Sunday, January 3, 2016

AXE (1975) / KIDNAPPED COED (1976) (Blu-ray Review)

AXE (1975) / KIDNAPPED COED (1976) 

2-Disc Special Edition BD/CD 
Label: Severin Films
region Code: Region-FREE
Duration: 76 inutes, 75 Minutes
Rating: Unrated
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1) 
Director: Frederick R. Friedel
Cast: Leslie Lee, Jack Canon, Frederick R. Friedel, Ray Green, Leslie Rivers, Gladys Lavitam, Larry Lambeth

Axe (1975) begins with a trio of thugs named Steele (Jack Canon), Lomax (Ray Green) and Billy (director Friedel himself) arriving at a hotel and waiting in a room for it's occupant to return. The man they're looking for shows up with a friend and the trio beat the snot out of the man, who succumbs to death from his injuries. His friend is so scared by what he has seen that he leaps out a ninth story window to his own death. In the aftermath the men head into the countryside to lay low for a few days, Billy, the youngest of the trio, seems disturbed by the murderous act, while Steele (Jack Canon) and Lomax (Ray Green) are not phased by it, they're straight-up cold-blooded killers. 

On their way to the countryside they stop off at a convenience store where Steele looses his cool after he bites into a rotten apple, which sets him off on a rampage.  After hurling apples at the woman behind the counter he forces her at gunpoint to strip down to her skivvies for a nerve-shattering game of William Tell. The trio find themselves at a rural farmhouse which seems an ideal place to lay low. Inside they discover a pretty young woman named Lisa (Leslie Lee) and her grandfather (Douglas Powers) who seems mute and is confined to a wheelchair. They take over the house and force the young woman to cook for them, with young Billy developing a bit of a crush on the quiet girl. As quiet girls go Lisa is a strange one, a young woman of few words but when she's finally decided she's had enough of the thugs the blood begins to flow, and the trio of men will wish they'd skipped over this particular farmhouse and moved onto the next. 

Regional filmmaker Frederick R. Friedel only made two movie and this infamous entry was his first, the movie has an offbeat tone with very little dialogue, the atmosphere is tense and the style is somewhat workmanlike but also a bit on the arthouse side of things. Cinematographer Austin McKinney has some interesting angles and composition to his credit here. Adding to the atmosphere is creepy and oddball score from George Newman Shaw and John Willhelm which well suits the movie, adding to the weird arthouse aesthetic. Overall I would have to say the movie doesn't have a lot of originality about it but it does have a certain charm about it that I find hard to put my finger on, I would liken it to an artier S.F. Brownrigg production, a grimy home invasion movie with a regional flavor. 

The performances are pretty good all things considered, particularly Jack Canon as the villainousy cool leader of the thugs, a real bastard of a man. The innocent looking Lisa as played by Leslie Lee is a quiet menace, very few words are exchanged among the characters, it's almost all mood and atmosphere punctuated by some decent low-budget drive-in gore. How this ended up on the infamous Video Nasties list as one of the final thirty-nine banned movies is bit if a mystery to me, but most censorship is confounding, but perhaps if this slice of grindhouse cinema hadn't of found it's way onto the list it might have drifted off into obscurity and remained out of reach. 

After Axe the only other movie to Friedel's credit is Kidnapped Coed (1976), which is a more refined and enjoyable movie in my opinion. Again we have Jack Canon, this time starring as a more kind-hearted small time crook named Eddie Matlock who is desperate for money. To that end he hatches a kidnapping/ransom scheme involving a red haired teenage girl named Sandra (Leslie Rivers), the daughter of privilege and wealth. After an almost too easy kidnapping Eddie takes her to a flea pit motel to await the ransom drop, but before that happens two armed thugs show up and and tie Eddie to a chair, forcing him to watch the rape of the young woman. Eddie escapes during the rape and takes his revenge in the thugs, shooting one in the crotch and appearing to shoot the other straight-up the ass!

With the young woman back in his control they head for the country and the two develop an odd sort of relationship, you could tell earlier during the rape that Eddie has his own code of ethics and doesn't wish harm on the young woman, he just needs money, and when we discover why he needs it it sort of makes him more likable, but the odds just are not in his favor on this particular day. They experience car trouble along the way, when he approaches the home of a hillbilly he is run off at the business end of a shotgun, another redneck comes after him with a pitchfork, driving home the pint that the rural folk don't much care for the city folk. The encounters with the rural folks are weird, particularly one with the pitchfork, which seemed like it was coming to a head earlier on in the scene, I didn't quite any of the motivations as to why the bearded fellow was so cross with Eddie, not sure if I was even supposed to understand. 

This time around the movie has more humor in the story, and a quirky romance story to go along with it. Canon and Rivers have a good chemistry with each other, the wordless glances and body language is quite expressive, as with Axe the movie is short on dialogue, but expressive with the body language and visual storytelling. Speaking of images, cinematographer Austin McKinney is again behind the camera, the guy also worked on cult classics like Pit Stop and Galaxy Of Terror, and his work here is a step up from Axe, there's some very nice low-budget movie making onscreen here. 

Audio/Video: Both Axe and Kidnapped Coed arrive on a single disc Blu-ray from Severin Films, the 1080p HD image is framed in 1.78 widescreen and the new 2K transfers are sourced from the original camera negatives. There's some minor print damage as evidenced by white speckling and small scratches, with Axe faring slightly worse of the two, but the image quality not too bad at all. The new HD upgrade and color timing is quite nice, with good black levels and accurate flesh tones, color saturation looks nice all the way around, with Kidnapped Coed looking particularly good to my eyes. Both movies come with English DTS-HD MA Mono 2.0 audio and sounds good with some source limitations. Axe has some minor hiss to it and some of the dialogue is not crystal clear but nothing too egregious. 

Onto the extras, this is where you can see how much love Severin have put into this release. We have audio commentaries for both movies from Writer/Director Frederick R. Friedel, Production Manager Philip Smoot and Makeup Artist Worth Keeter, and they're great. A fun look at the making of the movies and what it was like making an exploitation movie in the '70s. They've also included Friedel's super-cut of the movie titled 'Blood Brothers' which is the two films cut together with a tiny bit of additional footage added. We have Canon in essence playing a dual role as twin brothers whom are both on a murder-spree. While I didn't for it a whole lot myself I loved the audio commentary that accompanies it featuring “Nightmare USA” Author Stephen Thrower, there's also an introduction from Friedel explaining why he chose to make this re cut of the movies. This is a pretty substantial extra, if only for the sake of completion and for the the excellent Thrower commentary. 

As if that were not enough, there's the hour-long documentary by Severin' David Gregory, At Last... Total Terror! The Amazing True Story Of The Making Of Axe And Kidnapped Coed!. The exhaustive doc features interviews with Writer/Director Frederick R. Friedel, Production Manager Philip Smoot, Makeup Artist Worth Keeter and more, loaded with clips and vintage interviews. For a somewhat obscure pair of movies Severin and company have left no stone unturned, this is definitive stuff. The composers composers have a thirty-eight minute appreciation by way of Moose Magic: The George Newman Shaw And John Willhelm Story, which is truly a tragic tale of musicians gone too soon from this world, this is a nice tribute from family and friends. . 

Stephen Thrower appears again in a nine-minute on-camera interview discussing his appreciation of Friedel's movies, having already heralded them in his book Nightmare USA. A nice touch from Severin is the inclusion of a bonus audio CD featuring the scores for both films plus additional music from George Newman Shaw and John Willhelm Story, complete with an insert card and track listing. The last of the extras on the disc are a selection of Trailers, TV Spots and Radio Spots for each of the movies and their various alternate titles, including Kidnap Lover, Lisa, Lisa and Virgin Slaughter. 

Special Features:
- Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Frederick R. Friedel, Production Manager Philip Smoot, Makeup Artist Worth Keeter and PA Richard W. Helms
- Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Frederick R. Friedel, Production Manager Philip Smoot and Makeup Artist Worth Keeter
- BLOODY BROTHERS feature, conformed from new transfers of hybrid feature with Audio Commentary by “Nightmare USA” Author Stephen Thrower
- At Last… Total Terror! – The Incredible True Story of AXE and KIDNAPPED COED (61 Mins) HD
- Moose Magic – The George Newman Shaw and John Willhelm Story (39 Mins) HD
- Stephen Thrower on AXE and KIDNAPPED COED (10 Mins) HD 

- Axe Trailer (2 Mins) 
- Lisa, Lisa Trailer (2 Mins) 
- Virgin Slaughter Trailer (2 Mins) 
- Axe TV Spot (1 Mins) HD 
- Axe Radio Spots (3 Mins) HD 
- Kidnap Lover Trailer (1 Mins) HD 
- Kidnapped Coed TV Spots (1 Mins) HD 
- Trailers
- TV Spots
- Radio Spots
- Special Limited 2 Disc Edition comes with Audio CD of the first ever release of AXE and KIDNAPPED COED Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. Plus Bonus Tracks By Soundtrack Composers George Newman Shaw & John Willhelm

Severin Films continue to plunder the underground grindhouse cinema vaults for '70s rusty gold and once again they've done some miraculous work, resurrecting the movies of Frederick R. Friedel and making them available to the unwashed movie masses with a new shine and some fantastic extras. I think that regardless of how you feel about the movies themselves the extras alone are worth the purchase in my opinion. 3/5