Prof. Aglaophotis | Varied Celluloid

Night of Horror

Posted by Josh Samford On October - 7 - 2013

Originally Written by Prof. Aglaophotis


Night of Horror (1981)
Director: Tony Malanowski
Writers: Rebecca Bach, Tony Malanowski, and Gae Schmitt
Starring: Steve Sandkuhler, Gae Schmitt, Rebecca Bach, Jeff Canfield, and Tony Malanowski.



The Plot: Our story begins with a man named Steve, who recounts his latest woes with his ambitious friend Chris. Chris wants Steve to keep their band going, but Steve has some reservations on account of his latest funk. Apparently, he’s been going through hard times ever since a trip he and his friends made to the Virginia countryside. Steve’s problems sprung-up during an RV trip he and his half-brother took as part of an inheritance matter from the death of their father.

Jeff also takes his wife Colleen along with her friend Susan. However, on their way to the inherited property, our four travelers encounter strange phenomena that forces them to spend a night out in the woods. It is here in the woods that Colleen’s dormant telepathic abilities awake in the presence of the restless spirits residing there.


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Return of the Tiger

Posted by Josh Samford On December - 13 - 2011
Review Contributed by Prof. Aglaophotis


Return of the Tiger (1979)
Director: Jimmy Shaw
Writers: Chang Hsin Yi
Starring: Angela Mao, Bruce Li and Yi Chang



The Plot: We open on a gymnasium full of martial artists and acrobats practicing when a young woman bursts in and starts fighting everyone. Upon meeting the sub-man in charge, Peter Chen, the woman introduces her boss Chang Hung from Amsterdam. Chang Hung claims he’s come for the real head honcho, a rich, mobbed-up Westerner named Paul and that he’s out for revenge against him. While Paul and his right hand-man try to find out more about this mysterious Chang Hung, another martial arts tied mobster named Tsing Chi Sang wants to hire Chang Hung for his great fighting skills. But between two mob bosses, the mysterious Chang Hung’s motives become more and more complex, as both mob bosses secretly hate each other and are planning to use Chang Hung to their own means. Will either mob boss get what they want, or is Chang Hung up to something even the bosses won’t see coming?

The Review
When you say the words “Kung Fu Film,” you’re speaking a succession of words that roughly translate to something fun. No matter how dramatic or deep the movie tries to be, a Kung Fu Film is a Kung Fu Film all the way. There are some film themes that might deter from the full tilt martial arts experience though, be it Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’s art style or Kung Fu Hustle’s overuse of CGi, but rarely is it ever the plot that usually amounts to nothing more than exacting revenge or justice. That’s not entirely the case with Return of the Tiger, though: here we have a fun-filled martial arts flick with a heavy plot that just noticeably weighs the film down.

Return of the Tiger boasts some genuinely good choreography. This is due in part to the movie’s exceptional cinematography, as there are a lot of great mid-shots and close-ups showing every block and counter attack with great impact. The dodging and two man on one fights are incredible even when you can tell an actor or object is flying around on strings. Like every good Kung Fu film though, the final battle between Chang, Paul, Tsing and the henchmen is an amazing ride. The action beats are very well hit and it highlights the movie as a veritable good Kung Fu film. The man playing Chang Hung is damn good, with most of the flips and obstacle-clearing jumps going entirely to him. I get the feeling this is one of those Brucesploitation films that tried to cash-in on the Bruce Lee post-mortem fame, because the guy looks a little bit like Bruce, and even the movie even stars Bruce Li as well as Yi Chang who played The Baron from Exit the Dragon Enter the Tiger (here playing Peter Chen [oddly credited as Mr. Smith]).

Interestingly, there seems to be a kind of gray matter to all of the characters. The villains never do anything too villainous, and the heroes feel more like vigilante crooks. Paul isn’t a woman beating monster, Tsing isn’t a cruel exploitative man and Chang is similar to what Sonny Chiba would have been in The Street Fighter if his character had a conscious. It makes these characters believable and their individual sophistication makes them appear honorable, despite their organized crimes.

The actor playing Paul (ironically Paul L. Smith who played Mr. Booar in the Jackie Chan movie The Protector, Falkon in Red Sonja, Willard the janitor from Pieces and Bluto in the Popeye movie) isn’t too bad. For the most part he’s very stoic and seems like a very calm and collected crime boss. He never actually shines as a villain until the final battle when he starts beating people up in a comedic, but semi-effective, way. Watching the dude fight is kind of like watching Andre the Giant fight in The Princess Bride; it’s rather goofy watching the guy bitch-slap people into unconsciousness, but he’s big and burly enough to pull the effect off.

Speaking of goofy, there is one fight scene in particular that doubles as both unique and utterly preposterous. Even more so than the final fight. About an hour into the movie, Chang gets attacked by motorcycle thugs; while the scene invokes a lot of danger, the hits are at their loosest between every strike and the climax is inappropriately abrupt. The scene even has wicker baskets and cardboard boxes set-up for the occasion despite the fact the scene takes place in the middle of nowhere.

Despite the various martial arts battles, there is something off with the pacing. The action beats, while memorable, are spread apart from each other widely. The movie has this very ‘70’s Intrigue vibe to it in the same vein as Shaft or Detroit 9000, where there’s a long period of figuring out who’s doing what and what’s really going on. It’s not to say it’s boring, and it is necessary since it does serve in setting up the appropriate plot points, it just doesn’t make for a pulse pounding Kung Fu film. Kung Fu: Punch of Death felt like a Kung Fu film through and through, but this one is a bit more plot-heavy, and the end result is a feeling of disjointedness. There’s a promising brawl scene in a goods yard between Chang Hung and several henchmen, but when more henchmen arrive, the others just run away… prompting the newly arriving henchmen to do the same!

The soundtrack deserves a special mention here because the music is both pertinent to the times, and is nothing you’d expect out of a Kung-Fu/Martial Arts movie setting, but is overall perfectly fitting. Composed by experienced Martial Arts movie composer Fu Liang Chou, the soundtrack carries a very heavy 70’s vibe: from the catchy opening theme song to scenes of Paul’s henchmen, the funky 70’s orchestration and Wakka Chikka music does the action and drama some genuine favors. I’ve listened to a lot of forgettable orchestrated soundtracks in my time and a lot of them pertain to films and games of today; composers today could learn quite a bit from Fu Liang Chou’s work here… him and Alessandro Alessandroni. What makes the soundtrack really notable though is Chang’s Theme, which plays every other time the character appears on screen.

Chang’s Theme is rich with the heavy keys of a piano, a guitar that denotes intrigue, a thudding bass line of intimidation and a nice touch of violins. There’s even a nice character theme contrast where Paul and Tsing meet together with their men in the same room, and each boss entering the room with their men contrasts with each other perfectly. The soundtrack isn’t seamless though. There are some funny night club scenes where an Asian singer will clearly be singing along with a live band, but 70’s R&B is being played over him (thanks, localization team). That, and they throw in a soundtrack clip from Live and Let Die near the end. Why you ask? Because it’s a Chinese production and they can get away with nonsense like that. Kind of like how The Boxer’s Omen stole sound clips from Phantasm for no reason at all.

It isn’t until the final act that we learn who Chang and his helper really are, and how they play in this Karate Crime situation, but it’s a real disappointment when we do. It’s not that the twist is implausible, it’s just one of several predictable plot twists available to the audience. The plot twist is like figuring out what Gin Sung really is or guessing the ending to Majesco’s GunMetal: it’s right out there in the open, leaves no room for imagination and is the first option you would go for in a Multiple Choice quiz. The last minute twist regarding Chang and his assistant feels hollow, and while it makes some sense, it feels a little too convenient.


The Conclusion
This is one of those types of Kung Fu films that feels like it should be one of the high contenders within the genre. Return of the Tiger has got ambition, an intriguing story, ‘70’s style, some good action and is fairly well shot, but it sags somewhere along the way. That’s really not a bad thing though: Return of the Tiger is still an entertaining Kung Fu movie, and still very recommendable to anyone looking for a fun action film.




Church, The

Posted by Josh Samford On October - 31 - 2011

Written by – Prof. Aglaophotis


The Church (1989)
Director: Michele Soavi
Writers: Dario Argento, Franco Ferrini, M.R. James and Michele Soavi
Starring: Hugh Quarshie, Tomas Arana and Feodor Chaliapin Jr.



The Plot: Our story opens in Germany in the 1600’s where Teutonic knights are lead to a small village supposedly housing devil worshippers led by a carrier of demons influencing them. The knights quickly descend on the villagers, murdering men, women, children and animals left and right. Once the onslaught has finished, a Christian leader in charge of the knights orders all of the villagers, now all infected by an unleashed demonic force, to be buried. Their burial ground is sanctified by having a large gothic church constructed over the corpses thus sealing the demons along with the bodies.

A century passes and the church is a fully functional public cathedral. Because the church is so old, a young historian named Lisa (Barbra Cupisti) is working on restoring the ancient details of the church’s interior, while the church’s new librarian Evan (Tomas Arana) walks in and is slowly introduced to almost everyone residing there, including the rebellious young Lotte (Asia Argento). Evan soon gets involved in the secrets of the cathedral once Lisa finds a parchment hidden in the decrepit under halls of the church, telling of a secret sealed away in the deteriorating basement. After finding and opening the seal, Evan unleashes the contamination of dormant damnation and the church doors eventually close up, sealing a large number of civilians inside. It’s now up to Lotte and the diligent father Gus (Hugh Quarshie) to figure out what is going on, how to stop the demons in the church from leaving their confines and how to survive in the process.

The Review
I really wish visionary Michele Soavi would get back into film making. Like many Italian Horror movie directors, the guy is gifted at art direction, talented behind the camera and was never afraid to throw in some shocking gore effects. Though The Church is more an Art House film, chock full of metaphors and unique cinematography, it’s still a neat horror film to behold even with its succinct gory-moments and occasionally odd continuity problems.

The movie has a lot of build-up to it. After the first frenetic opening, we get a long introduction to our main characters in several unique ways. The characters of Evan and Lisa are introduced in pretty straight forward scenes, but Father Gus’ introduction as a character is very poetic and is completely visual: it’s an interesting premonitory instance and as strange as the scene is, it manages to say something about the character and what he’s lead to do. It’s funny, because for most of film there’s no real central protagonist or villain in the movie, and despite having so many primary characters with their own little traits, a fair amount of them were simply background characters.

Much of the film carries Michele Soavi’s direction on its shoulders; every little scene is filmed in such a way that it captures a very particular detail of the setting or facial expression. Even the tightest zoom on the smallest object is brought to great importance in the context of the story. Needless to say, the cinematography is top notch here.


The characters themselves though are pretty well acted. For the first part of the movie Tomas Arana is just a little stiff and ambiguous for the part (which would make a decent scientist role), but he makes up for it and shows some great range after about forty minutes into the movie. Hugh Quarshie is surprisingly good as the movie’s belated protagonist, and shows a lot of strength and conviction in the part. Asia Argento wasn’t too bad in it either as she plays a fun, rebellious little character, though she’s not given as emotional a role as she was in Trauma. Barabra Cupisti was pretty cool in the movie, too; her later scenes where she is stuck in the church are somewhat otherworldly and dreamlike and she handles the entranced motions very well.

I think the only thing that bugs me about any character is Evan’s sudden and irrational jump into antagonism. I’m not too bothered by his whole “I don’t want to look at old books for the rest of my life” excuse (a complaint I’ve heard before in movie discussions), but he finds the secret behind the parchment all in the same night he hooks up with Barbara Cupisti! If I had to choose between a vague treasure hunt or Barbara Cupisti, I’d choose the latter in a heart beat!!

The soundtrack was composed by The Goblins, Philip Glass and Keith Emerson (Tarkus!!) and it gives The Church its ghostly, overpowering personality. With fantastic synth notes and organ keys, the soundtrack will grab you right from the opening credits sequence. The music notes carry a lot of fantasy which gives the movie more audible power and presence; I don’t know why, but it reminds me of what would happen if the soundtrack to Labyrinth was adapted to a Horror movie. While brief, the soundtrack does have some eighties pop-rock by Zooming on the Zoo and Simon Boswell (this time, only one song), but they fit the scenes pretty well; it isn’t like the Iron Maiden track used in Phenomena.

The gore effects are pretty good, though nothing on the same level as Tom Savini. There’s plenty of blood shed, but nothing you’d expect out of a Lucio Fulci movie. The best this movie does is a very violent and rather shocking suicide. When the movie tries to handle something as big as, say a head explosion, it has the splatter effect but due to the lacking budget it looks too silly to really absorb the gravity of the death.


The movie has its share of weak editing choices. Early in the movie a demonic hand appears from nowhere and pulls a horse and its rider into the pit of bodies. Due to the hand disappearing in several shots, and being nowhere near the actual bodies, it makes for a very awkward moment. The scene is made worse when we never actually see the horse, or rider, get held down by the demonic undead. There’s also this rather ridiculous scene with Cupisti’s character where she ineffectually calls the police, dives through a window and within seconds the police are there… It couldn’t have been concerned neighbors, huh? Plus, the dubbing is average at best, especially when the field trip kids arrive: each of their voices is either dull or flat, but when their emotions are excited or in pain then their voices are whiny and broken, despite still sounding bored.

It’s interesting to note that one original title for this movie is Demons 3 as an attempt at a third Demons movie. Indeed the film does contain recognizable elements from the first Demons movie, such as the two lovers trying to escape confinement by taking a hidden/separate path only to meet a harrowing demise (it’s interesting to note that the women from both movies have poofy hair). There’s also that sliver of drool slowly rolling down the mirror shot, though this time the drool is like a tear… from a painting… which serves as a hallucinogenic self-reflection of time and vanity… and silly old woman effects. It also carries the theme of a group of European folks trapped in a large building trying to survive a demonic infestation. However, unlike Demons 1 and 2, there’s not that much struggle going on. You’d think we would see more demons infecting people in separate groups like the bridal photographers, the field trip kids, Father Gus or Lisa, but instead everyone just kind of sits back and goes crazy.

This leads me into one of the biggest problems I had with The Church: a lack of urgency. You see, once the demon infestation starts running rampant, and people start dying, the movie grinds to a NECK SNAPPING halt as it cuts to the field trip kids acting weird/annoying or the old couple being crotchety. It takes forever to cut back to Lisa, Gus, the bikers or even the bridal model, all of which liven the whole situation up. Hell, we don’t even see what happens to Giovanni Radice’s character! Someone just throws a black cloak over his face and he disappears from the movie completely! They really should’ve edited the scenes with the field trip kids better. We get several shots of one slick-haired kid running around surrounded by cigarette smoke taking his teacher’s glasses when they fall off, and there’s no reason why. There’s this genuinely boring scene of two kids in the church huddling over each other while one of them cries; The scene runs on for about a minute, but it’s so out of place and useless I just wanted one of the kids to explode on a molecular level and end the stupid, dead-end scene all ready!! *


The Conclusion
This may sound like the recommendation from a pure film snob, but you’d be doing yourself some Horror movie injustice if you don’t check this movie out. The Church is a very well shot, religiously disturbing and moody Horror film with plenty of build-up, decent effects and a creepy Goblin score. In the annals of Italian Horror films, The Church holds its own as a strange and eerie movie of ambitious proportions; if you can look past its notable flaws, you’re focusing on a great movie! Besides, it is better than Demons 3: The Ogre




*: Lesson learned: never have more than one kid Extra in your Horror movie.

Messiah of Evil

Posted by Josh Samford On October - 30 - 2011

Written by – Prof. Aglaophotis


Messiah of Evil (1973)
Director: Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz
Writers: Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz
Starring: Michael Greer, Marianna Hill and Joy Bang



The Plot: The story opens with the despondent diction of Arletty Lang, a woman who was placed in an asylum after her encounter in a small town called Point Dune. She had gone there in search of her father, Joseph, a local painter who moved there after Mrs. Lang passed away. In the ensuing years, his letters became Arletty’s only form of contact with her father. Sensing something was wrong from his depressing and threatened messages, she drove to Point Dune. Upon finding his house empty, Arletty discovers she’s in a town filled with strange people, and is forced to trust a trio of swingers: Laura, Toni and Tom, the latter of whom is also searching for Joseph. Tom is a major in mythology who wants to learn about the town legend that the moon on the side of Point Dune turned blood-red back in the 1800’s. As the four of them stay in the Lang house, strange events occur as the people of Point Dune begin droning around the town at night. Soon, Arletty will discover what’s so important about the blood moon as well as her true role in searching for her father: as the Messiah of Evil rises back into power.

The Review
Amidst its montage of ambiguity, weak budget and slow pace, Messiah of Evil (aka: Dead People) is a highly memorable and creepy look into supernatural horror as seen from the eyes of genuine visionaries. Directed by Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck, the couple who co-directed Temple of Doom, Messiah of Evil is the reason why I love watching obscure Horror movies: amidst all the stones, you’ll occasionally find a gem like this one.

Messiah of Evil is a very atmospheric Horror movie. While it has its share of blood and gore, its primary terror is focused on build-up, subtlety and stark imagery. This atmosphere is reflected in the razor-sharp cinematography. From the very haunting opening asylum narration, to the mundane but out-of-place locales, the movie sets up real-life locations that are visually unsettling or quietly wrong in their bleak emptiness. Have you ever wandered your neighborhood at night when its really quiet, especially on a normal night when there should be some late night drivers or some activity? You know that eerie feeling with that lack of human activity going on, that social emptiness enveloping everything? That’s the kind of atmosphere this movie has. The empty, noiseless town of Point Dune makes for a creepy sit.

The many extras in the movie add to the great cinematography, such as the Drones of Point Dune who stare vacantly at the main characters or the changing color of the moon. En masse, the Drones of Point Dune are a genuinely scary force; one may equate them to pre/1970’s Rage Zombies or may even call them the living dead, but they are of a much different caliber of group-conformity cannibals… especially when you find that they are not zombies or the living dead in any way shape or form. What makes them so creepy is that, unlike today’s squealing, wiggling, obnoxious Rage Zombie, they are very quiet. The only noise you hear from them is the ravenous chewing and wide mouth eating of flesh they make. Every scene they’re in makes them a genuine threat, be it the streets, the grocery store or even the movie theater.

Also, mostly done by the great Jack Fisk, the art direction is pretty top notch in the movie. We first get a hint of the art direction in the beach house of Joseph Lang. The walls are all painted with the faces of people in every day situations, but the color to every person, the shading and detail of the paintings make them look alive. Even the movie’s use of colors in various scenes helps add to the tension. While it’s mostly an overuse of blue lighting effects, the hue gives every scene a rather ghostly feeling. I won’t spoil it for you, but one of the best set pieces they use in this movie is a vary particular window. Christ, the location scout for this movie was awesome!

The soundtrack makes this movie great in many ways. It not only escalates the atmosphere, but it also gives the movie the synonymous tone of the ‘70’s Horror movie: electronic, ambient music. The kind of stuff you’d hear in a game composed by Akira Yamaoka or Nathan Grigg. Composed by Phillan Bishop, the soundtrack emphasizes on the haunted feelings of the movie and the all around bleakness of its settings. Come to think of it, the in-town ambiance actually sounds like the underwater ambiance in Deep Fear which kind of makes sense. I once slept in a beach house one summer, and the sound of the water from indoors almost sounded like a muffled rain. There are a lot of songs in the movie that give it its strange and chilling personality such as the opening narration, Arletty reading one of her father’s memos or intended letters, characters exploring the town at night, the humming of a character introduction or a scene of exposition. I know it’s barely audible, but the music that plays when Tom describes his dream to Arletty really serves the movie’s tone: quiet and peaceful, yet despondent. There are a few kooky tracks in the movie though, like when some of the Drones attack Arletty near the end or how every now and again a cat-noise effect is used for a surprising Drone attack. Still, the main theme of the movie, “Hold on To Love,” is a very pretty song and is just as haunting as the rest of the movie.

The acting is pretty spot-on, too. Marianna Hill does a good job of the Daddy’s Girl character and carries a very gentle personality to her character. She seems toughened only by the mundane, yet shows signs of bearing a psychological fragility throughout her performance; overall, she makes a good lead character and so does Michael Greer. Micheal Greer’s character Tom is a very cool cat. He’s charming, but quiet. Charismatic, but collected. When things start going crazy, he becomes a very likable survivor of the madness. If anything, I’m pretty sure Greer’s suits ate a good portion of the film’s budgets; there’s no way they got those at a thrift store.

I gotta admit, this movie really opened up my interest in actress Joy Bang, because she plays a drug using, supposedly teenage, quasi-hippy girl (okay, so, my first girl friend), and her screen presence was pretty fun. I’m actually kind of a Royal Dano fan by heart but the role he gets in this movie is perfect. The magnitude of his lines and intensity of his character’s presence just drips with this otherworldly sense of importance, not just to the scene but the movie.

It’s funny seeing Anitra Ford as one of Tom’s girls in this movie. not because she fits the part and is very attractive, but I’m always reminded of her role in Invasion of the Bee Girls every time I see her on screen. During that hair-dryer scene, I thought she was going to have big black insect eyes when she walked out! It’s also fun seeing Charles Dierkop (Silent Night Deadly Night) in the movie too, though he doesn’t do much this time around. I have to mention the Albino Trucker character. I don’t know where they found that guy, but the character was delightfully creepy in every scene he was in and actually, pretty well acted (“DO with them? I EAT them, that’s what I do with them”)!

As much as I like the cannibal Drones of this movie, there is a lot of ambiguity surrounding them. For example, whatever is infecting them seems to affect people at random and out of nowhere. It has no effect on Tom’s trio or the town drunk, yet they’re in the town as much as the next person. It’s clearly not a viral infection going around, but a little information would help explain why the Drones seem invulnerable to bullets, but die instantly with a whack to the head. In fact, there two scenes where female Drones are taken down simply by pushing them to the floor!


There are a lot of notable and awkward moments in the movie, though. Whether it’s a bad editing choice or a moment where they clearly didn’t have the budget to show what was happening/supposed to happen, the lacking funds are noticeable. There’s only one scene where the police intervene, and it barely lasts a minute. What’s really funny is how the car drives up, the cop inside orders the Drones to disperse, and both cops just start shooting at the oncoming drones. That, along with a scene where a woman from the suburbs goes into town to get help, seems to suggest the magnitude of this event, we just never see or hear of it anywhere else.

Also, there’s this insane editing bit where Tom is out walking at night. He sees someone running away from something, so Tom runs after him (Why?). Tom looks over his shoulder to see a crowd of Drones chasing him, but in the next scene he’s all alone. Then one Drone attacks him, disappears and reappears in the next shot whereupon he pushes her to the ground. I wish that was it, but the ending takes the cake for terrible movie editing. I realize this movie had a limited budget and probably had time constraints on it, but the final scene mostly consists of narration describing what happened to Arletty, and describing her current situation. We barely see anything of the movie’s actual climax which consists of two shots before going back to the asylum from the movie’s opening. It’s kind of a bummer, too, because one of the characters pulls a dual role in the movie, but it’s never elucidated on in the final version of the movie.

Do I even need to talk about the special effects in the movie? There’s a very unconvincing puking scene that, in theory, would be genuinely unnerving, but the effects are unintentionally funny. Needless to say, a real live beetle with some muddy bile effects on em’ would have made that scene chilling. Hell, even the rat scene required a bit more fake blood. Many of the death scenes do not require Grade-A effects, but some animal intestines from the local butcher would have escalated the gruesomeness immensely. Instead, one character gets drowned in thick, red, fake blood, while in one scene I swear they used a fried pork chop for the effect. Then there’s the occasional poor use of a stock sound effect, like a wolf howl or a distant scream. I’m surprised they didn’t use the Wilhelm scream for the police shoot out.

According to one of the actresses, the movie’s investors threw up their hands near the end and the rest of the film was finished by an outside source who bought the rights to the unedited portions of the film. It’s one of those The Slaughter/Snuff kind of scenarios, where a lot of interesting stories could be told about the movie’s making and it’s fascinating to think what the movie would’ve looked like had things gone the way they were supposed to. Would it have been better or worse?

I give it a veritable recommendation, even despite its glaring budgetary and editing problems. From an Art Film perspective, the movie is clever and carries a lot of social commentary on its shoulders like the significance of the Blood Moon to most of the Drone attacks happening in places that contribute to mass consumption and sociological gatherings. From a Horror movie perspective, the movie is all about build-up, atmosphere and tension.


The Conclusion
I don’t know how many times I can say this, but I encourage you to watch this movie. Halloween party or not, Messiah of Evil is a crazy, creepy and very thoughtfully put together movie despite its budget. As far as availability goes, your options are limited. It stayed in the Public Domain for a long while and was featured in a Brentwood 10 DVD box set called Tales of Terror and it was released as a double feature with The Devil’s Nightmare. I own it on VHS just to add to the grainy feeling of it all, but it did recently get a 15th Anniversary DVD release. Regardless of which one you get, you are in for something unique. On a final note, I kind of wish they didn’t show such a chopped up trailer for Gone With the West during the movie because as fun as that movie is… ‘Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye’ sounds like a damn cool movie.




Axe

Posted by Josh Samford 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.




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Varied Celluloid is a film website intent on delivering views on movies from all genres. Started in 2003, the website has been steadfast in its goal and features a database of over 500 lengthy reviews. If you would like to contact us about writing for the website or sending screeners, please visit the about page located here.

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