Axe

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  1. rkellner

    rkellner Active Member

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    [​IMG] Reviewer: rkellner
    Review Date: October 22, 2016

    Released by: Severin Films
    Release date: 12/15/2015
    MSRP: $34.95 (Buy now at Amazon and help support the site)
    Region Free
    Progressive Scan
    Codec: AVC, 1080p
    Widescreen 1.85:1
    1974

    “It’s just you and your grandfather? This place will do just fine.”

    Low budget extraordinaire, Troma founder, and pitchman Lloyd Kaufman once published a book entitled “Make Your Own Damn Movie”. In the early 70’s a young man with no experience behind the camera or with motion pictures really at all decided that if Orson Welles could make Citizen Kane when he was 25, then he could do it to. Now, that is about where the similarities between Citizen Kane and Axe end, but with roughly $25k dollars from friends and family, a bunch of cheap 35mm ends, 8 days planned to shoot, a cast of mainly first time actors that he found from a single day of open casting in his native home of North Carolina, and an inexperienced crew (with the important exception of his cinematographer who would later go on to bigger and better things with James Cameron), he willed a grindhouse motion picture into existence. Under any rational circumstances, this movie should be garbage. In fact, there are many many many other regional horror movies that stunk up drive-ins in the late 60s and 70s and have pretty much disappeared from public consciousness for all the right reasons. However, Axe and to a lesser extent Kidnapped Coed not only have lived on, but have been given the lavish uber deluxe blu ray edition from Severin Films. This new definitive edition has a healthy amount of participation from the director himself, the skeleton crew which he used on both films, and IMHO the best and most eloquent horror genre aficionado on the planet, Stephen Thrower who himself was instrumental in bringing this blu ray to fruition. All together this package is one of the finest of the year and a true love letter to old regional horror films that were trying to be something unique.

    Axe, aka “Lisa, Lisa”, aka “Virgin Slaughter” is part gangster movie, part home invasion thriller, and part Last House on the Left, which had come out two years earlier. Clocking in at a lean 67 minutes, and under a hour if you cut out the purposefully elongated and slow opening and ending credits, Axe is Frederick Friedel’s first film, and it leaves quite an impact if you take it for what it is.

    The Story

    inline Image Kicking things off assuredly with a trio of killers (Jack Canon – first feature film role, Ray Green – first and only role, and Frederick Friedel himself - because he was free) waiting to ambush a homosexual couple in their hotel room. When the bloody violence breaks out immediately with the torture, beating, and killing of one and causing the other to jump out of a high story window to his death, this movie has a firm grasp of its grindhouse audience. The trio then follow up this bloodbath by up torturing and playing a very grave version of William Tell with a visibly distraught gas station worker for kicks…and that’s all before the 20 minute mark.

    inline Image It is at this point that we meet Lisa (the original title of this was Lisa, Lisa although AXE is a far superior title for this genre), who is taking care of her invalid grandfather on a remote farm as she bathes, shaves him, and feeds him raw eggs (?). The opening shots of her breaking an egg is a nice foreshadowing of the loss of innocence to come and shows that even with the limited capabilities that went into the making of the film, there was still some high ambitions for it to be something more. Much in the same vein as Last House on the Left, their quiet life gets turned upside down when the trio of killers pick their house to hide out in to avoid the police, and decide to have their way with the young and attractive Lisa as there are no adults around to stop them. But we obviously know that things aren’t going to end nicely, or without some righteous bloodshed right? The movie is entitled Axe for a reason…even if there isn’t technically an axe in it.

    inline Image The editing and direction on this is very solid for a low budget first picture. With fast jump cuts, handheld camera work, POV shots, lots of low angles, tracking shots, and quick flashes of Lisa’s bloody and prophetic hallucinations, this movie is way above other one-camera cheap horror movies. The cinematography is also especially great all around especially given the limited budget, although it is no surprise once you hear in the extras that the cinematographer was the only one who got paid and then went on to a great and notable film career.

    inline Image The acting on this is pretty damn good too. Leslie Lee is just sort of odd and emotionally disconnected which works for the film. She had never acted before and had only previous modeling experience. Deciding to give her limited lines and make her seem in a state of shock for most of the running time was a good decision. However, the lucky accident here was finding Jack Canon as he is fantastic in this and Kidnapped Coed. He is an amazing find for someone who just came into an open casting call, even though he did have some acting in his past. Everything on this movie just happily gels and works better than it should.

    inline Image I am not really sure how much life this film had after its first run when Henry Novak retitled it Axe to cash in on the enviable box office receipts of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It appears briefly in the Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, but for anyone who likes to research independent horror, there is a great feature on the writer and director in the truly amazing 5lb novel and labor of love from Stephen Thrower, Nightmare USA [In all seriousness…if you are reading this now, you need this encyclopedia of indie horror]. It had its sole 2001 fullframe DVD outing by Something Weird Video where it was paired with fellow North Carolina resident Pat Paterson’s The Electric Chair. Even though it has been a decade and a half since I had seen it, it still left an impression on me.

    White this movie won’t keep you up at night, and the bloodshed is nothing over the top, the movie has a really interesting other worldly feel to it due to the detached performance and lack of dialog of Lisa as well as the haunting score and occasional hallucinatory visions. Maybe what is more interesting, and this is true of Kidnapped Coed as well, is that there is no effort to paint back stories for any characters (although additional unfilmed character information is hinted at in the documentary). Why is Lisa a bit odd, withdrawn, but with a violent streak? Why is her grandfather paralyzed and in his condition? Where are the parents? What led the trio of crooks to stake out the initial couple? Why does Lisa have these visions? Maybe these were things that were initially written and excised, but it leaves the odd impression on the viewer that you are voyeuristically jumping into the middle of a story and are just along for the ride along with the other five characters. Then again the movie is only an hour long. Despite its short comings, to me this movie is one heck of a watch and is a prime example of how sometimes a film made outside of the system by people who are making it up as they go, can provide a really unique viewing experience.

    Axe is the sort of movie that understands exactly what it is. Think of every 90-110 minute long classic grindhouse movie, and then edit out all the dull parts and needless character development and subplots. What you are left with should be about 60 minutes of genre goodness. That is Axe. 60 minutes of genre goodness. It is more of a thriller than your typical supernatural or slasher horror film, but it has a vibe and a uniqueness to it that will stay with you long after the credits roll. Highly recommended.

    Image Quality

    inline Image Wow. This looks good. Although a bit fuzzy compared to Kidnapped Coed, the colors pop, detail looks great, and aside from a couple speckles and hairs here and there, the image looks great in its original widescreen scope, especially compared to the previous faded fullscreen DVD outing. It is really amazing how a low budget title like this can be resurrected with a nice 2K scan from the original negatives! Don’t get me wrong, this won’t be a title that you show your system off with, but considering that the original negatives were thought to be lost and then had to be dug out of an unknown warehouse, how can you complain?

    Sound

    Audio is very clear for the most part. Some of the dialog in the beginning scene in the hotel room is a bit muffled, but that may be due to the original source and the fact that much of the sound was later dubbed in. The rest of the score is actually quite good with eerie jazz, sparse drumming and bass notes, and some psychedelic electronic passages to raise the tension levels. Again, not exactly a 7.1 Dolby Atmos type of score, but for what it is, it is great and effective.

    Final Thoughts

    Under any rational circumstances, this movie should be garbage. In fact, there are many many many other regional horror movies that stunk up drive-ins in the late 60s and 70s and have pretty much disappeared from public consciousness for all the right reasons. However, Axe and to a lesser extent Kidnapped Coed not only have lived on, but have been given the lavish uber deluxe blu ray edition from Severin Films. This new definitive edition has a healthy amount of participation from the director himself, the skeleton crew which he used on both films, and IMHO the best and most eloquent horror genre aficionado on the planet, Stephen Thrower who himself was instrumental in bringing this Blu-ray to fruition. All together this package is one of the finest of the year and a true love letter to old regional horror films that were trying to be something unique.

    Rating

    [​IMG] Movie - A (on the grindhouse grading scale)

    Image Quality - B

    Sound - B

    Supplements - N/A


    Technical Info.
    • Color
    • 1 Disc
    • DTS-HD Mono English, DTS-HD Mono German
    • DTS-HD Mono English (Bloody Brothers)
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 22, 2016
    Workshed, ClaytonS, Steel76 and 3 others like this.

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