That would be fine if you actually cared about anyone other than Josh and his brother. Everyone else is essentially a stock character meant to be of assistance, to pester our heroes, or to become zombie food. It sure as hell doesn't help that none of the other performances are any good.
Still, this is an impossible movie to hate. Once the shit hits the fan, the movie rarely let's up, and has some nice scares and suspense scenes, including a moment in which a kid is attacked by zombie children. Nice to see such a curve ball thrown in there. Then theres the score by Richard Band, which is great and probably one of his best. Finally, there's the nostalgia factor. As I said, there's something charming about this kind of horror movie, even if it is a mixed bag, because it really is one of the last "let's put on a horror show" drive-in type movies of it's time. For that and the other reasons mentioned, I can see why it's remained such a cult favorite.
I can't say that I loved "Mutant", or even liked it a whole lot due to the flaws really sticking out. However, for fans of 80's cheese and no-frills drive-in fare without buckets of gore, it's definitely worth a rental. In short: seen better, but seen worse.
Update: I just found out that Dick Clark of all people co-produced this. Small world, huh?