Matt Mitler on Mutilators, Mutants and Dropping Acid with Dick and Jane

A New York City based actor since the early 1980s, Matt Mitler’s charisma and humor landed him many memorable roles during New York’s last great era of independent exploitation film, including “Deadtime Stories,” “Basket Case 2,” the slasher favorite “The Mutilator” and several films for b-movie auteurs Tim Kincaid and Brett Piper. Mr. Mitler was kind enough to speak with me about his life and career:

When did you realize you wanted to be an actor?

I don’t know if I can really pinpoint that, but what I can say is that – and I actually have a radio program that’s premiering right now – it’s my first radio program since I was a little kid, because I grew up on the radio. My father owned a station, and my mother had a live show that was broadcast from our kitchen in Newport, Rhode Island. That started when I was born, and I was on the air as soon as I could talk. I was on the air with that program for five, six years, and then off and on the radio station until we moved out of Newport, when I was ten. So I had this whole experience with radio. And it was very compelling for me, but I didn’t have any sense of “Yeah, I want to be an actor.” But because of the radio and because my mother’s program was fairly humorous – she was very improvisational, very cutting in a sort of Lenny Bruce type of way – she would improvise with me, a little kid who didn’t really know what he was saying, but it was all impromptu and live so whatever I said she would just kind of riff on. It got me into this world of comedy even before I understood what that was. I would listen to her comedy albums, memorize them and recite them at cocktail parties and then be sent to bed. I’d be doing a Lenny Bruce routine, standing there as a five or six year old, then “Okay, go to bed now!”

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Wait’ll They Get a Load of Me: Sex, Ego & “Batman” (1989)

Batman isn’t my favorite movie of all time but it may be the film I’ve seen the most times and thus had the biggest influence on my young mind.

I don’t think that makes me as fucked as a kid whose Bat-proselytization came from the ponderous Chris Nolan movies or mindless Arkham Asylum video games. Tim Burton’s animation background gave him the command of visual language necessary to make the film feel like a living comic book, which besides encouraging kids like myself to explore comic books also instilled a love for the graphic mythology of these larger-than-life characters: Batman the noble vampire clashing with the malevolent demon called The Joker against the backdrop of Gotham City, which isn’t anything like a real city but instead the ultimate hallucination of urban hell. To take this rich iconography and vulgarize it into a guy wearing black body armor fighting a guy in wet Juggalo makeup on a Chicago location shoot really wastes all that storytelling potential.

The secret of the 1989 film’s appeal is that like most superhero comics, its subtext is adolescent sexual frustration, and what’s more universal than that?

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