Director: Jose Ramon Larraz
Screenplay: Jaoquim Amichatis, Javier Elorrieta, Jose Frade, Pablo de Aldebaran
Starring: Barton Faulks, Christina Marie Lane, Page Moseley, Fred Holliday, Patty Shepard
Country: Spain, USA
BBFC Classification: 18
Arrow Films continue to roll out obscure, long forgotten and sometimes downright odd little horrors from the 1980s (a decade that saw horror film thrive thanks to the VHS market) and Edge of the Axe might be one of the best they’ve dug up. Helmed by cult Spanish director Jose Ramon Larraz (under one of his various pseudonyms, Joseph Braunstein), Edge of the Axe tells the admittedly straightforward story of a small American town under attack from a brutal serial killer brandishing a hefty axe, a creepy mask and a grudge against women. Caught up in all the killing are your usual set of young, good looking people including burgeoning love birds Gerald (Brandon Faulks) and Lillian (Christina Marie Lane), who with their snazzy 1980s computer skills may be able to unlock the identity of the seemingly unstoppable killer.
Pretty standard slasher set-up, especially for the time period, but Edge of the Axe has a lot more going for it than your average stalk and slash flick. Jose Ramon Larraz, helmer of 70s cult delights Symptoms and Vampyres, is no hack behind the camera and crafts his film with care and skill. Stylish cinematography and a restrain at dishing out the brutal kills mount the tension and help the viewer invest in what’s going on. The acting is also above par for this type of flick, save for a few of the supporting characters, the main cast coming off as likeable and believable. The three main leads are all very good, their characters changing in different ways as the situation shows its strain on all of them helping keep the viewer in the dark as to who the killer really is. Larraz does well at keeping the killer’s identify masked until the final reel, making one constantly second guess who they think it is.
His other trump card is the ferocious kill scenes. All perpetrated with a massive axe, Larraz and renowned make up effects artist Colin Arthur (Conan the Barbarian, The Never Ending Story) stage some viscous kills, presented here uncut, that still shock in this day and age of desensitisation. What makes them so vicious is the camera does not pull away meaning we see every bloody impact of the axe hitting its victims and it’s all the more impressive that is was all done in camera. While bloody and shocking, they never feel overly gratuitous but showcase the violent impact of the kills and will satiate horror and gore fans.
Sure the film can’t quite get away from all low budget shortcomings or horror clichés. There’s plenty of 80s kitsch to be found not least with the antiquated computer messaging system the main characters use; Gerald’s and Lillian’s blossoming relationship does clog up proceedings a little around the hour mark; there’s some cringy dialogue; plenty absurdity; and the makers can’t always match up the US shot scenic footage with the Spanish shot main footage, meaning the film has a kind of offbeat Eruo-American vibe to it. This may appeal to some viewers as it does contribute to the overall groovy vibe (and as mentioned, the film is well shot) and there’s fun to be had (when the plot does drag) spotting how many Coca-Cola signs there are in each scene to convince the viewer the film is actually, you know, taking place in America.
Shortcomings aside this is a superior slasher that should now hopefully be rediscovered and appreciated by fans of the genre. The killer may wear a derivative Halloween style mask and the story straightforward but Edge of the Axe has style, atmosphere and some shocking kills making it a horror gem.
Edge of the Axe is released in the UK on special edition Blu Ray on January 27th 2020 from Arrow Films. As always Arrow have packed the disc with great features including:
- Brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative (the picture/photography look absolutely great here)
- English and Spanish language versions of the feature
- Brand new audio commentary with actor Barton Faulks and a brand new audio commentary with The Hysteria Continues
- Image Gallery
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly-commissioned artwork by Justin Osborne
- Collectors booklet featuring new writing by Amanda Reyes (FIRST PRESSING ONLY)
- A groovy retro original trailer: which totally would have made me rent the film back in the day!
The best of the bunch are newly-filmed interviews Gerald’s Game with lead actor Barton Faulks, The Actor’s Grind with co-star Page Moseley and The Pain in Spain with special effects and make-up artist Colin Arthur. Warm and insightful the interviews share what is was like to make the film in Spain and the actors share their fond memories of making the movie. These Arrow produced extras are a goldmine of info of what it was like to make 1980s B-horror movie and it’s great to see those involved in these lost movies speaking so affectionately about them. Plus, Colin Arthur reveals how he staged all those impressive axe kills. Cool.