This movie has been unjustly dealt a black eye by spaghetti-sleaze lovers who were perhaps expecting something with a bit more bite from director Jose Ramon Larraz. No, there are no Satanic orgies here. And nope, no vampire rug munchers either. Instead, Larraz manages the odd feat of delivering a strangely classy slasher film. Sadly, "Edge of the Axe" has been castigated simply because its director veered into unique territory. Perhaps this is why Jose directed the movie under an alias.
"Edge of the Axe" was seemingly engineered under the keen understanding of what makes movies like this so terrible, and it manages to avoid most of the pitfalls that sink slashers. When films of this nature hit a popular streak, many douchebags took a hand in turning a quick buck with the formula. Most of them did it without panache or finesse, or even a real appreciation for these sorts of films. Unfortunately, when they’re concocted more for the profit than for the sake of the art itself, you usually wind up with some shitty McDonalds caliber movie in the end; a cinematic equivalent of the cheap-ass bun full of dyed meal worm that vanquishes hunger by making you kind of sick. A glut of underwhelming entries ultimately turned people off when it came to shelling out money for this stuff. So, the sub-genre sunk and the shitty majority elevated some films that weren’t so good by comparison.
Characterization went out the window in the late wave slasher stuff, because I guess it required effort or talent. Instead of actual characters we got dead meat; cardboard cut-outs who were obviously born to get chopped up. I ain't gonna lie: violence is my mana, but it’s so much more gratifying when you have some remote investment in the character that's about to get fucking destroyed. A sense of wonder as to who will survive and who won’t heightens the experience. A bad slasher film completely does away with peril by giving you mundane characters that you don’t like, or care about. By that point, you’re basically just cheering the lion on as it mauls the Christian, and there’s something very disturbing to me about reveling in pointless violence. To put it simply, violence without purpose sucks.
This film actually gives you some rather likable characters which are complimented by some competent performances by a solid cast. There’s also a whodunit element, which ads a spike of tension to the story. Foremost, the film also looks gorgeous. I’ve had shit lobbed at my head for saying this, but I have never been a huge fan of Dario Argento’s movies. I can respect the director and appreciate his movies for their mood and music, but the acting and effects are usually garbage, and at times the stories teeter on the brink of utter nonsense. The real savior of his films is usually the director of photography. I can usually forgive a piece of shit like "Inferno" because, fuck, I might not know what is going on, but at least it looks really beautiful. Larraz’ "Edge of the Axe" has less to forgive, so its shit-hot photography goes a lot further. While this is an obvious low budget affair, much attention was put into the details. The script is solid, the actors are decent, the scenery is awesome, and it’s shot beautifully.
Fucking ART, man!
There’s an obvious Agatha Christie influence in terms of how the story unfolds, and that’s probably another reason why this film works so well. Guys like Bob Clark and John Carpenter may have lifted their subjects from morbid headlines, but they told their stories under the influence of Hitchcock. After "Halloween" and "Black Christmas" hit, though, people were directly copying those movies. So, you wind up with a carbon copy of a carbon copy, executed without knowing much about the well their influences drew from. The fingerprint ridges degrade into an unintelligible smudge, and you lose all the nuances of Hitchcock that make the movies that are being ripped off good.
I will admit that the story is run-of-the-mill, with a masked killer bumping off town’s people with an axe, but originality is overrated anyway. I don’t give a shit about who did it first. I care about who did it BEST. And Larraz did a hell of a job here. It’s not "Vampyres," but that doesn’t make it bad. This is a good, fun film in its own right. See it.
* Anybody know what year this movie was made? I'd be grateful for the information.