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Blu-ray Review: “Edge of the Axe” from Arrow Video

Tuesday, January 14, 2020 | Blu-ray/DVD

Starring Barton Faulks, Christina Marie Lane, and Page Mosely
Directed by José Ramón Larraz
Written by Joaquín Amichatis, Javier Elorrieta, José Frade, and Pablo de Aldebarán
Arrow Video

Italian exploitation directors of the 1980s are often considered the ultimate knockoff artists despite the fact that…they just weren’t very good at it. Now, don’t get me wrong: the country produced some of the most delectable genre fare of all time, but no one with two eyes in their skull would ever mistake a Fulci flick for an American one, despite its maker’s best efforts. It may come as a surprise, but Spain also had its fair share of enterprising filmmakers that attempted to replicate Western product with similarly less-than-convincing results. 1988’s EDGE OF THE AXE is an exception. The second of three transcontinental stalk-and-slash co-productions directed by José Ramón Larraz (preceded by 1987’s REST IN PIECES and followed by 1990’s DEADLY MANOR)  EDGE OF THE AXE is a unique achievement in emulation—a Spanish-made slasher that’s as American and stuffed with sticky red goodness as cherry pie.

The denizens of Paddock County are shocked by a spate of brutal murders rocking their rural community. Prowling the night in a black trenchcoat and eerie, featureless mask, the crazed killer chops his way through a number of seemingly random local females while avoiding the authorities at every turn. But things get a lot more complicated when charming computer geek, Gerald (Barton Faulks) starts romancing bright-eyed townie, Lillian (Christina Marie Lane), and the two stumble headlong into the psycho’s path. 

Set in Northern California, but largely shot in Madrid with an American cast, Larraz and his team go heavy on U.S. iconography, giving EDGE OF THE AXE more Yankee flavor than just about any slasher made stateside. Cigar store Indians share the screen with Oliver Stone posters, Baptist Churches, and cans of Coca-Cola. But even without a clear tell betraying its country of origin, genre savvy viewers will be able to spot these roots.

The title song may be rotten with folksy charm, but it comments on the action in a manner more indebted to Enzo G. Castellari’s spiritual revenge Western KEOMA (1976) than anything produced contemporaneously across the pond. The murder setpieces are liberally flavored with Giallo flourish and Spaghetti Splatter splash. Running contrary to these excesses is an equally European sense of deliberate pacing and character development. Larraz spends a good deal of time fleshing out Gerald, Lillian, their friends, and the other residents of Paddock instead of simply lining them up and knocking them down—an obvious departure from the prototypical slasher’s assembly line of attractive meat sacks—and things build, bit by bit, to an improbably whacked out conclusion. Whether these character dynamics enrich the endeavor or just slow things down is up to the viewer’s individual taste, but as a piece of slightly elevated Americana with a Eurosleaze twist, EDGE OF THE AXE is quite unlike anything else. 

Arrow Video presents EDGE OF THE AXE in a brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative, and the results are excellent. Damage is negligible and the killings really pop, especially in contrast to the sleepy, hazy, California (ahem, Spain) vibes. The film is watchable in both English and Spanish language, the latter of which includes newly translated subtitles for English-speakers. There is a brief moment early on in the English version where the dialogue drops out altogether, but it’s likely a source issue. 

On the special features front, Arrow provides two commentaries (one with lead actor Barton Faulks, another with The Hysteria Continues podcast), an image gallery, and newly-filmed interviews with Faulks, supporting player Page Mosely, and special effects/makeup artist Colin Arthur, best known for his work on CONAN THE BARBARIAN. The disc is packaged with an eye-catching reversible sleeve featuring original and newly-commissioned artwork by Justin Osbourn. The first pressing comes with a collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Amanda Reyes. Though Reyes piece gives a lot of context regarding Spanish horror films aimed at American audiences, she doesn’t delve much into EDGE OF THE AXE, itself, which may disappoint some fans.

A long ignored slasher from director José Ramón Larraz, 1988’s EDGE OF THE AXE passes off the Spanish countryside for the fertile hills of Northern California with a level of care bordering on fetishism. But don’t let it’s All-American look fool you: the film’s heart bleeds pure European exploitation. Arrow Video brings Larraz’s film to Blu-ray in a kickass 2k restoration, making it a must-see for ’80s horror junkies and anyone whose interest is piqued by the notion of culturally hybridized hack ‘n’ slash.

Rocco T. Thompson
Rocco is a Rondo-nominated film journalist and avid devotee of all things weird and outrageous. He penned the cover story for Rue Morgue's landmark July/Aug 2019 "Queer Fear" Special Issue, and is an associate producer on In Search of Darkness: Part III, the latest installment in CreatorVC's popular 1980s horror documentary series.