'Edge of the Axe: Special Edition' [Blu-ray]
(Barton Faulks, Christina Marie Lane, Page Mosely, et al / Blu-ray / NR / (1988) 2019 / Arrow Films UK)
Overview: The rural community of Paddock County is being rocked by the crazed exploits of an axe-wielding psychopath, who stalks the night in a black trenchcoat and mask.
As the victims pile up, the authorities attempt to keep a lid on the situation, whilst computer whizz-kid Gerald and girlfriend Lillian seek to unmask the killer before the town population reaches zero.
Blu-ray Verdict: Whilst Spain's contribution to the slasher genre has not been by any means prolific, they have made a few noteworthy inclusions.
Admittedly, the lackluster 'El Cepo' was not the most memorable of titles, but Jesus Franco's 'Colegialas violadas' and Juan Piquer's 'Mil gritos tiene la noche' gained notoriety by joining the lengthy DPP list in the United Kingdom and spawning a legion of admirers.
Jose Ramon Larraz, the Catalonian born filmmaker, first sprang to public attention with the outstanding thriller 'Síntomas', which earned him a Golden Palm nomination in 1974.
Many regard his greatest cinematic project to be 'El Mirón' from 1977. The movie was impressively visual and had very little dialogue, which meant that everything was suggested with body language and eye contact and it made Héctor Alterio's award winning lead-performance much more of an outstanding achievement.
Throughout the majority of his career, Larraz has demonstrated an ability to convey a cohesive and fluid plot without depending on gratuitous shock tactics.
He continued to work steadily in cinema, travelling from his home in the United Kingdom to shoot pictures across Europe. In 1987 he directed the ambitious 'Descanse en Piezas', which was the first of two American-Spanish produced direct-to-video splatter flicks.
Piezas boasted a creative synopsis but was plagued by a collectively inept cast and struggled to find a sizeable audience.
Released in 1988, 'Edge of the Axe' (or, as it was named in Spain, 'Al filo del hacha' was Larraz's first slasher movie, although it wouldn't be his last.
He returned to the category in 1990 with Deadly Manor, which signaled his exit from horror pictures. After the uninspiring comedy 'Sevilla Connection' in 1992, Larraz has remained anonymous in cinema, briefly resurfacing to direct a TV movie at the turn of the century.
Shot on location in Mexico, 'Edge of the Axe' tells the tale of a masked maniac stalking a small Northern Californian suburb. In the opening, a woman is brutally murdered in a car wash, which is the first of many successfully conveyed set pieces.
We are later introduced to a likable cast, including Page Mosley playing a technically gifted drifter called Gerald Martin. After relocating to Paddock County, he meets with Lillian Nebbs (Christina Marie Lane), and the couple begin a romantic liaison.
Meanwhile, as the psychopathic killer continues his rampage across the county, Gerald uses his online resources to find a link between the victims. Could his girlfriend be the killer's intended target?
Whereas 'Descanse en Piezas' boasted a logically creative plot, which mixed everything from suicide and reanimation to Dead and Buried-alike hostile small-townsfolk, 'Edge of the Axe' is a typical slasher-whodunit that swims comfortably in the ocean of genre trappings.
But unlike the huge majority of category inhabitants that relied so heavily on their heritage, Larraz's opus makes excellent use of the standard format to deliver an atmospheric and impressively dark environment.
Despite a lack of gratuitous gore, the murders are impressively realistic and at times it feels almost like we are watching a snuff movie. The opening killing has become something of a favorite amongst collectors, although personally I found much more creativity in some of the later slaughters.
Larraz is an experienced director and it shows consistently throughout the runtime. In places he manages to build some credible suspense and the tense final is competently handled. Javier Elorrieta's simple but unsettling score creates a harrowing mood and Tote Trenas' cinematography is visibly crisp.
Whilst the cast of 'Descanse en piezas' were incredibly poor to the extent that they ruined the feature in places, 'Edge of the Axe' marks a significant improvement in terms of dramatics.
Semi-prolific slasher star Page Mosley (Open House, Girl's Nite Out) delivers a career best performance as a likable lead, whilst the majority of cast members are approachable in supporting roles.
Suspicion points at almost every character and Larraz wraps the plot neatly with an ambitious conclusion. Perhaps even more remarkable is the fact that Hacha is a slasher movie devoid of stereotypes.
You'll find no horny beer-swigging teenagers here. John Carpenter spoke elegantly of his decision to set 'Halloween' in a normal everyday neighborhood, in order to distance his movie from the haunted houses and dilapidated castles that have signified the genre.
By doing so, he brought terror into our front rooms and reminded us that horror can strike in any place at any time. Giving us ordinary victims in ordinary environments, Larraz incorporated Carpenter's philosophy and avoided the platitudes so commonly linked with the slasher cycle.
The killer looks creepy in Michael Myers-like blank mask and rain slicker, and the movie transcends its budget. There are numerous flaws throughout the runtime, but they never detract from the overall enjoyment, and the flick excels far more than it disappoints.
In closing, 'Edge of the Axe' may have been released too late to make an impact on the category, but reflection proves that its one of the best late entries to the cycle.
Finally after a few attempts, the Spaniards have a slasher movie to be proud of. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
Brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative
English and Spanish language versions of the feature
Original uncompressed mono audio
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
Newly translated English subtitles for the Spanish soundtrack
Brand new audio commentary with actor Barton Faulks
Brand new audio commentary with The Hysteria Continues
Newly-filmed interview with actor Barton Faulks
The Pain in Spain - a newly-filmed interview with special effects and make-up artist Colin Arthur
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly-commissioned artwork by Justin Osbourn
+ FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector's booklet featuring new writing by Amanda Reyes
'Edge of the Axe' Original Movie Trailer