Edge of the Axe Review
Spanish exploitation horror filmmaker José Ramón Larraz was probably best known for Vampyres and Symptoms (both 1974), before making a late entry in the cycle of 80s slashers with Edge of the Axe (aka Al filo del hacha, 1988) – credited as Joseph Braunstein. This was one of several US-Spain co-productions Larraz made towards the end of his career, ostensibly set in California, it was predominately shot in Madrid to cut costs. With an unimaginative title and even less inspiring original artwork, Edge of the Axe only acquired a very low-key release on VHS, before slipping into obscurity for more than 30 years.
The film begins with a woman waiting patiently within the confines of a car wash, as the brushes whirl busily around her car. Through the soapy lather that slowly engulfs the vehicle, a sinister white masked figure wielding an axe can be glimpsed loitering outside, before launching a frenzied attack. It’s a competently staged, unnerving opener that grabs hold.
In the sleepy rural community of Paddock County, a pig’s head placed on the bed of one resident is just the first grisly find to indicate that somebody holds a disturbing grudge. When pest controller Richard (Page Mosely) and best pal Gerald (Barton Faulks) go to investigate a particularly nasty niff emanating from the local watering hole, they make a further grim discovery up in the rafters, as a decomposing corpse falls suddenly into view.
A spate of gruesome murders ensues, sometimes with just the aftermath shown on screen, including a head floating on the lake past some horrified onlooker - showcasing effective early work by British special make-up FX veteran Colin Arthur (who got his lucky break making ape masks on Kubrick’s 2001). While Larraz lacks the bravura camera work of Carpenter or Argento, he does a reasonable job at building suspense - even delivering a couple of half-decent jump scares. The sporadic axe kills are fast and brutal, Larraz not shying away from showing the impacting blows and resultant gore (previously toned down by the BBFC but now shown in its entirety).
Despite there being a crazed killer on the loose, it’s par for the course in this type of film that individuals are going to make stupid decisions. As a result, somebody foolishly wanders alone late at night beside a dimly lit railway line, another stumbles through woodland and doors are often defiantly left unlocked. Unusually for the genre, some effort is made to develop characters – and the storyline incorporates a wealth of them. If you don’t recognise any names in the cast, don’t worry as neither did I, though at least this troupe of unknowns all manage to pass muster. Even flirtatious Richard gets a needless backstory, where we learn he has married a much older woman who doubts his fidelity and is having financial woes. There’s clearly enough material here to fill a daytime soap - sometimes at the expense of pacing.
Gadget nerd Gerald, who has just fallen for attractive Lillian (Christina Marie Lane), becomes the focus – nicely played here by Faulks. He knows all the moves to beat those tricky arcade games, secretly hoping that Lillian will share his unwavering passion for tech, especially since he’s just acquired a new “Super” computer – it actually resembles one of those cumbersome desktops that high street stores like Tandy used to sell in days gone by. The young lovers even get to share some instant messaging - eighties style - via some bulky green screen monitors. Portability was clearly still a pipedream.
Stetson wearing Sheriff McIntosh (Fred Holliday) is a law enforcement officer of staggering ineptitude. It’s quite evident that he’s never going to solve the case, though it’s so baffling that even Columbo would be scratching his head. All hope in identifying the killer may rest with Gerald and his clever talking PC Icarus – with its portentous voice that seemed mandatory for computers in movies during this era. However, that gnarly finger of suspicion even points at Gerald – is he compiling a database of the murders to help solve them, or simply to keep one step ahead of the law?
I approached Edge of the Axe with low expectations, yet found it entertaining and slightly better than the norm. In a subgenre that can often be amateurish, this is nicely photographed and benefits from solid production values. While the film doesn’t stray too far from convention most of the time, it still manages a few surprises and a bonkers climax that comes out of leftfield.
Edge of the Axe makes its HD debut from Arrow Video in a new 2K restoration from the OCN. The image, preserving an original 1.85:1 ratio, looks pristine. No signs of damage were observed. The location work looks particularly bright and colourful here, adding considerable production value.
The film is presented with both the original mono English and Spanish audio tracks. Dialogue was distinct throughout, without any imperfections. There are also optional English SDH and newly translated English subtitles for the Spanish soundtrack.
Fans of Larraz may also like to note that Arrow Video have released several other of his films. A lavish box set came out during 2019 entitled Blood Hunger: The Films of José Larraz (including Whirpool, The Coming of Sin & Vampyres). February 2020 sees the release of Deadly Manor.
None of the extras were provided for review - hence no score, but this release will include the following:
Two brand new audio commentaries: the first with actor Barton Faulks and a second with The Hysteria Continues.
A newly-filmed interview with actor Barton Faulks.
The Pain in Spain - a newly-filmed interview with special effects and make-up artist Colin Arthur.
There’s also an Image Gallery, reversible sleeve featuring original and newly-commissioned artwork by Justin Osbourn, and a collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Amanda Reyes (first pressing only).