Theatrical Release: December 1974 / 1976
Blu Ray Release: December 15, 2015
Director: Frederick R. Friedel
Review by James Klein
Severin has given fans a double feature of North Carolina’s own Frederick R. Friedel’s two directorial films; Axe and Kidnapped Coed. These two low budget features may not be for everyone as these are not your typical Hollywood fare. They were shot on location by a crew of 20 year olds at the time who were not the most experienced filmmakers. However, these two films have now gained a small cult following and rightfully so as both films have some redeeming value to them and both can be entertaining…for the most part.
Axe may be the product of a Last House on the Left rip-off/homage with touches of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre thrown in for good measure. Three hoodlums (Jack Canon, Ray Green, and Friedel himself) break into an apartment one night to rough up a guy only to accidentally kill him. While on the run, these men take refuge at an old farmhouse where Lisa (the very cute Leslie Lee) and her catatonic grandfather live in seclusion. The men are no match for the disturbed Lisa as she dispatches her captures in some fairly gruesome ways.
Axe is a very basic, by the numbers story. In fact, aside from a sequences where Canon and Green torture a supermarket clerk, the movie feels like it’s something one has seen before and done better. However Axe has a certain charm about it that I kind of liked.
For starters, Canon, Green and Lee are quite good in the film. Canon reminds me of say a Lance Henriksen type of actor who should have been a bigger star as his role in Axe and in Kidnapped Coed are quite compelling. Green plays a particular nasty SOB who gets his when he attempts to rape poor Lisa. And Lee is sympathetic and creepy as the quiet, schizophrenic heroine. Friedel got some pretty decent performances out of these local actors (although he himself couldn’t act out of a paper bag).
Second, the film looks like a nightmare. Shot in the winter, the cold and dead look of this farmhouse brings a lot of atmosphere to the picture. There are some nice looking shots thanks to DP Austin McKinney who later went on to directing visual effects for films like Escape From New York and The Terminator. Just the opening title sequence of the farmhouse during dusk is quite chilling. So while the plot isn’t anything new, the look and feel of Axe works in its favor.
Lastly, the film doesn’t shy away from the violence. Most indie films can’t afford special effects so they don’t even try to show anything, thus producing a boring and dreadful film. But with Axe, while the blood looks like paint or tomato soup at least the film makers try and make it as gruesome or disturbing as they could. Even violent moments that aren’t as bloody are entertaining such as the supermarket sequence where the two men force a female clerk to take her shirt off while the make her wear an apple on her head for target practice. Childishly they throw Coca-Cola on her breasts just to humiliate her which I couldn’t help but find somewhat funny in a sick sort of way. Axe is a straight up exploitation flick done on a shoestring budget that came out better than it probably should have.
Kidnapped Coed (1976)
Friedel’s second feature casts Jack Cannon again as the lead playing Eddie Matlock, a criminal who needs money for his sick mother whose in a nursing home. His plan is to kidnap the daughter of a wealthy business man and hold her for ransom so he can use the money for his sick mother. While a noble gesture, Eddie is anything but a good guy as he threatens his captor Sandra (Leslie Ann Rivers) to accompany him to a hotel while they wait for the money. Unbeknownst to them, this seedy hotel has a few goons of its own who want Sandra for their own pleasure.
In a violent and somewhat disturbing rape sequence, Eddie kills the men and flees with Sandra as they are on the run and soon fall for one another. This is when I felt Kidnapped Coed loses its appeal. I found the film entertaining and exciting until their romance starts up, stopping the film in its tracks. With a running time of only 75 minutes, Kidnapped Coed drags for the remainder of the movie and tries to entertain with some strange moments of women birdwatching or backwoods hicks that doesn’t make much sense and feels like padding. Not to mention, the romance between the two is forced and unbelievable. One moment Sandra is running from Eddie and the next they are in a bar dancing with one another. And the finale…WTF? It just ends abruptly in a cheap voice over that makes little sense.
Kidnapped Coed isn’t a complete failure as the film is very well shot and directed, a much more polished film than Axe. Some gorgeous tracking shots and really nice locations help elevate this low budget crime film from being a complete waste of time. However I still can’t help but feel a little disappointed as Kidnapped Coed started out promising and ultimately falters once the second half of the film begins.
Both films look pretty damn good on blu ray although both suffer from print damage (Axe more so) which can be distracting at times. It’s to be expected for two indie films shot over 40 years ago but one can still wish they were in better condition. The colors are rich and do look fantastic, much better than it ever has on home video or DVD. The 2.0 mono soundtrack sounds quite good despite some low/ quiet moments in Axe but I believe that’s because of the equipment they used while making the film and not due to the transfer.
Severin’s blu ray is chockfull of special features and it took me an entire day just to get through them all in one sitting. Both films have audio commentaries by Friedel, production manager Phil Smoot, and make up artist Worth Ketter. Both commentaries are a must listen as they discuss the history of both films and the issues they faced while making the movie and its distribution. Listening to these men talk, I appreciated both films more than I probably should just because of the challenges they faced to make both films. A few stories are repeated on the making of the film entitled At Last…Total Terror as the viewer gets an even more detailed look at the history of both films. One can even see some of the locations where they shot both movies as well as the torn down drive-in where Axe was premiered. Seeing these older men re-live some of these shared memories is very entertaining and one can’t help but feel happy for Friedel that his two films at least have a small cult following and knowing they are finally appreciated.
There is also a long featurette on composers George Newman Shaw and John Willhelm whose prog rock soundtrack is also included in this blu ray package. These local celebrities are talked about by family and friends along with discussing their horrific automobile accident that claimed their lives in 1976 and the cover-up that followed.
Friedel also made an alternate cut of both films in the 1990’s that combined both films called Bloody Brothers using Jack Canon’s two characters as twin brothers. While it is an interesting idea, this cut of the two films is really silly and unnecessary. Maybe worth watching just to hear the audio commentary by Stephen Thrower, author of Nightmare USA.
Rounding out the extra features are trailers, TV spots, and radio trailers for the films under various alternate titles such as Axe’s original title, Lisa Lisa and Kidnapped Coed‘s alternate title, Kidnapped Lover.
Kidnapped Coed Rating:
Blu Ray Rating: