Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Video Nasty #3 - Axe

Axe, the first American film appearing on the DPP's list sets the tone and style for many of the films from the US appearing throughout the index of prohibited titles - low budget, designed and packaged for the exploitation market, and directed by regional film makers otherwise forever doomed to obscurity.


Directed by Frederick Friedel, probably sometime around the mid-70's (the film is officially dated 1977, but it may have been filmed earlier), Axe begins like a hardboiled crime movie but winds up somewhere completely different by the time the end credits roll. In the film, three gangsters arrive at an isolated farmhouse occupied by Lisa, a teenage girl who cares for her paralysed grandfather. When one of the men attempt to rape the girl, it awakens a latent streak of violence within her...


For the most part, Axe is a moody, even quietly unassuming film - there's some bloody violence around half-way mark when Lisa takes a straight razor to one of her attackers, but Axe is less a riff on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre but more Polanksi's Repulsion - very obviously, the protagonist of Axe is suffering some kind of slow breakdown, perhaps the violence in her is a scream of rage against men - her wasted life spent in servitude to a comatose old man, and the unwelcome arrival and attentions of the thuggish gangsters. One of the quirks of the film is that Friedel is not inclined to offer any kind of explanation for the events taking place. Even a sequence where a man is seen running away from the farmhouse is never touched upon further - perhaps this barely seen character was some sort of peeping tom spying on Lisa and further eroding her sanity. Nobody is quite sure.


Running a scant 68min (the final 5mins are devoted to the drawn out credits), Axe is a very accomplished little film - the performances are mostly very good. Jack Canon who plays Steele (good name for a crook), looks like a particularly mean Scott Reiniger of Dawn of the Dead and is suitably vicious to boot. Leslie Lee who plays Lisa gives a few stilted line readings, but her near-wordless performance is compelling for the expression of sadness on her face, so rigid it looks like a kabuki mask. Friedel's direction is subtle, making little of the gore, but conjuring up some hallucinatory images like a drowned snake in a bathtub, which later reappears as a discarded tie. A word about the sound design of the film - the score is a rather shrill but effective piece of bargain basement electronica, but throughout the film, audio straying from a television set is deliberately prominent in the mix, especially so during a scene where Steele tries to rape Lisa - the action played out to a sports commentary lending the scene a chilling quality.

Director Frederick Friedel who appears as Billy, the reluctant bad guy in the group
Axe is now available in the UK on DVD, but the Something Weird DVD is the definitive release of this film. The film itself looks wonderful, the fullframe transfer bright, colorful and sharp, struck from an excellent print. Audio is perfectly fine, the soundtrack exhibits a few pops and crackles here and there but the dialogue and music is clear and robust. For the extras, Something Weird have provided their usual rag-tag flotsam and jetsam of short program fillers, a collection of trailers for some Harry Novak titles, and two trailers for Axe under the alternative titles, Lisa, Lisa and The Virgin Slaughter ("Death was her only lover!"). Something Weird have very generously included a second feature film on the DVD, an 86min obscure drama from 1977 entitled The Electric Chair, directed by Axe producer J.G Patterson.

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Notes
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Exactly why Axe was caught up in the DPP's dragnet is something of a mystery considering the film's gore and violence is minimal. However the label that distributed the VHS tape put out a version longer than the BBFC sanctioned theatrical release. Also, the plot synopsis on the back of the VRO video described Axe's protagonist as a 13-year old girl - she's clearly older in the film - but the DPP may have found this problematic.

7 comments:

  1. Excellent review Wes, sounds like an interesting little film. While on this subject what are your thoughts on the Human centipede farce?

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  2. Thanks Mart... I vaguely saw some of the Human Centipede controversy on Facebook last night - I must read up more about it. I gotta say it's the kind of film I'd have little interest in. I suppose the Irish censors will kick this one out too...

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  3. Yeah, I avoided the first one as i didn't think I would find anything in it to enjoy, so I would have been extremely unlikely to see the second one anyway, I just hope it doesn't lead to another Daily Mail bandwagon to ban anything above a PG certificate!

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  4. Interesting what you say, Wes, about about the video nasties being made by regional film-makers. I have a feeling most of them were made for the drive-in market. I remember reading a review of Axe in House of Hammer magazine saying that Friedel was a new talent to watch. Did he ever make another film?

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  5. Frederick Friedel actually did make another film around the time of Axe - entitled Date With a Kidnapper, and like Axe, it has a following. I actually have it on DVD (a Something Weird double-bill with another obscure film called The Hitch Hikers) but rather shamefully have never got around to watching it. I probably should dust it off and give it a spin while Axe is still fresh in my mind...

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  6. Axe almost made it into my Horror Movie Marathon Weekend this year - but hearing that the gore is slight I'm glad I didn't show it - my crowd wouldn't have enjoyed it. I will be watching it sometime though.

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  7. You were dead right Craig, Axe is not a group film, it's moody, intense and deadly serious, but well worth seeing in more agreeable circumstances. For me this is one of the great regional exploitation pictures of the 70's, and I'll happily defend the film against the naysayers !

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