Edge of the Axe (1988)
"There is nothing silent about nights in Paddock County"
An axe murderer terrorizes a small Northern California mountain community, murdering women who share a link of having worked at the same mental institution. while two young computer-obsessed adults attempt to solve the killings.
This little-known Spanish slasher is exactly the sort of copycat Euro-horror that was all the go in the 80s – whatever big fad the US was going through, it was down to (mainly) the Italians and in this instance, the Spanish, to regurgitate the same formula with a foreign twist. From killer animals in the wake of Jaws to a slew of zombie films in the wake of Dawn of the Dead, it was only time for Europeans to jump on the coattails of the slasher genre, so big during the early 80s. However, Edge of the Axe arrives very late in the cycle and by 1988, the sub-genre was virtually dead in the US. Whatever feeble efforts were being released by this point were spent forces, devoid of any new ideas and fresh material. It’s a bit of a surprise to see the Spanish finally jump on the bandwagon towards the end of this decade.
Shot in a mix of locations between California and Spain, Edge of the Axe is a weirdly blurred mix between full-on giallo and local backwoods homemade horror. The slasher moments have an Argento-like style, whilst the laid-back footage of the characters driving around dinky little towns rings true of someone’s first home movie. It can be quite jarring and there’s no guesses which out of the two work better. Edge of the Axe has one good thing going for it – it’s violence – and that’s pretty much it. The narrative is well-worn and the film doesn’t even do a decent job of stringing together a decent story to pad out the moments in between kills. There’s a lot of filler here, with so many characters driving and seemingly going about their everyday lives, not really that concerned there is a serial killer on the loose. And there are a lot of characters here, most of whom serve no real purpose or have any real depth. You’d assume they were there to pad out the body count but the killer seems to kill people we haven’t seen before on-screen and have no connection to.
The script is to blame here. I get the sense that the filmmakers wanted to make a slasher but had no real idea of what to do outside of the murder sequences. There’s the romantic conquests of one of the characters, given plenty of screen time, to keep the running time high. The Macguffin of the computer being able to do a lot of detective work is a cop-out too. In typical 1980s fashion, the film computer does more than a computer in real life could do back then. My old Commodore 64 would struggle to load in Pong and take forever doing it, let alone do some of the complicated algorithms and loading of software that this one does. I suppose it’s an easy trope for the film to throw in to allow the characters the chance to piece together the clues quicker but it’s just more evidence of the lazy writing. To add the cherry on the top, along comes the twist revelation at the end which not only comes straight out of left-field but makes no sense in the context of the rest of the film, making a lot of the murders appear improbable.
And back to the violence, which is Edge of the Axe's strongest selling point. Opening with a great kill inside a car wash, the film has nowhere to really go with upping the stakes and so just keeps everything as violent as possible. Too much of the film is shot in the daylight, which is a pity as the night scenes manage to create a bit of atmosphere and suspense. Despite the killer targeting random characters and despite there being little blood, the kills are decent enough. The weapon of choice, the axe, gives the killer the opportunity to really go to town on their victims. It’s one of the few slasher films I can recall where you can see the prop axe really driving down hard into the actors and actresses and the force behind the swings manage to convey the anger behind the blows. The white face mask for the killer is also a nice touch, although the characters has no personality whatsoever – just blunt force and determination.
Edge of the Axe is a typical late 80s slasher. The novelty of it being European made washes off pretty quickly and what you’re left with is a rather dull, plodding slasher with sporadic moments of violence which will entertain only the sub-genre die-hards. And, as I included myself in that category, it’s even a tough slog for us.
Edge of the Axe
Director(s): José Ramón Larraz
Writer(s): Joaquín Amichatis (screenplay), Javier Elorrieta (screenplay), José Frade (screenplay)
Actor(s): Barton Faulks, Christina Marie Lane, Page Mosely, Fred Holliday, Patty Shepard, Alicia Moro
Duration: 91 mins