I’ve just returned from the very first showing of the newest slasher throwback The Pick-Axe Murders III: The Final Chapter. This means that the movie has not been released widely yet, and is just getting ready to enter some film festivals. Full disclosure time: I do know the director and several of the actors involved in it somewhat, but I will be as impartial as I can be.
The first thing you should know is that there are no Pick-Axe Murders Part I or II. In his intro director Jeremy Sumrall explained that with most movies that have sequels, they get worse and worse the more there are, so since this is his first full length film as director, he wanted to start off with the bad one and work his way up to the good one (who knows when Part I will be made, but he promises it will be a masterpiece. There’s a good chance he was joking about all of that).
This one starts out with a TCM-style title crawl explaining the back story (ostensibly the plots of the first two): In the summer of 1982, a group of campers were horribly slaughtered at Camp Arapaho in the sleepy little town of Woodland Hills. The 10 gruesome murders were blamed on Alex Black, a mysterious man believed to have been the son of Satan himself, whom the townspeople had hunted down and lynched nearly 20 years prior. The only survivors were Adrienne, a camper, and a young deputy named Mathews…
One year later, a series of mysterious killings at the Meadow Falls Sanitarium (where Adrienne had spent the last year as a patient) were once again linked to the mysterious Alex Black. Adrienne made it out again as one of the only survivors…
Part III begins in the summer of 1988 (5 years after the sanitarium massacre), and follows a group of kids going to a typical ’80s hair metal concert. Unfortunately for them, Alex Black has been resurrected, and returns to spread carnage and death as well as confront the haunted and alcoholic Adrienne and (now) Sheriff Mathews one last time.
The law of diminishing returns states that there is no way this movie could be any good or even interesting in any way. The reason that people do not like to sit by the highway and watch cars drive by is because it’s something we see every day, and for horror fans, slasher films (of this sort in particular) have been done and redone so often, it’s about the same as sitting by the road watching traffic. However, every once in awhile a 16 car pile up will happen, and watching traffic might become more interesting. The question when watching a new throwback slasher has become: is this one like watching traffic, or a 16 car pile up?
Obviously originality is pretty much out the window- everything that can be done with the slasher formula has been done, so what you have left is fun factor and intensity factor. Few directors have the talent and ability to make an incredibly intense film, much less an incredibly intense slasher, so most go for fun. The goal is to see how over-the-top crazy you can get.
The good news is that The Pick-Axe Murders III: The Final Chapter is just fun enough to call it a success- it’s funny, occasionally clever, and entertaining enough to not be a waste of time. The characters are silly and over-the-top in an ’80s movie way (obviously something they were shooting for), the dialog is cringe-inducingly goofy (but also in a good way- it’s obviously purposefully goofy), it has just enough clever humor and subtlety thrown in to let you know that the bad stuff is done on purpose, and of course it’s so full of old school slasher homages and nods that you could overload a boat with them. But not a boat on the way to New York. That would be disastrous.
The acting is much better than in most underground/ low budget horror films- a huge step above 90% of the straight-to-video movies that I’ve watched (and I’ve watched a lot of them). Low budget/ straight-to-video horror uber-queen Tiffany Shepis does a fine job as Adrienne (and actually keeps all of her clothes on throughout the whole movie- one of the only actresses in it that does), and Phantasm‘s A. Michael Baldwin plays Sheriff Mathews. Most of the other actors and actresses are locals who haven’t appeared in many larger releases, but they all do an excellent job and look like they’re having a lot of fun, so hopefully that will change.
As hinted at above, there is a lot of nudity thrown in. More than usual for a slasher. This is, of course, a key ingredient in a slasher film (however in this day and age when anytime you want to see boobs all you have to is go to Google images and type in ‘boobs’, it’s not as much of a draw as it was in the days before the internet, when most of the classic slashers came out).
Unfortunately, it’s lacking in the other slasher key ingredient: the kills. That’s not to say that there aren’t a lot- there are as many (or more) as in most classic slashers, it’s just that they are mostly all mundane (with the exception of two or three). Two of them (one of a main character and one of a supporting character) are even done off screen. I’m assuming that this is because of budgetary reasons (having a big guy squeeze someone’s head and blood pour out of their mouth is a lot cheaper to film than a spectacular kill like the machete between the legs of the guy walking on his hands in Friday the 13th Part 3). Not everyone can afford Tom Savini, but still the fact remains that this is a slasher where most of the death scenes are pretty underwhelming. BUT I do have to give them credit for using all practical effects. It’s a lot more time consuming and harder to pull off, but looks a lot better than a bunch of CGI any day. The only other complaint I’d have is the music- sometimes it sounded good, but sometimes it just didn’t fit with the scene it was paired with (tho not as bad as in the otherwise also decent Sweatshop– in which director Sumrall played the killer). Music is a big part of a horror film, and sometimes (as proven by Halloween) can make or break it.
But overall it is far above most straight-to-video horror drek coming out these days, and makes a good bridge between the above mentioned Sweatshop and Spirit Camp– both slashers produced in the same area as The Pick-Axe Murders III: The Final Chapter and using a lot of the same people (Kerry Beyer, director of Spirit Camp, even has a cameo in Pick-Axe as one of the hair band members).
I don’t know how much different the finished product will be- it hasn’t been rated yet, and there were a couple of bits that needed clearer editing, but other than that it looked finished, so hopefully everyone else will get to see it soon.
Watch it with a bunch of friends and beer in a marathon with Friday the 13th Parts 1 – 3, Intruder, The Burning, Sleepaway Camp, Maniac, Stage Fright, New York Ripper, and if you want something modern maybe Hatchet (if you want to get a little more low rent and sleazy you could add in Don’t Answer The Phone, Murder Set Pieces and Strip Nude For Your Killer).