Monday, June 29, 2015

Edge of the Axe (Filo de hacha) (1988)

Edge of the Axe (Filo de hacha) (1988) can be seen as José Ramón Larraz’s companion piece to Rest in Pieces (Descanse en piezas) (1987), both American-style horror flicks, shot under his pseudonym “Joseph Braunstein.”  My expectations towards Edge of the Axe were seeing an interesting film directed by Larraz, tempered by the fact that Rest in Pieces was mostly average.  To its credit, the script of Edge is focused (by Pablo de Aldebarán), but its focus does not save the film from its overly-talky scenes, its mechanical nature, and lack of energy driving it.
Edge of Axe opens at the car wash.  A woman enters the automated car washing machine and as the suds of soap cover her car, she sees out of the periphery of her eye, a figure donning a hooded raincoat and wearing a white mask which is absent of any features.  This figure kills her.  Enter Gerald Martin (Barton Faulks), a young man with a penchant for fixing appliances and a deep love for personal home computers.  He lives in small rural cabin which he rents from an old man in an adjacent home.  His homey is Richard Simmons (Page Mosely), the small-town exterminator, and Gerald accompanies Richard on jobs for a little extra income.  Weird shit has been happening all over town:  a local couple, who raise their own livestock, become scared when an intruder raids their farm under the cover of darkness; decapitates a pig; and places it on the pillow of the farm’s young wife.  Gerald and Richard are heading to a local bar and grill to investigate a nasty smell which the barkeep says is coming from his cellar.  In a crawlspace in the ceiling of the cellar, Richard opens and finds the corpse of young barmaid, Maria.  The town sheriff is too cool for school:  he thinks the pig head is a prank and not worth investigating and would prefer for the medical examiner to label Maria’s death as a suicide.  He does not want to scare anyone in the town.  Although Richard is married to a very beautiful and wealthy woman named Laura (Patty Shepard), he thinks that she is too old.  Richard and Gerald arrive at another location to pick up Laura and while waiting, they meet sexy sisters, Susan (Joy Blackburn) and Lillian (Christina Marie Lane) Nebbs.   Richard takes a liking to Susan, and vice versa; while Gerald immediately captures the heart of young Lillian.  Gerald gives her a second-hand computer terminal, so the two can chat at a distance.  When Rita (Alicia Moro), the local hairdresser who moonlights as a call girl, agrees to meet a john at the local train yard, she is butchered by the hooded figure donning the lifeless white mask with a sharp axe.  The sheriff wants to rule this one an accident, too, but common sense is dictating the presence in the small town of a killer…
Gerald and Lillian become the focus of Edge of the Axe, and as they grow closer together, each reveals to the other some dark secrets in his/her past.  Meanwhile, life in the small town goes on as usual: the local church choir is still preparing for a performance (of whom Lillian is a member); the locals gather at the bar for drink and conversation; and the sheriff pursues whatever leads that he has at hand towards finding the killer whose body count is racking up.  There is a notable absence of dread in Edge of the Axe, the feeling that a town is in the grips of a brutal killer.  I have praised before Larraz’s ability to create unique visuals and, especially, atmosphere.  Those qualities are absent here.  It appears that Larraz is going to let the screenplay for Edge to do the talking for him:  hints towards the motive and identity of the mysterious killer are all given in characters’ dialogue.  There are, unfortunately, too many of these scenes, and they slow down the energy of the action.  The kill scenes do have a panache about them (they are competently done); but if you have seen a lot of slasher films from the 1980s (as I have), then the scenes seem unoriginal and tired.  The screenplay of Edge of the Axe is preparing its viewer for its surprise reveal ending.  The seventy five minutes preceding it, however, are not compelling enough to capture my total attention.
I would rank Edge of the Axe at third from the trio of American-style horror flicks that Larraz made at the end of the 1980s.  Deadly Manor (1990) has more weird shit and atmospheric visuals than Rest in Pieces and is the best of this trio.  However, even Deadly Manor has awful, detracting dialogue which really devalues the whole film.  I will reserve further discussion of Deadly Manor for another day.  A hungry fan of American slashers, especially those from the 1980s, would probably enjoy, at least for a single viewing, Edge of the Axe.  For fans of José Ramón Larraz, like me, we would be better served looking at his work from the seventies.

1 comment:

Tom Clark said...

Clearly Larraz wasn't interested in reinventing the slasher with Edge but what film really has going for it was the central mystery of who is doing all the hackings. It's a very well composed murder mystery with a great twist. Its one of those endings that you could have perhaps seen coming a mile away but the story was so engaging it wasn't obvious while watching the film.

You mentioned the lack of atmosphere which is very true, although at the same time I get why he chose to play it mostly straight behind the camera as I'm not sure this type of material really called for a lot of ambiance or anything. Still though there are moments of Larraz's visual genius. The opening in the carwash for instance is brilliantly staged, shot and edited and gives a really nice jolt. A perfect opening.

What's really unique about the film is the instant messaging subplot. That has to be the first time that's ever been used in a horror film so on that front Larraz was ahead of his time. It was also sadly the last screen credit for the late, very great Patty Shepard who was still a striking presence and I wish she had a bigger role.