Summer is over (apparently? Who knows anymore), but that doesn’t mean I stop watching films that celebrate the outdoors in all their majestic beauty. Of course, slaughter is essential, so today we’ll look at Edge of the Axe (1988), a very late entry in the slasher sweepstakes that sets itself apart by being an all Spanish filmed and made production, with an American cast. The results are as you’d expect – one part slasher, one part giallo, all parts joyful madness.
Released on its native soil in mid-September, with a video rollout worldwide the following year, Edge of the Axe did itself no favors with humdrum box art, a lackluster title and a waning market for masked mayhem makers. But the film is definitely a “don’t judge a book by its cover” piece, as there’s just enough weirdness (and a good twist, to boot) to satisfy those looking to sharpen their blades.
An automated car wash is an unusual place to start killing, yet that’s where our vanilla-masked stalker begins, mid soak yet; a swift axe through the window leaves our first victim dead and her car now soiled with inconvenient bloodstains. (I’d get my money back – wait, that’s probably not an option.) We then head to Paddock County, California (wink wink) where we meet Gerald (Barton Faulks - Future-Kill), a computer nerd who’s just moved to town. He’s already struck up a friendship with Richard (Page Mosely - The Jigsaw Murders), the local exterminator, and soon starts a hesitant romance with local girl Lilian (Christina Marie Lane), home from college for the summer.
As Gerald and Lilian’s romance is kindled, the townsfolk are unceremoniously dispatched by our milky marauder; our heroes, using Gerald’s computers, try to discern shit from Shinola and suspects from killers. But who could it be? Perhaps the clueless and apathetic sheriff, or Richard’s much older and jealous wife? Maybe it’s Lilian’s cousin Charlie, who became mentally deranged after she pushed him off a swing when they were kids? Tune in for these stories and more, next week on...Edge of the Axe.
You have to hand it to director José Ramón Larraz (Vampyres) for deciding to populate his film with as many moving parts as a soap opera; it’s hard to be bored when a new character is introduced every ten minutes - and dispatched in same. What I find kind of miraculous is that all of the characters are interesting in one way or another, each given a line or quick moment to hit the target and run; surface level to be sure, but it’s nice to have something to follow in between chop time.
And with this assortment of meatbags paraded around for our enjoyment, there’s no shortage of slicing, dicing, the aforementioned chopping, and other ghastly measures. Our killer burns through a lot of cast before the denouement, which doesn’t so much come together as it is thrust upon us. I can’t say I blame Larraz (nor the screenwriting committee of Joachin Amichatis, Javier Elorrieta, Jose Frade, and Pablo de Aldebaran) for stacking them up before knocking them down, I’m just glad they brought some flavor to the victims.
Edge of the Axe manages to plant itself firmly in the late ‘80s – staying hip and up to date – by using computers. Now, only the year previous I was a senior in high school with a coked-up teacher having us do code for 18 hours so our name could bounce across the screen; Gerald’s computers have the ability to access hospital files, essentially text, and are voice controlled. Gerald should have been rolling in Gates money for his innovations. But the film leans heavy on this device, as evidenced by the opening credits in green computer font, leaving the viewer unsure if they’re getting bloodshed or Short Circuit 3.
Part of the charm, I say; this film is loaded with touches unique to European cinema; that is, when they try to mimic American – the dialogue is awkward (as opposed to just bad), the story makes little sense, and the product placement is just odd (think Coke; like a lot of Coke talk). But we’re here dealing with a big baddie, and such details hold little sway over the enjoyment – of the kills, and of the characters.
Gerald comes on a little strong at first, coming across as a bit of a jerk when first talking with Lillian; I’m assuming this is intentional, with Gerald lacking strong social skills, especially with the fairer sex. I was put off by Faulks at the start because of this, but his Gerald turns out to be kind and rather sweet, and he finds those notes quite well. (He also bears a striking resemblance to a young Jim Carrey.) Lillian is the innocent here, and Lane, in her only screen performance, isn’t too bad considering the show comes down to her and Faulks to carry it off. (Yes, even with the 900 other suspects.) And let’s hear it for our supporting cast; from the priest, to the older wife (and her older sidepiece), to the old fella who leases Gerald his cabin, complaining about electricity usage while he sits out front on his rocking chair. Again, everyone is given just enough shading to make for an interesting watch.
Edge of the Axe never stood a chance when it came out; a long past expiry date loomed over it from the time it hit the shelves. But there’s something innocent about its goal to entertain for 90 minutes and send you on your way. Or perhaps that’s just yours truly pining for a simpler time of talking computers and sharpened, woodsy implements.
Edge of the Axe is available on Blu-ray from Arrow Video.Next: Drive-In Dust Offs: CIRCUS OF HORRORS (1960)