Color, 1993, 94 mins. 31 secs.
Directed by Álex de la Iglesia
Antonio Resines, Álex Angulo, Frédérique Feder, Juan Viadas, Karra Elejalde
Severin Films (UHD & Blu-ray) (US R0 4K/HD), Cameo (Blu-ray & DVD) (Spain RB/R2 HD/PAL), VCL Communications (DVD) (Germany R2 PAL), Metrodome (DVD) (UK R2 PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
One of the biggest names in Spanish cult cinema and TV today, Álex de la Iglesia got off to a rip-roaring start back in the early '90s with the word-of-mouth favorite Acción mutante, a feverish blend of sci-fi, action, and bizarro comedy that barely seems to stop to catch its breath. In fact, the young director got the biggest break imaginable by having his debut feature handled by El Deseo, S.A., Pedro Almodóvar's production company, with Pedro and brother Agustin Almodóvar aboard as producers. Since then Iglesia went on to direct films like The Day of the Beast, Perdita Durango, and Witching & Bitching, not to mention the HBO miniseries 30 Coins. He may not be quite as hyper now as in his '90s days, but there's no doubt the same sensibility is still at play all these years later.
In a grungy futuristic Spain, the titular Mutant Action squad has gotten fed up with being treated like human garbage by the rich and beautiful. In their tricked-out camouflaged vehicle, the disabled or unusual participants have committed various terrorist acts against the bourgeoisie for a decade but may have bitten off more than they can chew with the bloody wedding day abduction of socialite Patricia (Feder) that goes far worse than planned. Fresh out of prison, leader Ramón (Resines) deceives the crew about how much ransom is involved, which triggers a civil war among them while Patricia, whose mouth is temporarily stapled shut, starts to fall for her captor. Launching into space, the misfits start dying off as they head to a cataclysmic face-off on a run-down mining planet.
Though obviously blessed with a relatively luxurious budget for such a crackpot project, Accion mutante feels very loose and unpredictable with a mixed-media approach combining crisp 35mm photography with various TV transmission and other lower-fi elements. The director's sense of humor is in evidence throughout with a helter skelter approach that may not appeal all the way through to all viewers, but it undeniably grabs you by the throat with its anarchic spirit. The fact that the title organization is pretty inept is just one of its many satirical points, a far cry from the usual victorious oddball scenario you'd expect here.
One aspect of this film Iglesia would repeat multiple times is a total disregard for copyright law, here represented by a blast of the theme from Mission: Impossible a little over a minute into the film. (Perdita Durango and the superb La comunidad would be even more flagrant, but that's another story.) That element kept this film from getting a commercial release in the U.S. in theaters or on home video, but it became a big hit on the bootleg circuit thanks to copies of the English-subtitled U.K. VHS release (which was fully letterboxed but missing a few seconds of bloody razor mayhem). In Spain it's been widely available including a DVD and eventual Blu-ray edition from Cameo, the latter with 5.1 and 2.0 Spanish audio options plus English, or French subtitles; extras include a batch of trailers, an archival 27m17s making-of featurette, two minutes of storyboards, a music video for the theme song, and a 32m37 reel of raw behind-the-scenes footage.
The 2022 Severin Films edition featuring a 4K UHD and a Blu-ray is the first time the film has ever gotten a legit American release, and it's obviously the one to grab as it looks and sounds the best of them all. The transfer looks about as good as this scrappy, intentionally resolution-skipping production possibly could, and audio options include active Spanish Dolby Atmos, DTS-HD 5.1 and 2.0 options with English subtitles. Amusingly, they've replaced that troublesome Mission: Impossible music in a couple of spots with something that sounds as close as possible without getting into legal trouble. It's unlikely most folks will even notice the difference. It's also worth noting that this is not the same HD presentation as the Spanish Blu-ray, which boosted the saturation in some shots and digitally erased the frequent single-frame debris visible at the splice points of many shots (which was present in previous releases). Virtually invisible in motion to the naked eye, that tic is apparently part of the original negative as it's back on the U.S. disc and more in line with other video editions out there. A really hilarious commentary is provided with English subtitles with participants including Iglesia, writer Jorge Guerricaechevarría, producer Esther Garcia, and production designers José Luis Arrizabalaga and Biaffra. This one is absolutely worth the sit as they swap quips nonstop right from the beginning and clearly have a blast going back and watching their weird mutated cinematic baby in action.
On the video extras side, in "Well-Done Baloney" (18m8s), Iglesia remembers making his first feature (following a short film), the clear influence of Delicatessen and Freaks, his favorite scene, and the very long, extensive prep process to get the film off the ground. In "Bad Blood Costumbrism" (18m24s), Guerricaechevarría discusses how the film evolved from a proposed second short film called Space Pirates and ended up getting the support of El Deseo, as well as where some of the crazier ideas generated along the way. Resines appears next in "The F*cking Boss" (14m42s), which covers his earlier familiarity with his director from art illustration gigs, his thoughts on the sheer lunacy of the demands of his role, and the risk-taking attitude that reigned supreme at the time. In "Some Crazy Sh*t" (17m30s), Arrizabalaga and Biaffra elaborate on the stories from the commentary about assembling the various elements of this cinematic world including the crazy ice cream truck and spaceship, as well as the earlier projects that paved the way for their work here and the creation of the bullet squibs. Finally in "Liters of Blood... Wonderful!" (11m23s), special effects artist Raul Romanillos adds on more stories about the often DIY nature of the makeup effects, the workshop where the team worked around the clock, and the contagious enthusiasm on the set. Also included are the prior making-of featurette, production footage reel, music video storyboards, and trailer.
Severin Films (Blu-ray)
Updated review on November 24, 2022.