Axe (1977) (Video Nasty review #3)
Starring: Leslie Lee, Jack Canon, Ray Green, Frederick R Friedel
(a tortured man jumps out a window to his death)
LOMAX: “Why’d he do that? That was twelve floors.”
STEELE: “Nah, it was only nine.”
There’s nothing like the power of advertising. Axe was originally called Lisa, Lisa and was meant to be an artsy fartsy look at the way people under attack can do disturbing things to protect themselves and their family. It didn’t do too well so it was rebranded Axe and started doing the drive-in circuit in America under the guise of a horror film. In some parts it was even renamed again, this time to California Axe Massacre, despite the fact there’s no massacre in it and it’s set nowhere near California.
The story is similar to many of the ‘revenge’ movies at the time. A gang of three ne’er-do-wells is on the run from the police so after killing a chap by beating him to death with a doll (seriously) and cutting his nose off, then traumatising a supermarket woman by shooting a bottle of ketchup above her head, they seek solace in a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere.
The problem is, the farmhouse is the home of teenage Lisa and her fully paralysed granddad. Well, I say fully paralysed, but he’s got a different facial expression in every scene and can sometimes be seen moving his eyes or shaking, meaning instead he just looks like a man sitting there not doing anything.
Anyway, the three decide to take over the house and torment Lisa and her granddad. She’s not having it though, and after one of them tries a bit of illicit fiddling she kills him and cuts him into pieces with an axe. I’d have gone for the pepper spray myself, but I’ve never been in that situation so what do I know.
The rest of the movie entails Lisa trying to make sure the other two gang members aren’t suspicious while also protecting her granddad from any harm. Yet despite being a brisk 68 minutes long, Axe somehow still has the ability to feel sluggish and boring at times. The acting is beyond woeful – I really hope the ‘actress’ playing Lisa was trying to make her sound a bit mental and that wasn’t her actual acting style – and that goes for everyone including the director, Frederick F Friedel, who stars as Billy, the member of the gang who has a conscience and starts to feel sorry for Lisa. Meanwhile, this poor acting is underlined with is a bizarre soundtrack consisting mainly of bongo drums and saxophones.
It’s clear that had Axe kept its original title of Lisa, Lisa it probably would have escaped the DPP’s Video Nasties list and would never been banned in the UK. Everything that could be controversial is actually pretty tame: there are only three killings and they mostly take place off-screen, the attempted sexual assault scene is a fully clothed affair and doesn’t rely on exploitative nudity to titillate audiences, and as a result it’s dwarved by most of today’s horror films (and many of those released at the same time as it) when it comes to notorious material.
Axe isn’t a completely terrible film: the first fifteen minutes are interesting and the supermarket scene is genuinely emotional. It’s certainly not enough to recommend a film on one scene though, and as a result I’d only recommend watching it if, like me, you’re trying to see as many Video Nasties as possible. In fact, the trailer’s much more fun to watch than the film, so be sure to watch it below.
HOW NASTY IS IT? - Not really nasty at all. There’s one scene involving a flick knife, and all the rest of the kills happen off-screen. There’s a fair amount of (unrealistic) blood but it’s rarely seen coming out of anyone, it’s generally just seen as stains on the floor or on the killers’ clothing. It’s no worse than the likes of Halloween and really should never have been banned in the first place, which is why these days it’s once again readily available to buy uncut.