OCTOBER 5, 2012
Each time I've gone to the Cinefamily for a Video Nasty this week, I've had to explain to someone where I was going and why it was important, plus a brief history of the Nasties as those folks weren't privy to this "legend" of horror mythology (because if they were, they'd probably join me rather than go to bed or whatever it is people do at midnight if they're not watching obscure horror movies). And to keep it brief, I just say "About 75 horror movies that were banned because they were too graphic or violent for a regular rating", which isn't true but true enough for someone who doesn't care much anyway. However, there IS a stigma about these films that they are somehow the depraviest of the depraved or something, and titles like Cannibal Holocaust or Last House On The Left certainly help that idea. But then there are movies like Axe, whose inclusion suggests that the censors were sleeping through these things and just assuming the rest was too violent for them.
Seriously, what is this movie doing on the list? Witch Who Came From The Sea was kind of tame compared to the "Cannibal _____"s of the world, but the icky incest/rape subject matter and number of castrations would certainly be enough for these obviously weak-willed stuffy Brits, but what exactly set them off here? There's an (attempted?) rape, but it's not explicit (nor are the characters related this time) and she kills the guy during the attack - not to draw Ebert's ire again by "grading rape scenes", but it's one of the tamest I've seen (all things considered, obviously) and not exploitative in any way. So unless they simply banned ANY movie with a rape element, it doesn't make any sense - Lipstick was far more upsetting and that wasn't on the list; hell, I'd even argue that Martin's pseudo-sexual assault scene was more disturbing. Judge for yourself - the footage in the trailer is pretty much the entire scene.
And that's as extreme as the movie gets - another guy is killed with the "titular" Axe (the movie's original title was Lisa, Lisa, and I will let you make the "Cult Jam" joke because I'm too tired), but it's half off-screen, and the 3rd bad guy is just shot by some cops. Halloween II is more violent than this (random example, but a. it also escaped the British censor's anger and b. I just found out it will be the next HMAD screening at the New Beverly! October 27th!), so I really pity the person who goes in expecting something on par with the more notorious films on the list. Luckily we had some warning from Cinefamily's programmers - will all hopeful horror fans be so lucky? I picture some kid like, getting a copy of this movie and having to hide it under his bed and wait until his parents are out of town before watching it, so they don't catch him watching something so sick and twisted.
Now, I want to be clear here - I don't care that the film isn't graphic or shocking. I just find it even MORE offensive that people actually WENT TO JAIL for distributing these movies because some self-righteous snots said it was "obscene", and to this day I think all ratings boards suffer from a complete lack of standards. I'm sitting here watching this movie and wondering the entire time how it managed to end up on the list over others, and feeling so guilty about anyone persecuted because of it.
Because even if those occasional murders were gory enough to make HGL squirm, the real problem with this movie is that it's just deathly dull, and thus isn't worth much of anything, let alone going to jail over. Our heroine barely speaks, our villains are poorly defined (why did they want to kill that guy at the beginning?), and it's a home invasion movie where the heroes never make any attempt to escape. Even after she kills one of them without alerting the other two, does she leave? Try to get help? No, she goes to sleep, and later makes her captor breakfast the same as she did the day before, eventually killing him more or less in self defense. And again, the third guy (played by the film's director, Frederick R. Friedel) just runs away, something I'm not even sure she notices. It's a movie where none of the characters ever seem too concerned about anyone else, which isn't the best way to go about a horror/thriller film. SOMEONE'S got to be pro-active about the alleged dangerous situation, or else it's just a bunch of folks dicking around for 90 minutes.
Or, 65, because that's how long the movie runs - they shockingly couldn't stretch its lack of an actual narrative or fully populated cast (most of the actors in the credits are being credited for doing voiceover work for the radio or whatever) into a traditional runtime. Not that you'd notice, it certainly FEELS like 90 minutes (or more) since nothing is happening, which made me think of something the genius Film Crit Hulk said the other day in regards to Universal Soldier 6 (just stay with me, here):
THE REASON IT FEELS BORING IS THAT THERE ISN'T A SINGLE MOMENT IN THE MOVIE WHERE YOU UNDERSTAND ANYONE'S CHARACTER. CHARACTER MOTIVATION IS THE KEY TO DRAMA: "THAT PERSON WANTS THIS." "THIS PERSON WANTS THAT."
Indeed, that applies here. Take our heroine - did she actually want to kill these guys? Would she have happily made them breakfast forever if one of them hadn't tried to rape her? And again, I didn't understand what the three villains were up to at the beginning of the film, and the main two (not Frederick) never really distinguish themselves from one another, so you don't even get the joy of seeing colorfully unique villains facing off against our hero or each other. You can tell which one is in charge (thanks to an early, pretty great line from the boss, where he tells the other guy "Go get me a glass of water. And then drink it yourself so you have something to do."), but that's about it - they both seem like the henchmen for a more interesting boss that we never see.
Oh, and the drums! I'd say at least half of the movie is drowned out by its "score", which is literally just someone banging away on some drums. There's no rhythm to it at all, it sounds more like a kid who just got his first set going through a bunch of standard beats, poorly. So it'll sound kind of tribal one minute, and then jazzy the next... the only consistency is that it always sounds obnoxious.
In short, I'm sure there are worse movies on the Video Nasties list, but I'm pretty sure none are this dull. The simple, matter-of-fact way everyone in the movie goes about doing their thing is kind of charming in a weird way, but not nearly enough to make up for the film's complete lack of tension and dull villains. For Nasties completists only.
What say you?