Axe (Frederick R. Friedel, 1974)

Discussion in 'Reviews' started by jacksmith1983, Oct 25, 2008.

  1. jacksmith1983

    jacksmith1983 Active Member

    Following some entertaining discussion of the merits of Fred Friedel's exploitation curio (and one-time "video nasty") Axe in he Hardgore/Poundland thread, I decided to dig out my copy of the Something Weird Video DVD release and revisit the film yesterday evening.

    The plot of Axe follows a gang of three crooks (one of whom is played by director Friedel himself) who at the outset of the film viciously beat a man to death over some unspecified indiscetion. Following this they elect to lie low and flee into the countryside where they eventually wind up at a ramshackle old farm house where a strange young girl named Lisa lives, joylessly yet devotedly caring for her practically catatonic grandfather.

    The gang take over the house but do not reckon upon the bloodlust and ingenuity of the clearly disturbed Lisa. When one of the gang attempts to rape her in the night the troubled girl snaps and subsequently proceeds to wipe out the gang one by one.


    Although its basic plot may tempt the viewer to lump it in with the whole rape & revenge / home invasion subgenre spearheaded by Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs and Wes Craven's Last House On The Left, Friedel delivers in Axe a film that is actually far more ambitious and offbeat than that. Personally if I was called upon to classify Axe I would personally say that in terms of tone and feel it sits more comfortably alongside other similarly offbeat, dreamy seventies horror/exploitation low budgets such as Robert Voskanian's The Child, Bob Clark's Deathdream and Richard Blackburn's Lemora: A Child's Tale Of The Supernatural even though it doesn't possess the supernatural elements present in the three aforemetioned films.

    As with those other films Axe is without doubt celluloid marmite. Some will appeciate its unique, strange vibe, but others wont and those that get it will enjoy it whilst those who don't will probably loathe it and find it profoundly boring even at its brief running time (the film is only just over an hour long incidentally).


    I can only really speak for myself but personally I find Axe really engaging. I love the odd yet potent and clever use of symbolism (the imagery of broken eggs, beheaded chickens, bloodied mirror reflections, etc which cleverly symbolises Lisa's broken, fractured mental state for instance) and the whole film has a grimy yet haunting and dreamlike ambience about it which is too powerful to be anything other than intentional. Of course there is also the character of Lisa herself, whom despite rarely speaking proves to be an extremely enigmatic and compelling chief protagonist. The three heavies also pull of their one-dimnsional roles quite well by low budget exploitation standards and even though some of the dialog is a little stilted this actually adds to rather than takes away from the films strange, offbeat vibe.

    While it never really lives up to its "video nasty" reputation, Axe does function on an exploitation level too. The gangs torment of a convenience store girl is pretty unpleasant as is the scene in which Lisa is raped in front of her blankly staring grandfather, although the latter features no nudity and is not dwelt upon in any graphic detail. Lisa's dismemberment of one of her aggressors whilst largely implied also packs a punch thanks to the disarmingly creative, skilfull and eerie way in which Friedel shoots the scene.

    So as I say Axe really isn't a film for everyone. For everyone who loves it there will no doubt be another five who don't get into it at all. However, lovers of weird, no-budget curio's should certainly give Axe a whirl and even some of those viewing it simpy due to its one-time video nasty status may be in for a pleasant if decidedly offbeat surprise.


    There are currently two worthwhile editions of Axe available on DVD. There is an uncut UK R2 2-Disc edition from ILC which also features an interview with the films famed distruibutor Harry Novak and a few other minor bits and bobs. To be truthful though ir's a waste of an extra disc as both film and extras could easily have fitted onto one disc. Nevertheless its available online quite cheaply. Never actually seen this version myself so can't comment on print quality, etc. I think there's a bare bones, single disc UK DVD of the film floating around too.

    There is also an older US R1 DVD from Something Weird Video which contains a fairly decent uncut, fullscreen print of the film. In terms of extras you also get a second bonus feature film in the shape of J.G. Patterson's exploitation curio The Electric Chair, a reel of trailers for various Harry Novak pictures plus some other amusing bits and bobs. As with the UK DVD it can be picked up fairly cheaply online so the choice is yours. Personally I own the Something Weird disc and I am more than happy with it.

    Axe (R1 - Something Weird Video): [AMAZON.COM]B00005NG02[/AMAZON.COM] l [AMAZON.CO.UK]B00005NG02[/AMAZON.CO.UK]

    Axe (R2 - 2-Disc Edition ILC): [AMAZON.CO.UK]B000B64VOY[/AMAZON.CO.UK]

    Those who enjoy Axe may also wish out to check out Fred Friedel's other seventies feature film effort, the offbeat kidnap drama Kidnapped Coed (aka - Date With A Kidnapper). I'm yet to catch up with it myself (so many films, so little time...) but Something Weird Video have it out Stateside on DVD as one half of a double-bill alongside Irvin Berwick's Hitch Hike To Hell.

    Hitch Hike To Hell / Kidnapped Coed (R1 - Something Weird Video): [AMAZON.COM]B0000633SP[/AMAZON.COM] l [AMAZON.CO.UK]B0000633SP[/AMAZON.CO.UK]

  2. Punk Rich

    Punk Rich Registered Abuser

    Friedel recently edited both Axe and Kidnapped Co-Ed together to make a whole new film called Bloody Brothers. It was premiered at FabPress' film festival to launch Stephen Thrower's Nightmare USA book. There was a limited edition run of 50 DVDs available for sale along with a DVD of Friedel's short film Squish.
  3. Randolph Carter

    Randolph Carter New Member

    I like both AXE and KIDNAPPED COED... and I seem to be in total minority here. What attracts me to those films is the strange, mysterious atmosphere, so very different from other exploitation flicks of the time.
  4. Timmy Lea

    Timmy Lea Member

    I am also a fan of AXE (or LISA LISA as it is sometimes known- no jokes about Coldcut or Cult Jam, please), and I too agree that its slow, muggy dreaminess (or should that be nightmarishness?), like that of THE CHILD, is a major part of that enjoyment.

    Most American horror films post-CHAINSAW/LAST HOUSE do tend to suffer from an unavoidable handicap- that the rural US countryside, with its combination of blinding sunlight and musclecars, just isn't that scary-looking, even by night. So the best thing one can do is exploit the claustrophobia and disaffection inherent in such an environment, and this is exactly what Friedel does to great effect.

    My admiration always goes out to filmmakers who eschew the normal Hollywood route and opt for a local, small-town production: left to their own devices, such directors and writers have often come up with varied and rewarding work (see DEATH BED, FALSE FACE, CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE etc) and it's a shame we've only just really caught on to this in the UK. Still, hopefully, some of us will make up for lost time. I recently worked with some musicians from North Carolina, and was pleased to find that not only had they all heard of AXE, but that there had been an exhibition in Charlotte of memorabilia from the film and several other local works.

    So, why, then, did the arsehole distributors have to go and retitle it THE CALIFORNIA AXE MASSACRE? Er, I think we all know why. Twats.
  5. jacksmith1983

    jacksmith1983 Active Member

    Great post Timmy. The gloomy, dreamy, offbeat atmosphere is what I like about Axe but really it's something that either grips you or just floats over your head.

    Your point about the rural backwoods of America not being a particularly scary location for a horror/exploitation film is largely true, however many exploitation films of the era do buck the trend and utilise this particular landscape to evocative, unsettling effect. Of course Axe is a fantastic example of this. Others that spring to mind are Charles B. Pierce's duo of classic docu-horror's The Legend Of Boggy Creek and The Town That Dreaded Sundown, David Schmoeller's Tourist Trap and the films of the late S.F. Brownrigg in particular his unsung classic Poor White Trash II.

    Creature From Black Lake is another one I need to revisit soon so thanks for reminding me Timmy. Was also glad to read that North Carolina still celebrates its regional horror/exploitation heritage even on a relatively minor level. It would be nice to see this countries similarly rich horror/exploitation legacy embellished with the same reverence by local councils, art groups, etc. However, in a climate where everything of artistic or historic worth has to seemingly be adhering to political correctness and "multiculturalism" there's not much chance of that happening...
  6. MarcMorris

    MarcMorris Head Honcho Staff Member

    I met the director at Harvey's NIGHTMARE USA festival and ended up in the pub with him and Steve after for drinks a plenty. I'll post some pics here if I can find them. Frederick looks very youthful indeed.
  7. Peter Neal

    Peter Neal Giallophagus

    Wow! Since all the "Axe" fans are finally crawling out of the bushes, I'll join in :)
    I still very much want to test it with some unexpecting friends, because I was quite taken with its aura the first time I watched it.
    Handy running time,too.
    I felt slightly reminded of early Polanski flicks like "Cul-De-Sac" as there seems to be a twisted sense of very dark humour present in many scenes....and it felt intentional.:)

    BTW: I have the UK 2 discer, which has a very fancy packaging....despite why it took two discs for the sparse contents is anybody's guess.:D
    I like the "Toy Box" trailer on disc 2 though.:eek:
  8. Punk Rich

    Punk Rich Registered Abuser

    You should see the film! I was a bit, ahem, 'chemically enabled' when I watched it. Bad idea. I felt like I was going insane.
  9. videohunter

    videohunter VHS 4-LIFE !

    personal favorite of mine , it has a very clostrophobic/depressing feel to it...

    i'd love to have this under the original LISA, LISA title , but no video release i've seen has this title......
  10. ecc

    ecc Member

    Before the SWV release, the film had a clamshell VHS release by Best Film and Video paired with SCREAM IN THE STREETS (BFV also put out THE CHILD/DUNGEON OF TERROR (aka REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE), FRANKENSTEIN'S CASTLE OF FREAKS/MAD BUTCHER and BEHIND LOCKED DOORS (paired with something else) and MANTIS IN LACE on its own (I think). The double features were edited down but I don't think that was required of AXE.
  11. videohunter

    videohunter VHS 4-LIFE !

    AXE was indeed cut on the BF&V vhs release......

    the axe murder at the end was cut out , where the blood splashed on grandpa and on the T.V. set, infact these following VHS releases r cut in the exact same spot

    cut versions

    USA - BF&V
    USA - MALIBU(BIG BOX - as California Axe Massacre)

    uncut versions


    I have not seen the UK PRECERT personally, but have been told by a reliable source that it is indeed UNCUT !
  12. jacksmith1983

    jacksmith1983 Active Member

    Adding to that the 1999 UK VHS release from Exploited was also cut, albeit differently. due to its status as a former Video Nasty.
  13. ecc

    ecc Member

    I wonder if the cutting on the BFV release had to do with censorship or just what was available at the time as I recall SCREAM IN THE STREETS was cut but still quite graphic.
  14. videohunter

    videohunter VHS 4-LIFE !

    it's a censorship cut, but not by BFV, as many of this same print is used for many releases of the film......

    so to naswer your question , it was the only available print i'd say.....
  15. OneWayFilms

    OneWayFilms New Member

    This is my first post here. I just found this thread by Google. Periodically, I google this film because I have a personal connection to it. My dad, Ray Green, played Lomax.

    I think this film is better than most people give it credit, but it IS still weak in so many area's. I'm still glad to see it has some fans.

    I have the SOMETHING WEIRD dvd, but am frustrated that it's a cut version. Steel's death scene cuts during his struggle with Lisa and doesn't show the blood splattering onto Grampa. It also cuts a short moment in the store that shows Steel taking the coke from Lomax and making a comment about the the woman wanting some of it, before pouring it on her.

    I have no idea why these are cut out, as there is nothing wrong with them, not even for the Video Nasties who banned this film in the early eighties.

    Does anyone have an UNCUT version of this on DVD?

    A nice man has the uncuit version, and sent it to me in 10 minute pieces on YouTube. But I have it in a private mode so hopefully, YouTube wont delete it. I transfered it to another format but can't seem to burn it onto a DVD. Darn it.

    Can anyone hook me up with a UNCUT verson on DVD?
  16. Steve Thrower

    Steve Thrower Member

    Hi there,

    I've just checked my Something Weird DVD and it does include the coca-cola scene you mention. Also, there's a single shot of blood hitting Grandpa in the side of his face during the killing of Steele. Did they issue two different versions? It seems unlikely. I don't have the old UK VHS any more so I can't do a comparison with that. However, I also checked Frederick's film Bloody Brothers (which combines footage from Axe and Kidnapped Coed) and the killing of Steele is same as the Something Weird version.

    BTW, just thought you might like to know that I wrote a book called Nightmare USA which features a sizeable chapter about Axe and Kidnapped Coed and includes an interview with Frederick Friedel. Please give my regards to your father and tell him that I really love the film!

    All the best,
  17. OneWayFilms

    OneWayFilms New Member

    I'll have to recheck. I know the scene of the coke pouring is there, but right before, don't you see Steel and Lomax only standing there looking at her and then cut to coke being poured? or do you see Steel take the coke from Lomax and walk towards her?

    Let me go check my copy and make sure I'm not losing my mind. LOL.

    I've heard of your book, recently I spoke with Frederick by phone and he was telling me about it. He sent me a copy of Bloody Brothers and I was impressed with what he did with that.

    How can I get a copy of your book please?
  18. MarcMorris

    MarcMorris Head Honcho Staff Member

  19. OneWayFilms

    OneWayFilms New Member

    OK, I must be loosing it. I was remembering my old VHS copy of California Axe Massacre that I found in a small town video store years and years ago.

    My SOMETHING WEIRD DVD is indeed the un-edited version. (whew) It's been awhile since I watched it, I simply forgot.

    However, I still got to meet you, after hearing about your book, so my post was not wasted after all.

    I WILL give dad your reguards, he'll be glad to know there are fans of this film.
  20. OneWayFilms

    OneWayFilms New Member

    Thank you Marc, I appreciate the links.

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