❉ Saucy Spaniard Larraz dials down the sex in this grounded, stylish dial-up ’80s slasher/Giallo pudding!
“The film’s screenplay actually manages to deliver an interesting new slant on the ’80s slasher by having our young, computer-obsessed heroes spend unhealthy amounts of time using the internet! Yes! It’s ‘War Games’ with axes!”
When one hears the name José Ramón Larraz, it’s highly likely that visions of weird, dreamlike, psychosexual melodramas spring to mind. When one hears the name, Joseph Braunstein, the first thing that springs to mind is probably, “Who?” Yet, the two men are one and the same, and you will note the pseudonym on a number of Larraz’s films of the 80s.
So, already we must approach Edge of the Axe with trepidation. Oh dear; European director hiding behind an Americanised nom de guerre, and it’s a slasher to boot! Dear God, an 80s slasher as well! How many times have we seen the Italians try to pull this sort of nonsense off? Well, this time the Spanish are at it and the numerous Iberian names in the technical credits, coupled with the presence of mercurial jobbing actor and Jess Franco regular Jack Taylor in the cast can only mean one thing; we’re dealing with some sort of fraudulent transatlantic Europudding!
At least you’d be forgiven for thinking that. From the opening superbly staged car wash murder, we’re in for a shock; Edge of the Axe is not just competent, it’s actually pretty glossy, sporting cold, clean cinematography obviously inspired by Dario Argento’s Tenebrae (1982), cleaned up for this new release very, very nicely. Indeed, if you squint, tilt your head and look at the film from a certain angle, you might notice the influence of Argento’s psychobabble plot from that film as well, but we wouldn’t want to get into spoilers. Nonetheless, despite being a bit of a hodgepodge, what with the mountainous lakeside resort setting bringing to mind The Friday the 13th franchise, and the look of the killer resembling The Shape / Michael Myers of Halloween fame, Joaquin Amichatis’, Javier Elorrieta’s and Jose Frade’s screenplay actually manages to deliver an interesting new slant on the ’80s slasher by having our young, computer-obsessed heroes Gerald (Barton Faulks) and Lillian (Christina Marie Lane) spend unhealthy amounts of time using the internet! Yes! It’s War Games (1983) with axes! It had me wondering at times how much ’80s dial-up costs must have been.
Given that this enables the love struck tweens to check each other’s search history, theirs is an uneasy romance, and both, cute though they are, seem a bit off, which is splendid because they fit right in with the rest of the cast; there’s no one in Edge of the Axe who feels like a hero. Everyone comes across as a red herring, the forces and law and order are frighteningly disinterested in doing any real police work (which is one of the scarier aspects of the film since it feels so damned true to life), and though I did spot the killer pretty early on, anyone who doesn’t have a degree in screenwriting probably won’t. It doesn’t matter anyway, because Edge of the Axe kind of endears itself to you not with the unfurling of its mystery, but by being far better than it has any right to be. The kill scenes are never spectacularly gory, but they do feel painful, and they’re always stylish; the film really comes alive when whatever poor woman the killer has decided to pick on this reel is running through the neon-lit woods/farmyard/inn/barn etc chased by the obligatory Steadicam.
Really, we’re dealing here with a giallo. It’s far smarter than the let’s-make-out-and-die formula slavishly followed by its peers, the universally off-kilter performances from the cast of soap opera regulars and character actors are all engaging (especially Page Mosely, subtly channelling Jack Nicholson) but above all, while Larraz’s personality is never allowed to shine through (indeed, despite the fact that most of the victims are women, the lack of a sexual motive—and that’s not a spoiler; it’s fairly obvious from the get-go—not only comes as a refreshing change, but the otherwise Saucy Spaniard eschews sexuality in general for a more cerebral tone), he commits fully to making the best film he can given the constraints of the budget and the mechanics of the script.
Of course, the lack of carnality might be a disappointment to some, but it’s a relief to see a movie of this kind that’s not steeped in misogyny. Perhaps it takes a dedicated pervert like Larraz to really make the distinction between sex and violence. Sure, he’ll depict a couple of naked vampire babes ripping the throat out of some pasty British middle-aged twerp who thought he was in for a hot threeway (Vampyres, 1974), and sure, he’ll conjure up some Jodorowsky-esque dream in which a woman’s repressed desires are manifested by being trapped in a contraption that enables a horse to engage in some sexual misconduct (The Coming of Sin, 1978), but when called upon to deliver what is, at heart, a murder mystery, he won’t go mixing titillating glimpses of flesh with realistic violence; while Larraz’s eroticism is often violent, it’s a relief to see his violence isn’t eroticised.
So, I guess Edge of the Axe comes with a warning; prepare yourself for a lack of perversity. While never outrageous, it’s one of those films that you find surprisingly watchable without being able to define quite what makes it so charismatic, and fans of ’80s technology will get an extra thrill, what with the surprisingly ahead-of-its-time emphasis on digital networking. Amongst Larraz fans, it’s perhaps for completists only, but a treat for fans of 80s slashers who want something a little more grounded than the usual indestructible-maniac-on-the-loose schlock.
❉ ‘Edge of the Axe’ is out now on Blu-ray from Arrow Video. 91 mins. RRP £24.99.
❉ A regular contributor to We Are Cult, Jonathan Sisson studied Moving Image at the University of Central Lancashire and produced several short films. After that, he became an actor and has appeared in several film and television productions. Visit his website.