Frederick R. Friedel. Never heard of him? Not surprising. In the seventies, the man directed two films: Axe and Kidnapped Coed, then quit the filmmaking game until 2000 when he released his third (and, to date, final) film. Axe gained notoriety for being included on the infamous “Video Nasties” list (it was passed uncut in 2005). Last year, Severin Films released both movies on a single DVD set. Now, curious parties can watch both films back-to-back and see if they merit being compared to the films of David Lynch and Terrence Mallick (as per the DVD synopsis). Having watched Axe, I’m here to tell you that someone is over-exaggerating.
Steele (Jack Canon), Lomax (Ray Greene), and Billy (writer/director Friedel) are three criminals who’ve just killed a man and terrorized a convenience store clerk with a game of William Tell. They’re looking for a place to hide out from the law. The house of Lisa (Leslie Lee) and her invalid, wheelchair-bound grandfather (Douglas Powers) seems like the perfect place. But when the three low-life’s push Lisa and her grandfather too far, Lisa decides to show them that the axe in the front yard can be used for more than chopping wood.
Straight up, Axe isn’t that good. This isn’t to say it’s an awful film; it just doesn’t merit being compared to the film’s of Lynch or Mallick. While it’s evident that Friedel has some talent and could have produced a film worthy of such comparison, Axe is not it. While the 67-minute film moves along at a brisk pace, it’s lacking the energy and vitality that even the slowest-moving Lynch film has. While not boring, the film isn’t exactly edge-of-your-seat entertainment either. Averagely-average would be the perfect description of Axe.
For an exploitation film, Axe is a pretty tame affair. You want a good dose of sleaze? Lots of nudity? Copious amounts of blood? Well, you won’t find any of it here. While the film does contain a bit of the red stuff as well as an attempted rape scene, there isn’t much here you wouldn’t find in your average Hollywood fare of the time. Hell, I think Rocky has more blood in it. Maybe if Axe had come out in the fifties it would have been pushing some boundaries, but in 1974? Please, we’ve already seen Night of the Living Dead and Blood Feast. Axe misses the whole point of exploitation films: to offer up what viewers didn’t get from Hollywood. I guess Fridel didn’t get that memo.
Despite the film’s shortcomings, most of the actors turn in fine performances. Canon is perfect as trio leader Steele; Greene looks like a sleazy loan shark and is excellent as right-hand man Lomax. I enjoyed watching these two. Leslie Lee turns in a good performance too, bringing a strange charm to the catatonic-looking and ultimately psychotic Lisa. Only Friedel comes up short as the sympathetic Billy. He’s more annoying and dull than anything else. However, he does come off as a bit creepy with a pedophiliac air about him. So I’ll give him that.
Axe falls short of being anything like the films of David Lynch or Terrence Mallick, so that statement needs to be retracted. While Freidel did display a bit of talent, he’s not a director whose work is worthy of such reverence (at least not this film). Simply put, Axe is a film with Hollywood aspirations on a dollar store budget. Go ahead and give this one the axe – unless you’re an exploitation completest such as myself.