Friday, October 21, 2022

#2,844. Edge of the Axe (1988)


Director José Ramón Larraz (here credited as Joseph Braunstein) gets his 1988 horror film Edge of the Axe, a Spanish / U.S. co-production, off to a quick start. In the opening scene, a nurse is attacked by a masked assailant while sitting in the front seat of her car… which at the time is going through an automatic car wash! It’s a violent, shocking intro to an ‘80s slasher that features many of the strengths, and plenty of the weaknesses, of this specific subgenre.

Computer nerd Gerald Martin (Barton Faulks) has just moved to the picturesque California community of Paddock County. When he’s not tapping into a mainframe, Gerald is either helping his exterminator pal Richard (Page Moseley) wipe out pests or chilling with new girlfriend Lillian Nebbs (Christina Marie Lane). Gerald even goes so far as to give Lillian one of his old computers, so that they can stay in touch night and day.

But instead of flirting with each other via their keyboards, Gerald and Lillian spend their time researching a string of recent murders - the handiwork of a masked, axe-wielding maniac - that has all of Paddock County in a panic.

While Sheriff Frank McIntosh (Fred Holliday) is busy trying to get to the bottom of these killings, Gerald and Lillian are looking for a possible connection between the victims, hoping it might shed some light on who this violent psychopath might be.

Though released late in the slasher cycle (a full decade after John Carpenter’s Halloween), Edge of the Axe features copious amounts of the blood and gore that fans of the subgenre have come to expect. Along with the opening car wash sequence, the town prostitute (played by Alicia Moro) is hacked to death in a back alley, and another unfortunate victim loses both her beloved pooch and the fingers on one hand when the killer comes calling.

There are other creepy moments as well, like when Gerald and Richard are called to a local bar to find the source of a strange odor and instead make a shocking - and very grisly - discovery. As for the final reveal, where we learn the killer’s identity, I must admit it surprised the hell out of me (even if it didn’t make much sense).

Where Edge of the Axe falters is in its characterizations. The film’s main character, Gerald, isn’t the most likable protagonist; along with the fact he’s clearly hiding something from his past (he refuses to talk about his parents when Lillian asks about them), he’s also a chauvinistic pig, a character flaw that may not have been as detrimental in the 1980s but which stands out like a sore thumb nowadays (he and Richard discuss the physical attributes of damn near every woman in town).

In addition, screenwriters Joaquin Amichatis, Javier Elorrieta, and José Frade toss far too many people into the mix. Gerald’s friend Richard is unhappily married to the much older Laura (Patty Shepard), who has been seeing both Lillian’s father and church organist Christopher Caplin (Jack Taylor) on the side. As for Richard, he hits on Lillian’s sister Susan (Joy Blackburn), and the two spend an afternoon making out on a motorboat. There are also an inordinate number of potential suspects; aside from Lillian’s dad, Christopher Caplin, and even Gerald himself, there’s the town’s priest, Father Clinton (Elmer Modiling), and to further complicate matters, Sheriff McIntosh finds the dead prostitute’s schedule book, which contains the names of damn near every guy in town! Though intended to keep us guessing as to who the killer might be, this constant stream of new characters only manages to confuse us, and we quickly lose track of who is who.

Though ultimately a mixed bag, Edge of the Axe offers up plenty of ‘80s slasher goodness, and as someone who unapologetically loves the subgenre (see my review of Blood Hook), I admit I had a great time watching it!
Rating: 6 out of 10

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