SLASHER MONTH: Axe (1974)

Shot in North Carolina on short ends for $25,000 in a house that cost $25 to shoot in, Axe has risen above its humble beginnings to end up on the Video Nasties section one list. Writer-director Frederick R. Friedel dreamed of making a film by 25, despite never having been on a film set in his life. He also ended up playing the morally conflicted Billy, which was to save the expense of hiring another actor.

Originally released as Lisa, Lisa, this North Carolina regional film was re-released in 1979 by Harry Novak as Axe (it was also called California Axe Massacre in the UK and it also played as The Virgin Slaughter). While Friedel felt that Axe felt that Novak’s title didn’t have the subtlety, surprise, and irony of his intended title, it certainly sells better under that simply — and yet sinister — name.

Three thugs — Steele (Jack Canon, who is also in Friedel’s Kidnapped Co-Ed), Lomax and Billy — beat a man named Aubrey to death, but not before they make him eat a lit cigar. After seeing the carnage, the victim’s boyfriend jumps out the window. They follow this mayhem up by assaulting a shopgirl, firing a gun over her head and pouring soda all over her.

They end up at the farmhouse of Lisa (Leslie Lee, who is an otherworldly figure in this and sadly, stopped acting after this movie), who lives alone with her grandfather. She keeps them a secret even from the police and has even more skeletons in her closet, as she’s slicing herself in the bathroom when no one is watching.

That night, Lomax tries to assault her. She responds by slicing his throat open and cutting him to pieces with an axe and shoving him into a trunk. She convinces Billy to drag it upstairs and when he learns what is inside, she tells him Steele did it.

There’s a great scene here where Billy takes her into the woods and tries to tell her that he will protect her. She pulls out her razor and he thinks that she’s trying to give him a weapon to battle the more physically imposing Steele. The viewer knows better.

Steele is no match for her, as she soon dispatches him with an axe and serves his blood up as soup to her grandfather. Billy notices the villain’s ring in the broth and then the body magically falls from the fireplace, sending him running outside and into a gunshot from the cops who’ve come back.

Not a 100% slasher by any means, as we said before, the ad campaign and video nasty image of the Axe re-release give it a historic reason to include as a movie in our slasher month. This is the kind of movie where nothing happens for long stretches, only to have moments of extreme violence quickly destroy the narrative tension. It’s a really intriguing film and I wish that Friedel had made more than just four movies.

You can get this from Severin.

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