Sunday, 4 March 2012


1974, US, Directed by Frederick R Friedel
Colour, Running Time: 68 minutes
Review Source: DVD, R2, Hardgore; Video: 1.33:1, Audio: DD Mono

Three criminals are on the loose in California and the story opens with them waiting for a couple of losers to return home so they can teach them a lesson for some wrongdoing. After beating and killing the losers the mobsters (one showing off a terrible afro that resembles him to Oddbod in Carry on Screaming) head out on the run across the state, stopping only to humiliate a shop assistant in their ongoing search for amusement in the suffering of others. Later through their journey they discover an old farmhouse populated only by what appears to be the helpless combination of a young girl and her paraplegic grandfather - a seemingly perfect opportunity to hold out for a few days. After making themselves unwelcome by asserting their newly claimed territory one of them decides to have his wicked sexually-charged way with the innocent female, only to have his throat slashed following a struggle. After tricking one of the other wayward fools into hiding the body for her she’s soon accosted by one of the others and right in front of her lifeless grandfather too - minutes later the lawless man is finding himself on the nasty end of the titular Axe as his blood is splattered around the room (including the poor grandfather's face!). The group have chosen the wrong house to hide out in it seems…
The opening minutes might bear a vague similarity to an infamous segment of Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, though perhaps Axe has a little less sheen to it… I was prepared to write this movie off after around half an hour - very little happens and the acting is almost revolting. In fact for the first eight or nine minutes virtually nothing happens and bearing in mind the running time only extends to just over an hour that’s a significant proportion of the total that we’re sitting around effectively watching the paint of the opening set’s walls dry. The three stooges are such a charismatically challenged bunch too that we’re descending into almost irreversible boredom by the twenty five minute mark. Their brief interruption of serenity at a roadside shop - where they proceed to throw fruit, harass the assistant, and fire guns at an apple on her head - is a fairly pathetic affair and it can’t stop our diminishing confidence in the product from dropping out of sight. Then they come across the farmhouse and the oddball family of two that live there and some juice is injected at last. Lisa (the young girl) could be Rosalie from The Child albeit a couple of years older - quite a cold little girl, distanced from her own emotions and disconnected from normal social tendencies partly by her geographically isolated location: a perfect candidate for someone to be pushed over the edge towards homicidal revenge. Her minimal pleasures in life have resulted in a person with little to lose, except virginity, which the criminals are intent on taking. By the conclusion the story has revealed itself to be a very limited but to-the-point exercise which conversely doesn’t really seem like it actually has a point to make anyway. Its existence is based on the moderately brutal despatching of several people who didn’t need to be on the planet in the first place, and preventions beyond that are entirely absent. Hence the short running time. If it wasn’t for some of the hopeless acting on display this perhaps could have been more widely recognised as a noteworthy film, coming as it does from the same era and mode of thinking as the likes of Last House on the Left and Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but its technical and artistic limitations will always prevent an audience of any reasonable scale from being interested in such a molecular dot in the history of cinema. Amidst the rubble that this film creates in its wake there are a couple of satisfying glimmers of light, or darkness, that keep it from drowning in its own occasional gore.

It’s hard to believe British authorities took offence to this one two decades ago and banned it on VHS, but that’s what happened (the highlight sequence - Lisa‘s dismemberment of one of the bodies - is admittedly quite darkly visceral). I’m sure Axe will never be high on anyone’s list for priority restoration so Hardgore’s DVD is almost as good as we might get. Many of these no-budget seventies exploitation flicks look appropriate with an opened-up fullframe negative and that’s pretty much what we have here I believe. Quality is acceptable whilst not providing demonstration material and the weird soundtrack survives equally. Extras are almost non-existent (a theatrical trailer), as is to be expected. Something Weird released a DVD in the US years ago that was quite padded out with little bonuses but most of it had nothing to do with the film in question, however they at least gave the package a little more value seeing as you’re not getting very much film for your money here (SW also generously added a complete bonus film, The Electric Chair, for real masochists). If you can find Hardgore’s DVD cheap enough you might want to check it out, and use it for a coaster if you discover it’s not been a good way to spend an afternoon on a first date (I wouldn’t recommend it…).

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