Edge of the Axe

She might not ever get rich, soon enough she’ll be dead in a ditch, murdered at the car wash, yeah! Thus was the fate of traumatologist Mirna Dobson, thirty-one years old, in the city of Patterson, possibly why her death was not sooner linked with that of hairdresser Rita Miller, 29, found under the railroad bridge at Paddock Station in a state which the police delicately described as “hamburger meat.”

Nor does it help that Sheriff Frank McIntosh doesn’t want trouble which would require him to undertake an actual investigation, happy to accept that the condition of the mutilated body of waitress Mary West, 25, found hanging in the rafters of Coggie’s Bar, was due to post-mortem predation by rats following her ostensible suicide.

Caught up in the killings are best friends Gerald Martin, a whizzkid computer expert dating the new girl in town, barmaid Lillian Nebbs, and pest exterminator Richard Simmons, married to an older woman but with his eyes on Lillian’s older sister Susan even while his wife Laura is out on the lake fishing with Lillian and Susan’s father.

It may have started with soap suds and blood splatter as Mirna met the Edge of the Axe, but it did not end there, the suspects and the bodies mounting up as the masked killer haunts Paddock, the police failing to organise curfews or even a town meeting, with only Gerald correlating the data on his computer and drawing a pattern out of the seemingly random killings.

Filmed largely in Spain with second unit shooting to establish an American locale, helped along by an easy country soundtrack, Edge of the Axe (Al Filo del Hacha) was directed by Symptoms‘ José Ramón Larraz, credited as Joseph Braunstein, from a script by Joaquín Amichatis, Javier Elorrieta and José Frade, a low-budget slasher released in 1988 and now remastered on Blu-ray for Arrow.

The closest the film coming to a star the portrait of James Dean hanging in the bar, Future-Kill‘s Barton Faulks is Gerald while Santa Barbara‘s Page Mosely is Richard, both of them interviewed in the special features and Faulks also providing a commentary track, recalling Larraz’ direction to him to “look innocent and nice and a bit creepy.”

A film which could be considered ahead of its time in that it presupposes easy online access to classified medical information before the Internet was widely available, Edge of the Axe is packed with red herrings and randomly deployed plot points as the characters march to their inevitable doom in a series of killings which are graphic but not particularly inventive or memorable.

Disjointed and dominated by the rising sense of frustration at the indifference of the police or of the victims to defend themselves, farmer’s wife Katherine Trevor ignoring the pitchfork in favour of running into an ambush as she flees, her behaviour is not the only thing which remains inexplicable, the reveal of the killer making even less sense than expected considering what has gone before, the Edge of the Axe somewhat duller than needed.

Edge of the Axe is available from Arrow Films from Monday 27th January



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