Axe (1977)

Directed by Frederick R. Friedel
Something Weird DVD

Even the tambourines are forlorn.

You want in. You want to know everything there is to know about this person. You want to hear them talk for hours, about anything they choose to talk about. You want them to cry on your shoulder, smile at coincidental commonalities, kiss you passionately, and eventually, share every aspect of life that’s worth sharing. But you are not getting in.

That’s the dichotomy of Axe. And that’s why it’s so remarkable.

Barren trees shroud a musty farmhouse. A monophonic synth sways unevenly while a piano and sparse percussion tinkle in discordance. Cold. Desolate. Just out of reach. This is how Axe begins, and this is how it will continue.

Steele, Billy, and Lomax beat a man to death and watch his gay lover jump out of a window. As sirens blare, we hit the pavement. A grocery store cashier is menaced. Pieces of fruit are shot. Seeking refuge for the night, the goons end up at the (perceivably) abandoned farmhouse. Once inside, they discover repressed, disconnected Lisa and her paralyzed grandfather. Being savages and all, Steele and Lomax treat their “hosts” like garbage — demanding meals, waving guns, and drooling all over Lisa. Billy empathizes. Lomax has rape on the mind. Lisa has her straight razor.

Axe is 68 minutes of raggedly stylish isolation. Eleven human beings appear onscreen. Communication is sparse. Landscapes reek of musty death. And everything, from the soundtrack’s ascetic instruments to the segregated photography, reinforces the loneliness. It’s like Kubrick’s Overlook Hotel was compressed and saturated with artless-yet-artful grit, then poured over Rural, USA by Jean Rollin, thereby creating an entire universe for Lisa and friends to thrive. Even when they shouldn’t.

We’re thrown into this situation. There’s no time to adapt and hope goes missing. Yet, we want to grab a beer with Billy. We want to make out with Lisa. We want to chat with Steele, and find out why his life turned out the way it did. But we can’t. This is a reality where the only form of associative contact is a television set. And that’s the trick that Axe continually turns — it envelops emotionally, forcing us to care. We’re witness to a perverse sense of chintz-realism that can only be embraced, as it’s crafted with total confidence. Produced by “Doctor Gore” himself, J.G. “Pat” Patterson, and written-directed by Frederick R. Friedel, he of the also-stunning Kidnapped Coed, the film works with what it has and rarely abates. Even when the edits eat themselves. Even when Lisa delivers lines like a stoned alien. We hang on. And Axe, with its amalgam of cold dejection and warm formality, hangs on with us. Uncomplicated. Mysterious. Endlessly desirable.

I just heard a tambourine smile.

This DVD is way out of print and won’t be coming back, as Something Weird is no longer distributing Harry Novak’s Box Office International library. But that’s OK, because they nailed it and the print is gorgeous. There’s no need to go back.

If you’re up for some depressing fascination, why not watch Pat Patterson’s The Electric Chair? Amusing as a true-crime footnote, Chair is a downbeat, docu-styled cheapo that concerns itself with sexual repression, ripped out tongues, and people talking in courtrooms. Also bowl haircuts and Pat’s exxxtreme comb-over. If it was as irrationally surreal as Another Son Of Sam or The Zodiac Killer, I’d be in love. As is, this is an inconsistent curiosity that initially succeeds, eventually fails, and always feels like it should give us more. Of something. Also included are eleven Box Office International trailers (a couple of which are awesome conceptual variations on Axe under different titles), two brief shorts (one a mental health PSA and the other a sword-swallowing striptease adventure), and an eight minute gallery of rare exploitation ad mats with radio spot accompaniment.

Axe is going to last forever and I’m going to appreciate it forever. Sparse, bleak, and tangible, this is a lovely example of low-budget brackets working as an asset, rather than a detractor. From the soundtrack to the 68 minute length to the lingering haze, this film does everything right, fashioning a form of ideal exploitation that no one really eulogizes, but should.