Updated: Aug 19
There’s been quite a lot of ‘80s nostalgia going around lately. Stranger Things could be partly to blame, but there’s also things like the remake of IT and just a general sense of everyone wanting to go back to a simpler time, a time when things seemed to make sense.
But did they?
Were the ‘80s better or are we just looking back with rose-tinted glasses and a mouthful of member berries?
The reason I got to thinking about the ‘80s was the 1974 movie, Axe. Now I know what you’re thinking. “Mark, how can a movie from the ‘70s get you thinking about the ‘80s, you silly man?”
So allow me to explain.
During the video boom of the ‘80s, something terrible happened. And that was the infamous video nasty witch-hunt; thanks to mad people in positions of power deciding that us poor innocent folks shouldn’t be watching certain horror movies because they might damage us mentally. We could go crazy and run around in a psychotic blood and boner rampage – if you picture the end of A Serbian Film on a national scale, you get the idea of what they were afraid of.
Now, there was a lot more going on with the Video Nasty censorship craze and I am very briefly summarising it here as to go through it all, would take a wholly separate and long-winded post that I’m not going into right now. Needless to say, movies were disappearing from the shelves of video stores and consequentially, a few passed me by that I (and many others) never got around to watching.
Axe, or Lisa, Lisa to give the movie its original title, was one of those movies that fell under the censors, well, axe, and consequentially was a movie that I never saw until a good 30 years or so had passed since its initial release.
So, how does it stand up after all that time, and did it really deserve to be banned?
Things start off nicely with some sweet 70’s music during the intro that gives way to a cymbal crashing soundtrack that resembles what happens when you let a small child loose on a drum kit for the first time. During this cymbal crashing cacophony, we’re introduced to our antagonists for the movie:
There’s the nail clipping psychopath Steele (played by Jack Canon), the cigar-chomping pervert Lomax (played by Ray Green) and finally, there’s reluctant new guy and Bob Ross look-alike Billy (played by director Frederick R. Friedel). These three hoodlums break into an apartment to sit and back wait for their prey to arrive. Once their target (and his friend) arrive home, they proceed to slap him a bit and leave a dollop of what appears to be ketchup on his face, before then beating him to death with a doll which causes his friend to commit suicide by defenestration.
After this, they head out into the country to lay low for a bit, but unfortunately, they haven’t quite grasped the meaning of keeping quiet as they stop off to torment a poor shop keeper with some fruit-based shenanigans and more ketchup related mayhem.
During all of this, we’re introduced to our protagonist, Lisa. A sweet-looking girl who lives on a farm and cares for her wheelchair-bound and paralysed Grandfather.
Naturally, the terrible trio arrives at the farm and decide to use the place to hide out for a bit. Unfortunately for them, Lisa decides to turn the tables and use her murderous machinations to kill them off thanks to the array of axes that are scattered around the property.
Shot over a mere nine days, the movie is an enjoyable little trip back to the 70’s that despite its slow pace still manages to be entertaining. Leslie Lee who played Lisa managed to convey the right amount of sweet innocence mixed with someone struggling with their own inner demons and who clearly has some mental health issues and is perhaps more dangerous than the trio of criminals that have arrived at her farmhouse.
Did the movie deserve to be banned? No. Not at all. There is absolutely nothing here to warrant the film being swept up in the video nasty craze. Most moments are implied rather than seen, the blood is extremely minimal and even the cover art wasn’t particularly censor baiting.
The film may not hold up that well by today’s standards, but there are some nice shots in the movie that are quite impressive considering that not only is this Frederick R. Friedel’s directing debut, he’d also written the movie and was also acting in it. Sure, that aforementioned slow pace and random percussion soundtrack may not be to everyone’s taste and Frederick’s acting can come across as unintentionally amusing at times but, this is still a movie worth checking out. Even if only as an example of what can be done with a small budget, a very small amount of time and by someone new to the craft, especially as it only runs at just over an hour and isn’t really going to take a huge chunk out of your day.