BLU-RAY REVIEW: AXE/KIDNAPPED COED/BLOODY BROTHERS
SEVERIN FILMS, definitely my favorite distributor for cool/obscure cult horror films and notorious for loading up on extra features (including co-owner David Gregory’s directed top-notch documentary productions) just released an incredible double…well, actually make that a triple-feature blu-ray of director Frederick R. Friedel’s
drive-in grindhouse classics AXE (a.k.a. LISA LISA a.k.a. THE VIRGIN SLAUGHTER a.k.a. CALIFORNIA AXE MURDERS a.k.a. THE AXE MURDERS), KIDNAPPED COED (a.k.a. DATE WITH A KIDNAPPER a.k.a. THE KIDNAP LOVER a.k.a. HOUSE OF TERROR a.k.a. THE KIDNAPPER), and a hybrid film of sorts that basically combines the footage from AXE and KIDNAPPED COED into one film about two twin brothers going on a killing spree at the same time called BLOODY BROTHERS (which is nearly not even worth watching for the minute amount of extra unused footage from Friedel’s main features mentioned above). All restored from their original film negatives by SEVERIN and packed to the hilt with extra features AND a bonus CD included featuring the first ever release of the original motion picture soundtracks to AXE and KIDNAPPED COEDS with extra bonus tracks by composers George Newman Shaw and John Willhelm.
I went into watching these unearthed drive-in grindhouse “classics” (as some consider them) not knowing much about them but did read Stephen Thrower’s Nightmare USA so I did read about them but that was quite some time ago and reading about a film you really know nothing about, or had any prior interest in, it sort of slipped from my memory. I definitely will have to revisit that portion of Thrower’s book where he writes about director Frederick R. Friedel and his two films. AXE was also one of the Video Nasties that was banned in the U.K. in the early ’80’s, had been released with 19 seconds cut in 1999, and then was released again uncut in 2005. As many of the Video Nasties I have seen there is only one underlying theme in my mind about them: The British censors sure were a bunch of giant pussies! Much of the so-called gore cut from the films to secure them a “proper” rating and not deem them the dreaded X was minor, if not even prevalent within the film. Sometimes, if not usually, the “Nasty” label ends up giving the film much more exposure and drums up far more interest than some of these films even deserve. Occasionally, the small bit of gore really is undermining the much of the other incredible selling points within the film, such as unique stories, creative soundtracks, solid camerawork, and in some cases some really solid acting performances from virtual nobodies. Friedel’s AXE and KIDNAPPED COEDS are key points in helping prove my point. By no means did I think these low-budget exploitation flicks were along the lines of some CITIZEN CANE shit, or even a very memorable horror film like Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN, but gauging the two films along the lines of other grindhouse/drive-in flicks, these two films a better grade of beef. There ain’t no prison meat, here!
AXE (1974) starts out with viewers just thrown in the middle of the action, no story or background given as to who the three men are or any reason given as to why they are doing what they are doing. I thought the acting was pretty good for the no name talent on the screen. This film was the lead actor, Jack Canon’s, first film. He plays the leader of the “gang”, Steele, and calls the shots throughout the film. Canon did have another lead role in Friedel’s next film, KIDNAPPED COEDS, and a few other small parts in other films such as an uncredited Hazmat-Suit Worker in SCANNERS and portraying Max in MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE and Murray Rose in WEEKEND AT BERNIE’S, but Canon went on to write Nick Carter-Killmaster action/spy novels, a whole series of books published from 1964-1990 and Canon actually was the writer on the last published book in this long-running series. Incidentally , big-time writer Nelson DeMille uses as a pseudonym Jack Cannon (w/ two ‘n’s) so don’t get the two confused.
About 15 minutes into the movie and it is quite evident that Jack Canon really is the best actor in the film, with the actress who portrayed Lisa (Leslie Lee) doing a fine job of portraying a lonely farm girl who lived with her paralyzed and mute grandfather in this fairly big farmhouse. Steele (Canon), along with Lomax (Ray Green) and the much younger Billy (played by the director, writer, & producer Frederick R. Friedel), happen upon the farmhouse after being responsible for a couple of deaths and looking for a place to hide out at. Before they get to the farmhouse, there is a scene in the grocery store that I found myself laughing at hysterically one minute and then condemning the next. It reminded me of a couple of epic grocery store/corner market scenes I really enjoy, for various reasons but most of all are because a character goes into a fit of unbridled rage towards an innocent looking grocery store clerk. The film bounces all over the place and one never really knows what direction it will be going in from one minute to the next. The film is just so offbeat. There is a great deal of tension, slow burns that sometimes just fizzle out and don’t really deliver to anything, and a lot of waiting for shit to happen. I think the film’s soundtrack definitely scores it some points, having been composed by two very promising musicians whose untimely demise is thoroughly explored in the Extra Features portion of the blu-ray, George Newman Shaw and John Willhelm.
The title of the film, AXE, is interesting because many of the murders that do occur are actually executed by a small hatchet, and not necessarily an axe but those are just tiny details, right? The film does have some gore, even though most of the blood looks like Heinz ketchup, sorta how the blood in every H.G. Lewis gore flick looked like, but it still had one cool scene in which one of the bad guys gets cut up on the back of his neck by a straight-razor and it is my favorite scene in the flick, partially because it is the bloodiest and it’s (in my opinion) a very justifiable consequence for what the bad guy was doing to Lisa (Leslie Lee). The audio of the cutting of the flesh is great—it sounds so gritty and nasty, really as though a hunk of flesh were being sliced back and forth into. I kind of squirmed a bit while listening to it. It is the best scene also because the bad guy, Lomax (Ray Green), makes this hilarious yell, which may have been him or added in later. Whatever the case may be, the yell of agony and pain is definitely memorable if only because it sort of sounds inhuman.
If one can get by or tolerate some of the super slow scenes within the film, waiting until the explosive sparks of violence occur on screen, and deal with their being no nudity, not much vulgarity, and Heinz ketchup blood that is thick as the tomato soup they are all eating in one scene, then AXE is probably a film that one will enjoy. Remember, the soundtrack is pretty cool and the cinematography is actually very professional looking because Austin McKinney lensed the movie and he also lensed THE TERMINATOR and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. Much respect to you, Mr. McKinney!
The film DATE WITH A KIDNAPPER (and all of its other zany titles like KIDNAPPED COED as titled on this particular blu-ray) is a film shot in North Carolina again (just like AXE) and has much of the same crew working it, such as Frederick Friedel directing, writing, and producing, and the wonderful cinematographer Austin McKinney behind the lens, Worth Keeter in charge of the Heinz ketchup dispensary, and the acting chops of Jack Canon in the lead again.
Our story starts off with a woman leaving a hotel and getting into her car, not realizing that a man is hiding in the back seat with a gun. He puts it to her head and tells her to drive away. She does and has officially been kidnapped. The film does not waste any time in getting to the point of the title (or titles) of the film. Actress Leslie Rivers lists KIDNAPPED COED as her very first film on IMDB.com, and she did a great job in the movie and Canon was a great match for her. The two actors had what appeared to be a bit of chemistry working alongside each other and if I thought AXE was pretty strange and had odd pacing, KIDNAPPED COED is even stranger but this is due to the dialogue and odd little road trip the two take throughout the movie. Again, Friedel does not believe in thorough backstories in his films, or any sort of backstory at all, but that is fine because the style of his films go well with no backstory. The soundtrack complements some of the zany and strange scenes, such as when Eddie Matlock (Canon) needs some water for Sandra Morely’s Cadillac (actress Leslie Rivers) and the tightlipped hillbillies he encounters spit on him and point a shotgun at him and tell him to, “GET!”.
Afterall, how dare anyone wish any harm upon the man who has kidnapped a poor, young girl just because his daddy is really rich and the kidnapper is looking for a high ransom!?!?! The film just follows our kidnapper Matlock (Canon) driving around with the little rich girl who begins to develop some sort of twisted relationship with him, as bizarre as many of the scenes within the movie are is how normal this Stockholm Syndrome relationship becomes. The film looks quite a bit more professionally shot because the filmmakers had a dolly for this film so there is much more steady camerawork and tracking shots within the film. The film also appears to have more locations used in filming, and because the two are driving across the state in the car there is more scenery to look at and opens up the scope of the film and its settings much more.
Again, if one is hoping for some exploitative nudity and sex, there is a little bit in a rape scene, showing no nudity but plenty of uncomfortable tension without really being revealing, but turning out to be one of the most disturbing scenes in the film. It is a very effective rape scene and the director presents viewers their first murders in the film. Actress Leslie Rivers did a superb job of being fantastically convincing in her acting while getting raped. One really sees the pain in her eyes in the scenes following it. There is some “lovemaking” later in the film (mutual), but nothing explicit.
There are, however, quite a few funny scenes within the first ten minutes, such as a scene with a couple of kids rolling a drunk man passed out on the curb and kicking his ass while robbing him. Seconds later, a kid who looked to be only five or six years old giving Matlock the “bird” as he drove by. It was the little touches of humor and details within this low-budget film that added to the overall charm of it. I thought that these scenes which had me snickering in laughter soon turned to horror when the rape scene starts to play out. The film quickly changes pace from scene to scene. The film is just one 76 min. long road trip with well-shot scenes and cool locations out in the country. Probably the only face you will actually recognize in KIDNAPPED COED is a scene in an old folks’ home where Matlock calls his mother and the old folks home attendant carrying her to her wheelchair is none other than actor Larry Drake (L.A. LAW, DARKMAN, DARK KNIGHT OF THE SCARECROW). I almost flipped my shit when I saw him come walking down the hallway in his white t-shirt and slicked back hair.
The Special Features on the blu-ray are quite a bunch! On Disc 1, there is the BLOODY BROTHERS hybrid feature (not much new footage in this) with an audio commentary by Stephen Thrower (NIGHTMARES USA), and the audio commentaries on KIDNAPPED COED and AXE include Writer/Director Frederick R. Friedel, Production Manager Phil Smoot, and Make-up Artist Worth Keeter. Both of these commentaries were extremely insightful, even after some of the guys having not seen the film for almost 30 years. There is a wonderful making-of documentary directed by David Gregory entitled “At Last…Total Terror!–The Amazing True Story of the Making of AXE & KIDNAPPED COED” which really tells the whole story of everyone involved and how these two films came to get their blu-ray release. The documentary “Moose Magic” tells viewers the tragic story of the soundtrack composers, George Newman Shaw & John Willhelm. There is a short bit of Stephen Thrower talking about both AXE and KIDNAPPED COED, as well as the regular batch of trailers, tv spots, and radio spots. On Disc 2, an exclusive audio cd of the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, plus some bonus tracks by Shaw and Willhelm.
After having watched each movie several times, going over all the extra features, it really is sad that director Frederick R. Friedel only has these two movies (plus the hybrid film) to show for all his talent and affection for making films. Friedel is living proof of how savage and dishonest the movie industry and distribution business can really be. I am just glad that David Gregory and the gang over at Severin Films give each and every film they distribute the care and time needed for a quality release. I really think they outdid themselves with this release of two completely obscure drive-in movies that besides Stephen Thrower’s NIGHTMARES USA, would probably be long lost and forgotten. I guess the U.K.’s Video Nasties were good for one thing—getting cool movies on the list and into the public’s knowledge of what movies should be viewed!
The 1080p blu-ray sports a new 2K Transfer from the original negative, the sound is a Dolby Digital 2.o Audio track, and the picture and sound are terrific. Infinitely better than any other print or version that is out there, if one can even find them. The 2-disc blu-ray retails for $24.00.