Some exhibitors dubbed this flick the California Axe Massacre in an attempt to exploit the success of a certain increasingly notorious movie released the same year. They weren't entirely cracked. Both pictures illustrate the dangers city folk face when they wander too far into rural America. Each feature catatonic patriarchs, damsels in distress and implements befitting lumberjacks. They share a similarly gritty, uneasy atmosphere, but familiarity doesn't equal, well, equality. One's THE greatest horror picture ever made. While Axe (1974, 68 minutes) is a comparative footnote. But writer/director Frederick R. Friedel's crime story turned blood feast is well worth exploring, no matter how the title card reads.
The movie: Three underworld enforcer types lamb it to the sticks after murdering a fella and chasing his shrieking boyfriend out the window of a high-rise apartment building. Steele, the head hood (Jack Canon), doesn't seem phased by having to leave the city behind, as he much prefers to look generally disinterested while absently fiddling with his cuticles. Meanwhile, back at the farm, we meet a dour teenage girl named Lisa (Leslie Lee) who lives alone with her invalid grandfather (Douglas Powers). Hers seems a joyless life as she hums the same melancholy tune while spooning broth into grandpa's drooling mouth, as she does when blankly lopping off a hen's head. Not far away, the fugitives' car lurches to a stop in front of a sleepy country store and Steele swaggers in for nourishment and criminal diversion. He flings apples at the shopkeeper's head before making her strip and dodge bullets for his amusement. Of course, these cruel buzzards land at Lisa's doorstep and force themselves upon her hospitality. To their bewilderment, she appears nonplused by their menacing presence, as her only passive concern seems to be for her beloved pappy. Our director plays Billy, the third and most reluctant bad guy, who takes it upon himself to preserve Lisa's virtue and life against the base urges of his comrades. However, this razor-clawed kitten is in NO need of a hero. Eagle-eyed CineSchlockers will remember Mr. Canon was among the valiant defenders of the Dixie Boy Truck Stop in Maximum Overdrive.
Notables: No breasts. Six corpses. Cigar burn to the mouth. Baby doll bludgeoning. Coca-Cola cleavage. Foot chase. Cookie dunking. Toenail clipping. Bathtub dismemberment. Geriatric sponge bath. Produce skeet shoot.
Quotables: Steele grows impatient with his fidgety lackey, "Why don't you go get me a glass of water -- then drink it yourself! It'll give you something to do!" And later, he admires some cantaloupes, "The lady's sure got some nice melons there, Lomax. I bet she's got some OTHER nice melons!" Billy helps Lisa move an exceptionally heavy trunk, "What have you got in there? Old bowling balls?!"
Time codes: The boys play William Tell with a blubbering convenience store clerk (16:16). An unlucky relative of Mike the Headless Chicken (18:43). Lisa introduces cutlery into traditional bath-time fun (45:20). Bizzaro commercial for Campbell's Home Cookin' Soup (1:00:38).
Audio/Video: The fullframe transfer shows its age, but is generally clean and the color is mostly even throughout. Utilitarian, but strong mono track.
Extras: Something Weird Video is wonderfully generous with its schlock. They include a bonus picture from Axe producer J.G. Patterson Jr. called The Electric Chair (1972, 85 minutes) known mostly for featuring a step-by-step demonstration of Ol' Sparky. A riotous educational film produced by Encyclopedia Britannica on "Keeping Mentally Fit" circa 1952 (something Lisa never saw). "We Still Don't Believe It" reel starring sword swallower Maria Cortez keeps the cutlery theme alive. Gallery of exploitation art with "Horrorama" radio rarities. Gobs of drive-in trailers including Booby Trap, The Mad Butcher and Kidnapped Coed. Comically crude main menu.
Final thought: Lisa is such an enigma that the tension born from not knowing what she'll do from moment to moment is weirdly enthralling. Highly Recommended.
G. Noel Gross is a Dallas graphic designer and avowed Drive-In Mutant who specializes in scribbling B-movie reviews. Noel is inspired by Joe Bob Briggs and his gospel of blood, breasts and beasts.