Thursday, October 13, 2011
EDGE OF THE AXE (1988)
I watched Jose Ramon Larraz’s 1988 horror film EDGE OF THE AXE the other night and was pleasantly surprised. I wasn’t surprised because I don’t expect to like a movie made by Senor Larraz. In fact I have generally loved the horror efforts of that Spanish director with his VAMPYRES (1975) being a truly amazing erotic horror film that stands up to repeated viewings. I was surprised because EDGE OF THE AXE was made so much later in his career and I generally expect such efforts to be less than great if not bad. Adding to my trepidation was the knowledge of it being an 80s film- a period during which the huge success of the slasher genre tended to smother the production of any other kind of horror film. I’m not against watching a fun slasher now and then but I wasn’t in the mood for one which is why I decided to finally see this film. Well, of course, it turns out that this is Larraz’s entry in the slasher cash-in craze and it may be only one of his stabs at the genre in the 1980s as the descriptions of a couple of other titles on his IMDb page sound suspicious. I might have been disheartened except that by the time I realized my mistake I was already fascinated by the film.
Don’t get me wrong- this is not a great movie but it has so many elements that I find entertaining I could not have stopped watching it if you had threatened me with gunfire. The film is one of a number of movies made in the United States by an independent production group with Spanish ties. I’m not sure if any of the movie was shot in Spain but the exteriors were mostly done in rural California. This location work and the 80s fashions on display were of interest to me as I find that decade’s popular clothing and hairstyles to be hysterically awful. I was also intrigued by the two cast names that I recognized from my viewing of Spanish horror cinema. The lovely Patty Shepard plays an aging wealthy woman who has married a much younger man and the mighty Jack Taylor plays a church choirmaster friend of Shepard’s character. As this is a slasher film neither makes it to the closing credits but at least their deaths are entertaining. Both Naschy cast alumni acquit themselves brilliantly with Miss Shepard even getting to be chased through the woods by the masked killer.
And about that masked killer. The film opens strong with something I have never seen before in any movie- an axe murder inside a carwash while the car is being washed! How this white masked, axe toting madman managed to get in and out of the place unseen in broad daylight is beyond me (or the screenwriters) but I loved every second of it. The look of the mask reminded me of the one used in Bava’s excellent BLOOD & BLACK LACE with the only difference being eye-slits. The killer cuts a very imposing figure and the attacks are very well staged with us being able to see the axe striking the victims and leaving bloody marks each time. This is old school special effects and extremely effective stuff. Another plus is that the story throws so many possible killers into the mix that guessing who it really might be is virtually impossible but when revealed the identity still feels satisfying. The film also sports a great final image for the credits to roll over.
It should be understood that this is not a classic horror film destined to be rediscovered and acclaimed by the general populace. The film has the usual faults of European productions shot in the States in this period- dialog that often sounds like is was poorly translated by the cheapest available computer program; odd leaps in logic; bizarre ideas that don’t make sense beyond the dizzy plot; etc. For me these are the things that make such Euro-trash horror movies irresistible and even riveting but I’m aware that not everyone will respond as favorably. I’m not going to pretend this is a great movie but I have to admit I got a big kick out of it. I was smiling throughout the entire running time and I can’t say that about every horror film I watch. How can you not enjoy a movie from this period that has two people getting to know each other romantically over computers hooked up to an embryonic internet system? In 1988! Craziness.