Edge of the Axe

Color, 1986, 105 mins. 28 secs.
Directed by Javier Elorrieta
Starring Patxi Andión, Beatriz Elorrieta, Yolanda Ventura Yolanda Ventura, Juan Ramón Martínez, Aldo Sambrell
Severin Films (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Tema (DVD) (Spain R2 PAL) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)

The explosion of rough Blood Huntfilms that overloaded Spanish theaters in the post-Franco era throughout the Blood Hunt'80s was a glorious but very busy era, with many gems still awaiting rediscovery. In recent years we've been getting there slowly though, and one good example is La noche de la ira (or The Night of Rage), also shopped to English-speaking markets as Blood Hunt. On the surface it looks like another riff on the human-hunting antics of The Most Dangerous Game a la Hard Target, Avenging Force, and multiple Jess Franco films, this one has more on its mind with a biting target that takes a while to snap into focus but is definitely worth the wait.

A violent curtain raiser involving a barn full of frightened people being menaced with rifles is an indication that something's definitely amiss in a small country town where city dweller Dr. Alejandro Lieman (Andión) has just come to serve as the new physician. Apparently having never seen The Wicker Man or Straw Dogs, he's only mildly perplexed by the extremely enthusiastic hunting culture around him or the weird, hostile taunting some of them exhibit. He ends up making friends with schoolteacher Marta (Beatriz Elorrieta) and her little sister, Ana (Ventura), and becomes intrigued by a van belonging to a nearby rehab clinic for drug addicts... complete with armed guards. Blood HuntStill smarting over being left by his wife, Blood HuntAlejandro starts to spark a relationship with Marta who's keeping a secret on her property. Further investigation reveals that eleven people mysteriously died a while ago on the same day, and that drug clinic seems more like a prison where the 14 desperate-to-escape inmates are being prepared for something even worse.

Director Javier Elorrieta was still a relative newcomer when he made this, only his third film and a calling card of sorts that led to his more widely exported Blood and Sand (a VHS fixture with Sharon Stone) and the enjoyable The Naked Target with Clayton Rohner, which seems to have disappeared for some reason. Here he creates a steady narrative build-up with a few lengthy quiet stretches that allow the sudden bursts of violence to catch you off guard. The effect is sort of like a dark soap opera that keeps getting hijacked by a violent action-horror film, with the extra character shading adding more tension when the inevitable explosion finally hits. The heavy focus on the effects of drugs both in the cities and the provinces was already familiar in Spanish cinema by this point (and a huge part of an earlier Severin release), and here the tension exists in a culture war between extreme Blood Hunttraditionalists and vulnerable outcasts who have made some desperate, terrible choices in their lives.

A handful of VHS release of this one turned up in the late '80s along with a Spanish-only Blood HuntDVD later down the road, but this will likely be a fresh title to just about everyone who sees the Severin Blu-ray. The new 2K scan from the negative looks great without any significant issues to report; that goes for the DTS-HD MA 2.0 Spanish mono track (the questionable Muzak-style score included), with features optional yellow English subtitles. In "Night of Rage" (20m36s), Javier Elorrieta talks about the crafting of the screenplay, his current process of turning the film into a novel called The Hunt, the filming in an actual house belonging to General Franco, his intentions setting the story out in the middle of nowhere, the casting of his sister in a lead role, the homage paid to his father in the story, and a shooting mishap involving that druggie-hauling van. The subtitled Spanish trailer is also included.

Reviewed on June 9, 2022