GORE IN THE STORE
EDGE OF THE AXE ***
Directed by Jose Ramon Larraz (as Joseph Braunstein). Starring Barton Faulks, Christina Marie Lane, Page Mosely.
Horror, Spain, cert 18. 91 mins.
Released in the UK on Blu-ray by Arrow Video on 27th January.
An axe wielding maniac stirs up trouble by violently chopping up women in the small Californian town of Paddock County and only a computer geek and his local girlfriend may discover who the murderer in the blank faced mask is and why he carries such a grudge against the seemingly unconnected victims.
This being a Jose Ramon Larraz film however, events unfold and are discovered in an off kilter way but a different one from that which defined his early seventies films such as SYMPTOMS and VAMPYRES (both 1974). Perhaps his most well known films they both have a dream like, erotically charged atmosphere that often verges on the nightmarish and paint the English countryside as a near psychic landscape of madness, lust and murder. EDGE OF THE AXE arrived onscreen straight to video towards the end of the nineteen eighties, the tail end of the great slasher boom that dominated the decade and is an entirely different beast to the films that have garnered the Spanish directors cult following.
The story, disjointed as it is, unfolds in a straight forward enough manner. Even if it is populated by an abundance of characters and narratives that literally go nowhere or have any bearing on the plot. Added to this is the endearingly cringe worthy dialogue that would seem more at place in a teen comedy of that period (“Bodacious ta-tas!” being one of the more noticeable examples.) The main character of Gerald (Barton Faulks) with his hi tech home computer set-up is portrayed with the right amount of suspect behaviour (just why won’t he talk about his parents and why is he so reluctant to talk about the mysterious scar on the back of his head?) while his romantic interest Lilian (the charming Christina Marie Lane) has family issues from the past that may have something to do with the recent spate of bloodshed.
As this was a Spanish and American endeavour you may uncharitably expect the European aspects of the production to noticeably stick out but thanks to some smart location work and editing the Madrid locations are nearly indistinguishable from their Californian setting, although the presence of several Tennent’s Lager ice buckets and posters in the indoor bar locations may give the game away to some keen eyed Scottish viewers. For fans of the genre such tiny niggles can be forgiven or accepted as a part of its anachronistic charm. It may not provide the vicarious, transgressive thrills that some of the more accomplished or outrageous Euro slashers provided back then but its oddball narrative provides more than enough entertainment for fans and completists of the genre, whilst the gonzo closing frames of the film aided by its bizarre country music theme tune seal the deal in a satisfyingly bizarre fashion.
Arrow Video provide their usual sterling job of a deluxe package for what many would see as a niche film. It nicely compliments last years Blood Hunger box set of Larraz’s earlier works. The bulk of extras is taken up by interviews with the leading men detailing their experiences of working on the film and how it stands in their careers. Barton Faulks enthusiastic on camera interview and commentary track looking back at his own short lived acting career before concentrating on teaching acting are nicely entertaining. The interview with special effects and make-up artist Colin Arthur dryly provides information on how he accomplished the onscreen displays of axe-aided maimings. The second commentary by The Hysteria Continues is an educative listen providing further info on the film, Larraz and various other trivia tidbits related to it.
All in all this is an expertly presented edition of a cult directors final works that may be looked upon by many as one of his lesser films. If this is a viewers first contact with the director it may prove baffling as to why he has such an admiring following but will hopefully lead them on to his earlier oeuvre which still stands out as odd and mesmerising in a different way from his final works.