By Rod Lott.
By the time the 1980s settled into middle age, the Gothic and/or supernatural horrors in which José Ramón Larraz specialized – Vampyres, Whirlpool, Stigma, et. al. – no longer were in favor. Thanks to Jason Voorhees and the VHS explosion, the slasher movie became de rigueur. Within the last few years of his film career, Larraz reciprocated in 1988 with Edge of the Axe, now debuting in the digital format with a Blu-ray from Arrow Video, following the label’s excellent Larraz box set of last year, Blood Hunger.
Working under his recurring Joseph Braunstein pseudonym, Larraz establishes a Peyton Place-worthy cast of characters and their soapy relationships – all thinly drawn, with just a modicum of details filled in as we go before their individual clocks run out. Viewers need only concern themselves with three people: electronic-contraption tinkerer and home computer enthusiast Gerald Martin (Barton Faulks, whose only other film to date is Future-Kill); his love interest, Lillian (one-and-doner Christina Marie Lane); and his exterminator/cuckolder pal, the unintentionally unironically named Richard Simmons (Page Mosely, The Jigsaw Murders).
When cozy Paddock County residents start to die by – what else? – the edge of the axe, Gerald and friends do what teens in such Fangoria-friendly films do: Play detective, with increasing regularity. To the in-denial sheriff (Body Chemistry 4’s Fred Holliday), every murder is an accident; to Larraz and his team of screenwriters, every character reeks of red herring.
Faulks and Mosely (both of whom are interviewed in the Arrow disc’s batch of new supplements) forge an onscreen friendship that’s truly enjoyable to watch, in spite (or perhaps because) of Gerald and Richard existing on opposite ends of the social/sexual spectrum. The young men’s chemistry is more palpable than Gerald and Lillian’s.
While the killer’s costume is rather striking – influenced more by Georges Franju than John Carpenter – the rhythms and demands of the slasher prove not to fully align with Larraz’s sweet spots; as these things go, this one has all of the blood, but none of the nudity. In the down-to-tacks prologue, the killer wields his weapon at a woman in a drive-thru car wash, resulting in a visual blend of blood and bubbles more gorgeous than grotesque.
And yet, that style of naivete for the subgenre – one that finds Larraz out of his element, perhaps a byproduct of having to shoot in English in California – is exactly what makes Edge of the Axe so entertaining. Its difference makes, well, all the difference. The opening’s green-cursor credits suggest a touch of WarGames, whose Matthew Broderick is half-emulated by Faulks – merely one move that makes the flick perhaps too reflective of its time, what with set decoration overloaded with posters of Platoon, Max Headroom and The Color of Money.
One wonders what how nasty the film would have been if directed by the unleashed Larraz of, say, the goat-getting Black Candles, rather than the toned-down one here. That said, within an hour and a half, the man managers to deliver a pig head in a bed and a hooker’s demise by the train tracks, both of which have to count for something.
Rod Lott runs the genre film website FlickAttack.com. A former professional journalist, he has written for Psychotronic Video, Something Weird Video and numerous books.