Today, we truly take home video for granted. Anytime we want to watch a movie, we just pop it in and itís there for our viewing pleasure. But, before home video came along, one would have to wait for a favorite film to show up in a revival theater or on TV. Unless, of course, that film was the kind that played at the local drive-in. From the fifties on through the seventies, drive-in movies were notorious for being recycled with new names. So, the same movie may play at your local drive-in several times, but with a different title each time. In the spirit of those cornball old gems, we take a look at two recent releases from Image Entertainment, "Axe" and "The Child", which have been released on separate DVDs. As drive-ins often showed double features (or more -- no one seems to have "Dusk ítil Dawn Horror Shows" anymore), letís have a double feature review of these two unique DVDs.
Our first feature, "Axe" is a depraved southern gothic, and is reminiscent of many other films. The movie opens with three hoods torturing and killing an associate and then humiliating a convenience store clerk. Fearful that the police will be hot on their trail, the trio, led by the evil Steele (Jack Canon) decide to ditch their car and hide out at a farm. The only inhabitants of the farm are young Lisa (Leslie Lee) and her invalid grandfather (Douglas Powers). Thinking that theyíve found the perfect hide-out, the three bully Lisa and threaten to kill her grandfather if she informs the police of their whereabouts. Little do know that the innocent looking Lisa doesnít take kindly to threats and that the axe of the title is close at hand.
Despite the fact that "Axe" is only a little over an hour long, it doesnít feel like much happens in the film until the very end. The "torture" scenes at the beginning are truly laughable, especially when the thugs keep looking around a curtain where there is clearly no window! However, once they reach the farm and begin to abuse Lisa, things change. The film goes from being a cheesy crime movie to a cheesy psychological thriller. The finale of "Axe" is similar to "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" or "Last House on the Left". And while the film is certainly not in the same league as those horror classics, it does provide some suspense during the final reel. (We know Lisa is going to strike back, but when?). The production values are nil, and the film is strangely edited. Keeping with that drive-in tradition, "Axe" has played under at least six different titles.
"Axe" is presented on this DVD in a full-frame ratio. The defects from the source print are the most noticeable flaw, as there are many scratches and dirt spots evident. There is also some distortion on the image. Occasionally, the picture will jump. There is a sharpness to the image, and the colors, though slightly washed out, look natural. The audio on this DVD is a Dolby Digital Mono, which should perfectly reproduce that one speaker hanging in the window, as at the drive-in. The dialogue is muffled at times, and there is some distortion from the musical score.
The second film in our double feature is called "The Child", and all I can say about this movie is that if it wasnít made in Europe, it should have been. "The Child" comes across as a combination of "The Omen" and "Night of the Living Dead". Alicianne (Laurel Barnett) returns to her hometown (although we never see a town) to be a nanny for the Nordon family, specifically little Rosalie (Rosalie Cole). The Nordonís have an odd reputation in the region and Rosalie is known for playing cruel practical jokes. Thereís also the little matter of Rosalieís tendency to go to the local cemetery and talk to zombies. Rosalie uses her undead friends to seek revenge on those whom she feels contributed to the untimely death of her mother. Alicianne finds herself thrown into this bizarre world and soon learns that her main task isnít to look after Rosalie, itís to survive.
"The Child" has a ton of potential, but only yields a few pounds of weirdness. There are several shots that are very creepy -- the main one being Alicianne dancing with a scarecrow. But, the story meanders all over the place and the actors never seem to know what they are doing. (You can almost hear the director and the actors arguing -- "OK, now laugh!" "Why?" "I donít know, just do it!") The bulk of "The Child" plays like a high-school version of "The Bad Seed", but the finale, when the zombies finally show up, is pretty good, in a really cheesy kind of way. There is some nice gore in the film and the murders are never dull. However, "The Child" eventually crumbles under the weigh of its own low-budget shabbiness. (The movie appear to have been filmed in and around abandoned buildings and I could never get a handle in what time-period the story took place.)
As with "Axe", "The Child" is presented full-frame, but has many more problems. The defects from the source print are evident in most every shot of this transfer. Ranging from simple grain to blue scratches, itís obvious that the negative used was in bad shape. Beyond those major problems, the colors are good and there isnít much distortion on the screen. The Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack has to be one of the oddest ever, as the entire film appears to have been dubbed. Therefore, the dialogue is much louder than the sound effects. Also, some crazy one-track recording method must have been used, as dialogue and sound effects appear independently, but never together.
Each of these DVDs may offer a kooky movie as the main feature, but each has a plethora of extras as well. Each DVD contains a bonus feature film, making both double-features. (They stole my idea!) The "Axe" DVD offers us "The Electric Chair", a 1977 crime-drama, which is presented full-frame and is an unwatchably bad movie. With "The Child", we get the 1964 classic "I Eat Your Skin". This 79-minute voodoo/zombie film is as silly as they come, but itís a lot of fun as well.
Along with the bonus movies, each DVD has extra educational shorts, which are tied into the main theme of the feature film. The "Axe" DVD has a short from 1952 entitled "Mental Health: Keeping Mentally Fit", which explores such controversial topics such as talking about your problems with someone you trust. The second short on this DVD focuses on sword swallowing. The real gems show on "The Child" DVD. First, we have "The ABC of Baby Sitting" (Thatís not a typo. I guess it was considered radical to put an "s" on ABC back in the fifties. This film is an absolute hoot, as shows that paranoia is an absolute must for babysitters. "Donít hesitate to call the police!" This film would have made a great extra on the "Halloween" DVD. The other short film presented here is called "The Outsider", which focuses on a girl who just doesnít fit in. Maybe itís because her name is Susan Jane. What kind of name is that?
Finally, each DVD is topped off with nine trailers for drive-in movies, including two for "Axe" under some of its alternative titles. Then, we are treated to a five-minute show reel which offers exploitation film art accompanied by radio spots for obscure films. (The one for "Last House on the Left" is particularly good.)
Fans of drive-in movies and zero-budget horror should love these DVDs. While digital video purists would cringe at the transfers offered here, they do recreate the effect seeing a worn-out print at the drive-in, with the busted speaker hanging in the window. The films themselves are pretty bizarre, but the extras on the DVDs are priceless. So, hide your buddies in the trunk and head for the drive-in!