By JAMES TUCKER
Starring Barton Faulks, Christina Marie Lane, Jack Taylor
Written by Joaquín Amichatis, Javier Elorrieta, José Frade, and Pablo de Aldebarán
Directed by Jóse Ramón Larraz
Produced by José Frade
Hey! I’m still alive! Did you miss me?
I had to take a bit of a hiatus from the column because pandemic life is crazy (of course), but I’m back and I’m ready to get back into covering lesser-known gems on streaming services. Naturally I decided to celebrate my return by browsing Shudder’s streaming queue, specifically the “slashics” section. I stumbled across a 1988 slasher flick called EDGE OF THE AXE. The cover featured a Jason-lookalike with a blank white mask wielding…well, an axe. It looked like exactly the campy thriller I was looking for; something that would be featured late night at a drive-in. The kind of movie that would make critics shriek in frustration and B-movie fans chow down on popcorn with glee. I was looking for something stupid and fun with a few twists on the genre to keep it interesting.
I suppose that’s what I got. In a sense, anyways.
EDGE OF THE AXE follows two characters who meet and fall in love over the course of the film. Coconut Head lookalike Gerald Martin (Barton Faulks) who spends his free time fixing up computers and being strangely distant and borderline rapey for no good reason, and slasher virgin Lillian Nebbs (Christina Marie Lane), who charges at red flags like a bull at a rodeo. While Gerald and Lillian are spending the majority of the plot trauma dumping and asking their computers if their possible partner is gay, an unknown, white-masked slasher is tearing through the women of the town (who appear to have no connection to each other) in blunt, uninspired ways.
Naturally, the sheriff of this small town on the outskirts of suburban America is doing his best Mayor Larry impression. He insists that the murders are accidents. Though to be fair, his only deputy probably constitutes his whole forensics team, so reading crime scenes is probably like looking at an inkblot for these two. Meanwhile, Gerald is doing everything he can to frame himself as Lillian’s cousin Charlie, a recently escaped mental patient who may be out to get her. Or sleep with her. It’s always unclear with these types of films. However, the end of the film features a surprise twist that will shock, but more likely confuse you.
EDGE OF THE AXE is a mostly paint-by-numbers slasher film, combining elements of the Friday the 13th series and the much-maligned but actually quite fun slasher Pieces. Early on, the killer appears to be murdering women for no reason, popping up at scheduled intervals to swing his axe repetitively. It’s the slasher equivalent of an uninspired trap in the Saw series without any of the awe-inspiring ridiculousness those traps can bring to the table. The opening scene, which takes place in a car wash, is the most inventive these kills get. But when Lillian tells Gerald about Charlie, the pieces (haha) of the movie start to come together. I’ll tell you that almost everybody who watches this film will have it “figured out” that Gerald is the killer within the first 20 minutes of the film.
The character spends far too much time doing his best Norman Bates impression. As if that wasn’t enough, not 40 minutes through the movie Lillian looks on his computer and sees a categorized list of the women who have been murdered with the title “Gerald’s crimes.” Also, he has a scar on the back of his head, just like the one caused by the accident that would have sent Charlie to the institution. He gets weirdly aggressive (and horny) whenever the scar, or Charlie, comes up. All the while, the director throws a bunch of other suspects our way, bringing them up for about a minute or two before showing us that they couldn’t have been at the crime scenes at the proper time. It feels like an intentional bait and switch. A blunt, forceful attempt at dramatic irony. While I was watching I found myself wondering what the meta-angle of the film would be: it seemed like the director wanted me to know Gerald was the killer while the rest of the characters played out the slasher-whodunit formula. It felt too intentional to be just bad screenwriting. Although, don’t get me wrong, some of the dialogue between the two “lovers” is definitely bad enough to make me reconsider.
Here’s your spoiler warning. Stop here if you’re planning on watching this film. Or keep reading, might make your first watch more fun.
You’re going to keep reading? Here it is.
All the build-up, all the foreshadowing, and Lillian is the killer all along. Charlie is a character that she made up to cope with her time in a mental institution from which she was recently released. All of the women she kills are therapists, doctors, and people who abused her during her time there. Gerald comes rushing in, (having somehow figured it out offscreen and yet still acting super slasher villain-like for the audience) tells her the truth after a brief struggle, then proclaims his undying love for her as she attacks him with an axe. She believes she’s being gaslit, and the turn is so sudden that I, too, didn’t know what to believe. But, as Gerald gets gunned down by the police, Lillian turns to look maliciously at the camera, and we realize she WAS the killer all along. It’s a twist that works from a metafictional point of view, inverting the traditional slasher by making the virgin girl who follows the rules the killer. From an audience point of view… well, reactions may vary.
In short, EDGE OF THE AXE is a good movie to get drunk to on a Friday night. It’s simple, often unintentionally hilarious, and with further review actually might be a little ahead of its time. It’s exactly the kind of movie it advertises itself as. If you’re in the right mindset, it can be a lot of fun.
I’m retiring the rating system, so I’ll leave you with this: if it’s the kind of movie I can either get drunk to and have fun or write an academic article on without stretching myself too thin, it’s right for the Sematary.
And hell, it might be right for you too.
EDGE OF THE AXE is available now on Shudder.