Edge of the Axe

Color, 1987, 88 mins. 58 secs.
Directed by "Joseph Braunstein" (José Ramón Larraz)
Starring Barton Faulks, Christina Marie Lane, Page Mosely, Fred Holliday, Patty Shepard, Alicia Moro, Jack Taylor
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

In Rest in Piecesthe final major directorial Rest in Piecesphase of his career following his major British works (Vampyres, Symptoms, Whirlpool) and his twisted homegrown Spanish productions (The Coming of Sin, Stigma, etc.), José Ramón Larraz launched into a three-film series of very odd pseudo-American horror films that ended up becoming mainstays on the home video market for several years. Rest in Pieces came first in 1987 with Edge of the Axe and Deadly Manor following soon after (all under the directorial pseudonym "Joseph Braunstein"), and it's still a toss-up which one is the craziest. However, there's no doubt that Rest in Pieces derives the most from other horror films and feels like a stew of elements from Rosemary's Baby, Lisa and the Devil, The Sentinel, A Virgin Among the Living Dead, and plenty more, albeit with a cockeyed sensibility all its own.

Happily married Angelenos Helen and Bob Hewitt (Vail and Baker) hop on a plane to go to the country mansion of Helen's aunt, Catherine (Malone), who's just offed herself in front of a video camera with a dose of strychnine after leaving all of her property to her niece. After an unexpected scare with auntie's spring-loaded corpse, the couple happily look forward to their newfound wealth and property ownership far away from their cramped apartment on Van Nuys. However, things are complicated by the presence of six peculiar people living Rest in Piecesin the guest houses who are adamant that they won't be kicked out, even though they pay no rent, including a blind musician (Spanish horror Rest in Piecesstalwart Taylor) and the improbably named "Gertrude Stein" (Shepard), none of whom seem to be partaking of the now rotten food supply. The very chipper but promiscuous maid, Lisa (James), makes no bones about wanting to hop in the sack with Bob, who's fixated instead on the stories of $8 million stowed away somewhere on the premises. Soon supernatural annoyances are turning up like an undead Catherine trying to drown Helen in the bathtub, paranormal disturbances with the lights and cars, and of course, eventual murders that seem to indicate that death is far from the final destination it seems to be.

Short on sense but long on entertainment, this one is best remembered as the penultimate role for Malone, who nabbed an Oscar for her torrid performance in Douglas Sirk's Written on the Wind and appeared on TV's Peyton Place for a few seasons. She only appears in tiny doses throughout the film but actually makes a strong impression, Rest in Piecescertainly more than the leading lady whose performance is, shall we say, questionable. (For the record, Baker was a soon regular on General Hospital and Vail, who provides way more nudity than you'd expect, was best known as a swimsuit model.) There's plenty of blood spattering here (including a memorable music salon performance gone very, very wrong), goofy paranormal twists, a very '80s music score by first-time composer Rest in PiecesGreg De Belles (who somehow ended up doing Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects the following year), and that strange vibe common to later Spanish horror films of the era with Taylor and Shepard making you feel right at home.

Thanks to its very striking VHS art, the Live Home Video tape etched itself into the memories of an entire generation of horror kids, many of whom probably never got around to seeing the actual film itself. Like its fellow Larraz/Braunstein titles, this one dropped off the face of the earth after that for many years but has finally resurfaced in a ridiculously beautiful fresh transfer on Blu-ray. In this case it's a region-free Blu-ray (with a limited edition slipcover) featuring an immaculate 4K scan from the 35mm original negative. Anyone who put up with the fuzzy old VHS will be staggered by the improvement here, with detail and colors all looking pitch perfect throughout. The default audio option is English DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono featuring the dialogue as originally recorded by the actors, though you also get a lossy Rest in PiecesDolby Digital option and the far more serious Spanish audio track if you feel so inclined (with optional English SDH subtitles provided). A new audio commentary by Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger is as top drawer as you'd expect Rest in Piecesgiven their excellent prior tracks on all things Larraz (you can hear them teaming up on the earlier The Coming of Sin, for example), and the in-depth level of research at hand pays off here with a lighthearted but informative survey of the film including notable tidbits about the cast, the peculiar approach to horror Larraz was taking around this time, the various connections to Spanish horror, and tons more. Plus you get to hear them extol the cinematic virtues of dildo candles and a completely nutty anecdote about transvestism, so it's a win all around. The sole video extra is "Piece by Piece" (17m22s), a new video interview Baker who talks about his random entry into acting, his move to L.A. and appearance on Star Search(!), the origin of the film's title, Malone's gracious demeanor, and his eventual awareness of who Larraz actually was.

Reviewed on November 9, 2020