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Axe

Posted by JoshSamford On October - 27 - 2011
Review by Prof. Aglaophotis


Axe (1977)
Director: Frederick R. Friedel
Writers: Frederick R. Friedel
Starring: Leslie Lee, Jack Canon and Ray Green



The Plot: Our story begins with three criminals: Steele, Lomax and Billy. Steel and Lomax are two well-dressed violent thugs; while Steele is the leader and Lomax is the wheelman, Billy is just along for the ride. One night, after beating a man to death, the three take off to hide from the authorities until the heat blows over. They drive into the countryside and seek shelter in the farm house of Lisa and her grandfather. Lisa is a quiet teenage girl looking after her equally quiet wheelchair bound grandfather. The three men settle in with their trigger fingers ready. While a violence-shaken Billy clearly wants to escape from his cohorts, Lisa finds herself hiding behind lies and preparing for the worst as she tries to defend herself from the two violent men with her only moral support being her own twisted psyche.

The Review
I sometimes wonder if the days of the Herschell Gordon-Lewis/Drive-In Horror movies should have really died out. I know I’m not the only person who appreciates such styles of film, and I know others in the modern day have emulated the ‘70’s Drive-In Horror movies as well. However, there’s this rare Gothic feel to some of those movies I haven’t seen in what feels like forever; the kind of rural, psychological atmosphere that is captured with the help of a creepy, yet attractive, Southern State home and an equally creepy and attractive lead female. Such an atmosphere is captured in movies like Kiss of the Tarantula, Don’t Open the Door and today’s film, the surprisingly brutal Axe. Unfortunately, while present, the atmosphere is quickly lost due to the poor writing and editing choices… and the fact that this is a ‘70’s Drive-In Horror film.

Axe is a functional, yet oddly arranged movie that has a fittingly dark, bleak personality. Our main characters consist of three criminals who eventually meet up with our heroine, Lisa, and the events that transpire before and during the encounters makes for some top-notch exploitation. The movie opens with what can only be described as a Mafia style Gay Bashing, which is shocking in itself but is intensified given the build-up and well-shot brutality of it all. I have to say, Axe has its share of subtle but disturbing, and sometimes even vile, imagery. There’s one part where Lisa slaughters a chicken and she keeps its headless body near the sink for a really long time. The last shot we see of that sink, after the mess Lisa makes out of it, is enough to make me cringe just thinking about it. The director really played up the dark grittiness within the movie, and I honestly can’t help but commend him for it. This guy took his characters, found his actors, looked at the settings and said: “How can I make this movie disturbing as Hell?” The characters in the movie are all pretty memorable too, especially considering how sadistic they are.

What I love about the main character Lisa is that we don’t get into her back story. There’s a lot of unknown stuff about her, like why she’s alone with her grandfather, how she makes a living in the house (I’ll bet she lives off of grandpa’s Veteran/retirement pay), where her parents are, why she’s so messed up or what drove her that way. Lisa is one big mystery, and it makes her a scary presence here as intended. Played by little known actress Leslie Lee, Lisa is played convincingly enough as a responsible, but clearly insane, girl in a bleak mundane world. There’s only one instance where we remotely get into Lisa’s perspective and it’s probably the best, yet oddest, scene in the movie. The scene I am speaking of shows her locking herself in the bathroom, and just staring at herself in the mirror.

The characters of Steele and Lomax are very entertaining, and both are surprisingly well acted. The two are violent, well dressed, heavy smoking, perverted bastards who bring chaos with them everywhere they go. Now, a bad actor could make these villains seem cartoonish, and their actions would simply seem like feeble excuses for the audience to hate them. Jack Canon and Ray Green on the other hand come across as genuinely intimidating thugs and disgusting criminals, yet they manage to be lively characters in the process. They kind of remind me of the two thugs at the beginning of Cronenberg’s A History of Violence.

Billy, on the other hand… well, he’s no Junior Stillo. Played by the movie’s director, Billy is supposed to be the gentle thug starting out fresh in a life of vague crime, and not liking it much. However, it’s hard to sympathize with the kid: He shows very little emotion and despite trying to sound concerned ends up sounding bored throughout the movie. He has some physical range, but he doesn’t do much beyond sitting around. It’s like watching James Franco play a heartfelt, family-first scientist; the character depth is there, the actor just isn’t selling it. Maybe if the actor was younger it would be more effective, or maybe it’s the beard matched with that silly afro wig, dunno. I will say though, Billy is his most convincing as a character near the end of the movie when he finds out what happened to one of his cohorts. It’s a realistic verbal moment correlated to a mental breakdown I always like to see in Horror movies and the director plays it fairly well.

The cinematography isn’t too bad, as there are a lot of good shots and imagery. There are moments where the camera bobs too noticeably, however, and there are a lot of dark spots where the lighting fails to elucidate. The movie has an easy pace to it, but the flow is broken up by awkward editing choices. In one scene, Steele and Lomax are eating in the kitchen but Billy runs out. The two chase after him as he runs around the barn with some urgency in their actions. The next scene after that is of Billy and Lisa in the house, with Billy calmly apologizing to her. That scene is quickly followed by all five characters in the TV room. It would’ve been more efficient if they had simply faded out at the end of every scene to tell us that some time elapsed. It kind of reminds me of the transition in Hell of the Living Dead where Lt. Mike London’s squad jump from a completed mission in Spain to a parachuted jeep in New Guinea: new scene, just like that! It’s also funny how useless that scene is, because Billy’s clothes change color as he runs away!

I’ve called this movie violent, but it never goes as far as most Herschell Gordon Lewis movies. The gore effects really come down to just fake blood, off-screen hacking and one dead chicken. All of which is fine until we reach a scene that actually requires some gore effects, but instead we see a re-used shot of the now dead character from when he was being killed. And I’m not talking Tom Savini gore requisites here, that shot could have easily just been of the actor sticking his head out of fake blood and torn clothes! Also, I love how the back of a character’s neck is slashed with a knife, but it has the same affect as though the knife cut their throat. It’s especially funny how the slashed character screams multiple times in the middle of the night, and this brings NO attention to the sleeping criminals.

The soundtrack can be a little annoying at times due to its choice instruments. The title and main theme of the movie consist of some kind of flat wind instrument that gets painful to listen to, fast. In some cases, the instrument makes some of the subtly weird moments of the movie sour, like when Lisa is caring for her grandad. Sometimes even the most intense bongo drumming, or triangle tapping, sounds right, but is usually off cue. Overall though, the soundtrack manages to be effective throughout with its combined use of a rattling tambourine, thudding bongos and bass synth tone. An attempted rape scene is made especially hectic and frightening with the simultaneous clash of every instrument.

The only genuine problem I found with this movie is the abrupt and rather out of place ending. It comes up out of nowhere, offers no closure and only serves to raise more questions than the movie needs; in context, it feels like the kind of ending Coleman Francis would come up with. Hell, S.F. Brownrigg could write a better ending complete with all the lacking closure and lingering questions at the end. The movie itself is only 68 minutes long and the movie creeps past the sixty minute mark due to the extra long opening and ending credits. Was it really that hard to come up with a cohesive ending to this??


The DVD
But oh, Axe just wouldn’t be complete without some extras, would it? Brought to us by Something Weird Video, the movie comes packed with theatrical trailers for the movie under its several alternate titles (the funniest has got to be the one for Lisa, Lisa) as well as trailers for other movies. Oddly enough, the movie also comes with two Archival Shorts, one of which you’d expect to see on MST3K. Also, this is a Double Feature DVD. Axe precedes a J.G. Patterson movie called The Electric Chair with a similar runtime as Axe. Now if this were any other collection of Short Films, such as on the 2-Disc Limited Edition of Driller Killer, I’d comment on them, but those movies didn’t last 80 minutes, nor did they feel like an eternity to watch. I’m going to have to review The Electric Chair another day… whoo.


The Conclusion
Honestly, you could do a lot worse than watching Axe, maybe even buying it: it’s pretty well shot, decently played, violent and even psychologically creepy at times. I’d recommend it over at least one modern movie released this year based off a classic ’70’s film franchise, but the null writing talent rears its ugly head too often to get a full, hearty recommendation.




Assault on Precint 13

Posted by JoshSamford On June - 28 - 2008
Review contributed by Rat Faced Killa


Plot Outline: In seemingly unconnected events in Los Angeles, a street gang vows revenge against the police for killing 6 of their crew, a rookie cop named Bishop is handed the crappy job of watching a police station in the process of closing down, and a murderer named Napoleon Wilson is carted off to death row. These events soon culminate into the siege of the near-vacant police station by hundreds of violent gang members. Cut off from the rest of the city and low on weapons, the station’s few remaining occupants, Wilson, and another crook named Wells must trust each other in order to survive. Talk about a crappy first night on the job!




The Review: Picture Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Replace the mindless zombies with random gang-members and the old country house with a nearly abandoned police station in the middle of a desolate inner-city neighborhood. Now you’ve got the simple but effective premise that drives this magnificent budget action picture from the golden age of exploitation film. No wonder this is one of Quentin Tarantino’s personal favorites (and referenced several times in his script for From Dusk Till Dawn), as it’s about as cool as these kind of flicks come. In the hands of another director, the film’s mildly contrived premise may have resulted in a forgettable B-movie, but Carpenter does several things to make it work. Each of the plot strands are intercut in such a way that even though it takes half of the movie to reach the center-piece of the film, the siege of the police station, the film is consistently interesting.


The time devoted to establishing the films premise helps to develop the character of Napoleon Wilson, introduce Bishop and the situation regarding the police precinct, and provide a motive behind the street gang’s actions.Even though most the characters are two-dimensional, each of them serve a clear purpose in advancing the plot(besides the secretary that gets killed….well, maybe that was her purpose). These elements help to retain a suspension of disbelief so that when the gang does attack the precinct, it’s easy to buy. There are no superfluous plot pieces and it seems to head in a definite direction throughout, so the film maintains a brisk pace. Made on a meager budget of a little over one hundred grand, Carpenter’s film looks like one of 10 times that, thanks to his skill with the camera. Much more advanced than his previous feature, Dark Star, Assault is filled with expertly handled shots and nicely framed widescreen photography, giving it a professional look. The main set of the film, the interior of the police station, looks as real as any seen on film. Although Carpenter hadn’t fully developed his musical skills, the score to Assault is effective in setting a mood, even if repetitive.


Also credited as the editor, Carpenter shows aptitude in the assembly of action scenes, particularly the shoot-out involving Bishop, Wilson and the gang members, in which he manages to make simple actions exciting. Also impressive is the assembly of the exterior precinct sequences. With the use of POV shots Carpenter creates the illusion of the desolate station surroundings, despite being filmed in totally different locations. Characteristic of most budget pictures, the acting in Assault is a little weak, with the exception of Darwin Josten who has a memorable turn as the anti-hero Napoleon Wilson. He may be a son of a bitch, but he’s a likable one. Wilson is a precursor to the anti-heroes that would show up in subsequent Carpenter films, such as Snake Plissken in Escape From New York or John Nada in They Live. He captures every scene he’s in as the cynical outsider who meets his problems with an apathetic attitude. Some of the other acting is particularly poor, especially a scene where Laurie Zimmer(Leigh)is shot in the arm and she doesn’t even flinch! As a Carpenter fan, I feel that Assault is one of his best works, and as a film fan, I feel that it is a minimalist action masterpiece. If you are interested in budget films or Carpenter’s work, this is a must see. In fact, if you are interested in movies at all this one should be on your rental list.





Beast of the Yellow Night

Posted by JoshSamford On November - 7 - 2007

Originally written by Prof. Aglaophotis


Plot Outline: Joseph Langdon was a very mean SOB who killed, raped, tortured, and betrayed his way through various situations in his regiment… until he was found escaping from his crimes in the Philippines and was shot at upon discovery. Before dying however, he ran across a native fellow surrounded by an odd yellow fog who promised him everlasting life so long as he remained under his servitude. Well, as it turns out the native was actually Satan himself and being under Big S’ servitude for Langdon means bringing out the worst in the people around him by being his usual bad-ass self. He accomplishes this task by taking over the body of Philip Rogers who has recovered from some serious factory injuries only to walk away in a handsome skin with a bad heart. But Langdon isn’t as bad as Satan discovers so in order to keep Langdon in line, Satan has Philip transform into a blood thirsty creature of the night once Langdon tries to find his humanity. Between doing good and bad for the people around him (and being immortal), Langdon finds himself torn and without hope until he runs into a blind old man who might know how to help him.

The Review: Sometimes I feel that regardless of the passing of time and the changing of cinema, there will always be a glimmering spark of classical movies that will ignite our gas-soaked attention and have us sink in awe at what’s on the screen. Though I wasn’t completely ‘sinking in awe’, I was somewhat pleased to watch Beast of the Yellow Night because it retained a classical feeling (emitted by the favorite theme of personal struggle) that almost felt similar to elements from earlier horror movies. This classical feeling can of course feel like a cliché at many moments while watching the film, but clichés can be avoided by originality and the Yellow Night feels a lot like a little cliché and an original plot altogether due to the aforementioned classic monster movie feeling. Some of this feeling also comes from the creature make-up as the beast that Langdon transforms in to highly resemble Lon Cheney Jr. in The Werewolf due to the concept of a loony flesh eating monster in a button up shirt and slacks on the run. I have heard much criticism about the gore in the movie, saying that it’s too cheap to be forgivable, but I’ll admit that for what little it had, it still offered fairly decent blood and gore effects for a low budget.

The cinematography isn’t a lot to brag about; though it does show most of the scenes in great lucidity, the original 35mm footage tends to make various scenes seem unconnected as they continually change from tint to tint for ever shot and day-for-night shots are rather questionable. With this in mind, the opening scene appeared somewhat inebriated as it traveled between two points with different tints for each cut. This however does not last forever as the editing of scenes at first seems rather confusing, but throughout the rest of the movie, the scenes fit in nicely and raise few continuity errors. The real cohesiveness for the opening scene to the movie was one expositive scene that occurred later in the movie and the beginning dialogue between Langdon and Satan that basically sets up the beginning plot device which really demands your full attention if you hope to understand what’s transpiring. The sound had an even amount of fairness to its merit as it offers great ambience and well applied average noises such as canes knocking around, doors closing, bones snapping and gunshots, but other noises were just far too Foley to be recognizable, like the slapping meat-slammer noise for slashes and punches, flamethrowers making gunshot noises instead of a streams of flaming gas being sprayed out. There were also a few missing noises as well, particularly the bending of iron bars that the demonic Langdon does in order to get out of one room (not only is he more powerful than the average man, but he’s also whisper quiet when it comes to getting out of a room in usually noisy ways, apparently). The music certainly contributed to its classical feeling of evident struggles, the old-timey location, re-establishing romances, and a killer beast on the prowl as a rather well orchestrated tune hits our ears with a soft yet chaotic violin stringing for the opening drama, and a touching flute tune for the personal struggles. Though the soundtrack hit a few repetitive notes such as the climactic opening for the romance theme, the music matched the content pretty well for the most part. The acting was a little mixed as various actors brought differing levels of charisma in the film. It’s a given that late rockabilly actor John Ashley would bring a smooth and cool air to the screen, with his easy flowing dialogue, greased up pompadour, and angular looks and Diaz was pretty good as a sly, chubby, smooth and cruel talking version of Satan. Many of the native Filipino actors like Garcia and Salcedo presented their characters believably (and with good dialogue, too! I love it when no dubbing is required) as they investigated the Langdon case, while other actors almost treated the film like it was an Anthony Cardoza rip off simply with their dialogue or appearances (wait, did I really type Cardoza? Dammit, I did it again). The use of most of the props in the movie are pretty fitting, though the bag full of limbs and flesh that Satan brings to Langdon is a little too modern of a design that contrasts with his starting native costume.

I’ve heard some negative remarks regarding the gore in the movie, but personally, I thought that the gore in Yellow Night wasn’t all that bad. True, there is one gut eating scene in which we see some silicone rolled bright pink bits of gut that contrasts with what real intestinal tracks may look like, but it was convincing for the scene because the bits of intestine shown were being munched/chewed up by a supposedly stronger than human monster-man. The rest of the gore mostly consisted of one broken arm, quick throat slashing and gnawing effects that fit in pretty well. Speaking of effects, the ‘creature’ himself was fair in design in the sense that John Ashley got his hands and face covered with a beyond charred layer of skin, fangs and a wig, but you could spot a few parts of Ashley that wasn’t covered by the make up as some brief flesh tones would appear above his shirt collar. Something I thought was interesting in the line of effects was the implication of the color yellow. Now seeing that the movie was filmed in the Philippines, I’m not sure whether yellow is the social sign of danger as red is to Latin America and black is here in the US, but I feel that the yellow fog that constantly rolls in whenever Satan has a scene to talk in, it works on different levels, especially for a movie of this caliber. This is partly due to the fact that when someone thinks of a color to represent Hell, chances are he’s are going to use the color red because of the idea that Hell is a big ol’ inferno. The problem is obvious that if Hell is a place of hot, constant fires, then why are there never RED FLAMES? See? By using yellow fog, the scene is warmed up in a thick, hazy atmosphere that comes closer to representing a Hellish presence because fires are always yellow and orange (depending on the fire of course, you could end up with a hint of blue or white, but never red. The only kind of red fire you’ll see is from a colored flare or stars that are really far away from Earth). Aside from those previously listed, there were very few other notable effects, aside from a seemingly half a minute long all red copulation/love making scene in the fore ground with a groovy red close up of Langdon & Julia kissing in the background (I say groovy because it’s VERY sixties [and I feel the need to add at this point that actress Mary Wilcox might not be much to look at, but she fills-in a number of sixties style tunics very nicely in the film, so that’s a plus).

There was some drama involved in the movie as well, almost more so than violence, though the contrast is evened out between each scene. However, there seems to be a something missing in the deliverance of the dramatic scenes; I don’t mean to say that they were badly acted, especially not when Langdon starts to PHYSICALLY thank Julia for being so faithful to him while he’s acting odd (at that point I was sure that the film was going to take a brief turn into soft-core porn style cinematography, but it didn’t), but for the most part, I think there was a part of me that slightly cared about what the characters were going through between each other. Looking back on it now though, I realize that I ended up setting most of my focus on how Ashley’s character was going to treat his life, the people he interacted with and how their words would influence/possibly help him (or if the cops were figuring things out on their own, then I’d focus my attention on that), but once it shifted to a different character that Langdon talked to, I slowly began losing interest. The one scene that pops into my mind regarding this issue is when Earl and Julia are talking about Philip’s recently weird behavior that made him try and push Julia onto Earl and how these two characters suddenly started developing something between each other. For Philip’s only known brother, Earl really doesn’t seem like a good bro when it comes to insuring that your wigged out brother/pal ends up okay and being more worried about his brother’s wife’s mental stability; disconnected, vague, dumb sounding and biologically inaccurate in comparison to his damned brother… yeah, the one character that brought the movie down with his appearance, lines and infidelity was Phil’s brother Earl who right from the start I knew he had something for Phil’s wife. Geez, what a worm. I will admit that given the pros and cons, Beast of the Yellow Night is an interesting low-budget killer monster on the run film that might not be recognized for anything other than John Ashley, but it’s a unique popcorn Drive-In style movie that works as a kick-back/relaxing visual treat. With the given details plus its own, Beast of the Yellow Night has also got a little bit of classic material to its structure while still being somewhat original; if you like the gory results of a man turned flesh eating wombat monster from Hell trying to find his faith and solidity, then this is a pretty good selection.



Anatomy

Posted by JoshSamford On October - 8 - 2007
Plot Outline: Paula Henning is a bright young medical student who has just been given the opportunity to study at the prestigious Heidelberg University. Contrary to her father’s wishes, she decides to go; leaving her family and dying grandfather behind. All seems to go well at first: she makes new friends, has a brilliant teacher, and a charming young boy quickly begins to fall for her. Until one day she makes the shocking discovery that one of the corpses used for experimentation during the lecture actually belonged to a young guy whom she had just met the day before. Much to her dismay, Karen eventually realizes that within the much acclaimed Heidelberg University there exists a secret society called the AAA; which conduct experiments on living human beings for the benefit of medical progress. As their slogan promptly points out, “Experimental killing of the few to ensure the survival of many”. Needless to say, Paula soon becomes the target of a maniacal member of the group who is determined to shut her up once and forall.



The Review
I have to admit that I had zero expectations for this movie as I popped it into my dvd player during one of those lonely, rainy nights. I had never even heard of it before, and I decided to give it a rent for the sole reason that I liked the title. I didn’t even know it was a German film, and I sure as hell didn’t expect that I’d spend 100 or so minutes reading English subtitles to fully understand what was going on. Yet, I must say that “Anatomy” proved to be a pleasant surprise for the most part. With the Hollywood horror scenario currently characterized by tired, repetitive slasher flicks and unnecessary remakes, this foreign film seemed to be a breath of fresh air.


One of the positive things about “Anatomy” is that, unlike many other horror movies, it actually has a story to tell. And I dare say a quite ambitious one too. We are presented with a secret society whose scope is to conduct experiments on living human beings for the benefit of medical science. And by experiments I mean the literal cutting and removing of flesh and body parts. Naturally enough, in a movie with this sort of plot you would expect it would have its fair share of blood and gore. In all honesty it had a substantial amount, but it’s not something which would make you lose your appetite for a week. And to tell the whole truth, I was actually expecting a little more. However, the real strength of the movie lies in the concept itself. Imagine yourself waking up tied to an autopsy table, powerless to do anything other than to stare at mysterious masked men who are cutting your abdomen apart. The idea alone makes you feel slightly uncomfortable. I mean, you could look at all the gore present in the George Romero zombie films, and something in the back of your head will tell you that what you’re seeing is just a fictitious horror movie with fictitious zombies. When you see the zombie from “Day of the Dead” rising up from the autopsy table with all his kidneys falling on the floor, you could somewhat say to yourself that this zombie is just a fictional character. You just can’t relate to a zombie. This is not the case with “Anatomy”. You know that all the characters in this movie are common human beings just like you and me, and for this reason the decapitations somewhat get more under your skin. And mind you, this whole concept isn’t just scary; it’s even quite amusing in its own demented way. It’s like, one day you make a new friend. The very next day you find him dead on the autopsy table for experimentation during your anatomy class. Call me sick, but I couldn’t help myself from giggling at that part.


Another thing that impressed me was the acting, and here I’m specifically referring to Franka Potente. I have to admit that this is the very first Potente film I’ve seen; I still haven’t got around to watching her most famous film to date being “Run Lola Run”. And I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by her performance. She seems to be a very versatile actress, and her character in this movie was totally believable. If there is any justice left in the world, she has the potential to become a major Hollywood figure in the near future. Unfortunately, this cannot be said for most of the other actors in the movie. I didn’t find most of them the least bit believable. And to be completely honest, this wasn’t completely due to their performances as such. This is where I think this film fell into the first of a number of clichés. These students should be the crème de la crème of medical science. And chances are that if you are one of the brightest medical students in the country, you look and act like a nerd. And if you are a nerd, you probably won’t even know what a gymnasium is. Yet, nearly all of the students depicted in this movie seem to have been sculptured from stone. It’s as if they spend their whole day working out at the gym instead of burying their heads into boring medicine books.

The Conclusion
This leads us to the other negative aspects of the movie, which are practically present in the whole second part. Just when I thought I had found a modern horror movie with a difference, I soon became aware that I was wrong. The second part of the film basically consists of the same, old, tired elements present in 99% of slasher flicks released nowadays. There’s the inevitable sex scene, the death of the slut, the survival of the good girl, the boring chase scenes and the unsatisfactory ending. To make things worse, the movie’s soundtrack is totally off-putting. I mean, I can understand that the movie was mainly targeted at teens; but do we really have to listen to a Fat Boy Slim song in a horror movie? It was really like watching “Dawson’s Creek” at one point. And it’s a real shame because this movie really had potential. The second part of the film bored me out of my wits, even with the hundred plot twists the director decided to include. I was very disappointed it went so downhill throughout the end, because I really wanted to give this movie a higher rating. I guess I have to keep investing in my search for a truly outstanding, original modern horror movie.



Review contributed by Scarface

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