Edge of the Axe [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Arrow Films
Review written by and copyright: Robert Segedy (14th April 2020).
The Film

Let’s pretend that it’s 1988 again and it’s Friday night and we are at the local video store; the new release section has long been fleeced leaving only the unwanted dregs remaining. We trudge to the horror section in search of something that will be suitably violent and mildly terrifying. Your eyes scan the usual assortment of junk that passed for horror films in the 80’s: splatter films were all the rage back then, even though John Carpenter’s masterpiece "Halloween" (1978) had long since established the masked killer as its lead menace. You are about to walk away empty handed when your eye lands on a box on the bottom rack: "Edge of the Axe". What the hell? You mutter to yourself and make your way to the rental counter. Hey, this scenario is all too real, and probably did occur many times back in the day. I should know because way back then I was the dude managing the place and no, I wasn’t going to tell you that this was a dog, and that what you really want is "Return of the Living Dead" (1985) for some chunk blowing fun, but since I am in my usual foul mood, I refuse to tell you so. Yes, see what happens to when you are a smart ass customer and gave me grief about the late fees on you account; payback is a bitch! You walk to the door, a slight smirk on your lips, satisfied with your choice. I watch you as you drag your feet to exit and say to myself “Sucker. Another satisfied customer!”

Lo and behold, here it is 2020 and there in the red box is a vaguely familiar title, but with newly revamped artwork, and text proclaiming that “There is nothing silent about neighbors in Paddock County.” You make your selection and head on home, smugly thinking that you have selected a winner again. Guess what, friend? Yes, it is the same film that you may vaguely remember watching way back when in your teens and you know what? Yes, it is still a well-made, but ultimately unrewarding watch simply because the whole of the parts doesn’t jell. We have an axe murderer on the loose and the first victim buys it while in a car wash, of all places. I mean, come on, it’s broad daylight and the person getting hacked with the axe hasn’t even been properly introduced to us and here she is dead, already. Geez, that’s like going to bed with a hot chick and not having any foreplay. Wham, bam, thank you dead ma’am. And whose fault is it that you got suckered again? Not mine, bub. You should have spent some time reading my reviews before spending your hard-earned dough blindly. Yes, those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it, yet again. Sorry man.

Back in the 80’s there was a craze to take a film that was made overseas in a place like Spain and then insert some shots of NYC and simply have the cast act like they were in Manhattan. Yes, the name of the schlock mister Lucio Fulci rolls right off my tongue with nary a pause because he was one of those masterminds that churned out the red stuff with regularity, except the maestro delivered when it came to the special effects department, and often he focused his efforts on the eyes of a terrified scream queen. And that my friends is what makes this film a poor substitute for what a true gore hound is seeking. You see, when you are fooled by gratuitous looking ad campaigns on television or be it garish artwork on the cover, you need to know some facts before making your selection. Things like who directed it or what is the director’s previous track record may shed some light on making a wise decision, especially if you are considering adding a film to your home collection. Take this director for example: José Ramón Larraz. Now certainly not an extremely well known name, but nonetheless an director of note; he directed cult faves "Vampyres" (1974) and "Symptoms" (1974), however those films used his actual name in the credits, but here he is trying to fool us by using a pseudonym: Joseph Braunstein. Now who knows why he did that? Sure, many directors of note have done that in the past, but there is usually a good reason behind the shadiness. Political reasons are often the number one cause, but I am curious as to why this film was lensed in Madrid but tries its hardest to fool us into thinking that it is in California. There’s plenty of USA influence on display: American film posters are on the walls, Coke is the drink of choice, license plates are Californian. Yes, I am sure it was a financial issue with the funding coming from Spain, but I think that only gives this production a topsy turvy effect. Consequently, the viewer is scratching their head wondering where the hell is Paddock County? A quick search reveals there is no such place in the listings. We literally are in a twilight zone, one foot in the states and another in Spain. But let us focus on the plot and see if there are any surprises….

The film opens with the aforementioned axe murder that I am sure the director chuckled to himself and said, “that’ll get their attention.” Close but no cigar. Character development is everything in these films, even if they are mere pawns being led to the slaughter, these things are important! So here we are in sunny California and everything apparently is fine with the world. We are introduced to a freewheeling motorcycle rider named Gerald Martin (Barton Faulks) as he makes his way home to a cabin in the woods. His crotchety landlord Brock (Elmer Modling) tells him that another package arrived today and heck if that electric bill from last month certainly was high; did he leave some machine running again? Yes, we are being told that this is the early days of online computing and that Gerald is a would-be nerd. So, he enters the cabin and unboxes a new personal computer and hooks it up. It even has a name (Icarus) and it speaks out loud with a wannabe HAL like voice as it reads the text on its green screen. Meanwhile we learn that a madman is at work and menacing the local women of the county with an axe, but local lawman Frank McIntosh (Fred Holliday) is fairly laid back to solving these murders, insisting that a recent victim had been run over by a train, when we know it was the axman at it again. Yes, you can see it coming from a mile away. Gerald meets local lovely Lillian Nebbs (Christina Marie Lane) and the two play Sherlock, trying to use the computer to solve who is committing the grisly murders and soon the two are a moon pied couple in love. Along the way we are introduced to a dozen male characters who all seem seedy and inevitably could be the killer, but "Where is the motive?" I yell to the screen. Seems like the director is trying his best here to red herring us viewers to mislead us with many false leads, but all he does is populate the film with people that are summarily dispatched for no apparent reason. The main suspect is Gerald because he is rather distant about his parents and his past, but you couldn’t fool me, and I knew almost immediately where this one was headed. I won’t reveal the killer here because what’s the point? Let’s just say that some of the murders are nicely done with a feeble attempt to create suspense, but the use of the non-faced killer (the suspect is wearing a type of white mask that obscures the wearer’s features completely and is almost a copy of Carpenter’s bogeyman killer) almost a blatant rip off. I did find myself being slightly offended when a character’s dog was killed off camera and the blood unlikely leaked through the ceiling and dripped into her soup. Maybe if there had been more character build up and we were led to care about who these characters were instead of merely a number to be assigned to the killer’s scorecard, but this is what ultimately destroyed the entire genre.

What we are left with is a typical 80’s slasher film that tries too hard for its own good. Characters are marched into the film, dispatched rather violently with an axe, and then lamely the director tries to tie everything up in a nice package with one eye on a sequel that never occurs. Therefore, a director of renown is slumming behind a pseudonym and a script attributed to no less than three writers. How sad; yes, the film ultimately fails in trying to create a ripple in a bloated environ and is basically coming to the party a tad late. Props to Arrow Films for salvaging this film from the junkyard and attempting to breath some life back into a sadly resurrected corpse.

Video

Arrow presents the film on an AVC MPEG-4 encoded 1080p 24/fps transfer in widescreen 1.85:1. The original 35mm camera negative element was scanned in 2K resolution on a 4K Scanity, graded on Digital Vision's Nucoda Film Master and restored at R3Store Studios in London. Pretty impressive for a film from the 80’s that was probably long forgotten. The print is the winner here as the film is strongly presented here on Blu-ray for the first time. A great deal of the film was filmed outdoors, and the palette is fairly represented however there is no apparent age-related wear and tear.

Audio

The original mono mixes were remastered from the optical negatives by Deluxe Madrid. Presented in English LPCM 1.0 mono or Spanish LPCM 1.0 mono soundtracks with the dialogue presented clearly. I cannot advise that either version is overly impressive with a typical ominous sounding soundtrack that attempts to jack up the viewer by sounding like a copy of "Friday the 13th" (1980). optional subtitles are included in English for the hearing impaired on the English soundtrack and English on the the Spanish soundtrack.

Extras

Arrow Video always fares nicely in this category and they have done the usual job of filling out these features including not one but two audio commentaries:

The first audio commentary track features actor Barton Faulks and is moderated by his former student and film producer Matt Rosenblatt. Discussed is Faulks audition, the various people that played the killer in order to keep the audience guessing the real identity, and why he ultimately left acting behind for teaching.

The second audio commentary track features the cast of the podcast "The Hysteria Continues" and mostly wisecracks about the film, when they first saw the film, thoughts about the director, and how this film differs from his earlier works.

"Gerald's Game" (11:04) is an interview with the main character actor Barton Faulks concerning how he feels about his decision regarding to become a full-time teacher.

"The Actor's Grind" (11:23) is an interview with actor Page Mosely. He speaks about his time on the set on the set in Madrid.

"The Pain in Spain" (7:47) is an interview with Special Effects master Colin Arthur who speaks about working on the film "Conan the Barbarian" (1982), how he created the faceless masks, and the various axes.

An image gallery (3:20) features 21 images including stills, movie posters, video box covers.

The disc also includes an English language theatrical trailer (2:46) and a Spanish language theatrical trailer (2:46) with English subtitles.

The package includes a 24-page booklet with information regarding the cast and crew.

Packaging

Comes packaged in a clear Blu-ray keep case with reversible cover art included.

Overall

The Film: C- Video: A Audio: B+ Extras: A Overall: B-

 


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