Retro-review: New on special edition BluRay from Arrow Films!
EDGE OF THE AXE (1988)
Directed by José Ramón Larraz
Written by Joaquín Amichatis, Javier Elorrieta, José Frade, Pablo de Aldebarán
Starring Barton Faulks, Christina Marie Lane, Page Mosely, Fred Holliday, Patty Shepard, Alicia Moro, Jack Taylor, Conrado San Martín, Joy Blackburn, May Heatherly, Elmer Modlin, Javier Elorrieta, José Frade, Christina Lane
EDGE OF THE AXE is a little lost gem from the late eighties that embraces its slasher roots, yet still manages to be thrilling and infectuously watchable. Sure there are tons of clichés in Spanish filmmaker José Ramón Larraz’s film, but he manages to package it in a way that is undeniably fun.
A loner computer whiz named Gerald (Barton Faulks) makes his way into a small country town right around the same time a series of vicious axe murders break out. Coincidence? With a score of suspicious country folk lining up as suspects, Gerald begins to fall in love with the fisherman’s daughter Lillian (Christina Marie Lane), who has a troubled past of her own that she is coping with. Will Gerald and Lillian live happily ever after or will one or both of them fall victim to the axe wielding maniac?!?
EDGE OF THE AXE is rather formulaic in terms of a slasher film. It sets up a bit of a mystery as to who the killer is. Supports the story with a few extravagant kills and sets up a group of suspects. It even offers up a rather memorable killer brandishing an axe, an emotionless white mask, and black rain slicker. While it doesn’t rise to the heights of FRIDAY THE 13TH or HALLOWEEN, it pays homage to those types of films. EDGE OF THE AXE most resembles the original THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN in its depiction of a country town besieged by a masked phantom who attacks under the cover of darkness. Many of the kills feel as if they were ripped right out of that slasher classic. Then again, Larraz shows his appreciation for the Italian Giallo here as the plot gets to be pretty ridiculous once everything is all said and done. Add in some inept cops who keep trying to write all of these killings off as accidents and you’ve got a pretty decent modern Giallo set in America (though it was filmed in Spain).
What stood out to me are the viciously brutal killings that show the axe being whomped again and again into people with blood spattering in all directions. This was an especially brutal film in terms of kills and I think even the most hardened of slasher-philes will be surprised by the amount of spatter this one sloshes around. One thing to warn you about is that there are a few animal deaths that might have some squirming. But Larraz shows that he is adept in making a tension filled scene. There are numerous setups where the killer is stalking victims that are paced with excruciatingly well-paced suspense. Modern audiences may find this as a turn off, but dammit, I miss the days when films knew how to extend the scare and punctuate it with honest to gosh terror. EDGE OF THE AXE does this numerous times throughout.
There is a lot of hokiness to wade through as well in EDGE OF THE AXE. This came around right at the dawn of the computer age and seeing the lead explain how his bulky computer works to his video game addicted girlfriend is downright adorable. The film also gives a brief glimpse at the inception of online stalking as Lillian gets a bit too obsessive when she tries to talk to Gerald online and he doesn’t respond immediately. I doubt Larraz knew he was being prolific with these scenes, but it does feel that way during these early moments of neediness via text.
Listening to some of the special features informed me that Larraz put a heck of a lot of thought into this little mystery slasher/thriller. One of the more impressive bits was that the masked killer was played by multiple people to keep the audience guessing as to who it turns out to be. While it might lead to some inconsistencies in the performance itself, it does make it rather hard to guess—looking at the eyes of the killer always seemed to give away the identity in these types of masked murder mysteries.
EDGE OF THE AXE neither has the best or worst acting. The lead, Barton Faulks, is a dead ringer for a young Jim Carrey and the likability of him and the lead actress Christina Marie Lane is high. Both are worth rooting for and I felt compelled by the surprisingly complex relationship that develops between them. There’s also a great cameo from PIECES’ Jack Taylor as one of the suspects. Still, it’s going to be the gore and the quite original take on slasher tropes (especially the unconventional and effective ending) that is going to attract most to EDGE OF THE AXE. While the latter eighties were not known for the best in slasher fare, this one is a true standout of the era.