Edge of the Axe

Color, 1988, 94 mins.
Directed by Cedric Sundström
Starring Towje Kleiner, Rufus Swart, Adrienne Pearce, Trish Downing, Simon Poland, Evan J. Klisser, Simon Sabela
Severin Films (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

South Africa isn't exactly The Shadowed Mindknow for its extensive horror output, but every now and then The Shadowed Mindit does turn out a gem that crosses over the border and gets some recognition like Dust Devil, The Bone Snatcher, and Hellgate, not to mention the occasional obscure cult oddity like the 1970 asylum freak-out Jannie Totsiens. Sort of descended from that latter film and seemingly geared for the international video market, The Shadowed Mind was ultimately the victim of bad luck and increasingly tough censorship crackdowns, barely making a blip on the radar of any horror fans and still languishing in obscurity. If you're a fan of delirious late '80s craziness it's worth discovering, with the 2022 Severin Blu-ray release marking its first real shot at international exposure. If the idea of a slasher twist on Cafe Flesh sounds fun, then dive on in.

Out in the middle of nowhere, Stephanie (Pearce) gets dropped off at a seemingly dilapidated warehouse that's actually a sanitarium for the sexually dysfunctional. Run by Dr. Hildesheimer (The Odessa File's Kleiner) and chief nurse Helen (Downing), it's a hotbed of psychosexual personalities where no physical contact is allowed -- but everyone seems to break that rule The Shadowed Mindleft and The Shadowed Mindright. Among the patients are a deluded wannabe general (Sabela), pansexual "stunted libido" sufferer Paul (Dust Devil's Swart), tenderhearted teddy bear hugger Matthew (Poland), and snarky sex object Kurt (Hellgate's Klisser). The head doctor is currently focused on getting a very lucrative grant that's jeopardized when Kurt's latest conquest turns up dead in his room, the first in what becomes a string of brutal knife attacks in the building. Can the killer be unmasked, and at what cost?

Banned in South Africa after its completion for a couple of years, this film was shopped around for international distribution by very short-lived outfit Northern Film Traders (who also handled The Stay Awake) and essentially thrown away when it was slapped with a very early NC-17 rating in the U.S. (for obvious reasons). It was one of the first feature films by South African/Swedish director Cedric Sundström , who cut his teeth working as an assistant director on local Cannon Films productions and would go on to direct the third and fourth American Ninja films. This one definitely doesn't fit the Cannon bill though with its deliberately arch, The Shadowed Mindstylized acting styles, extensive equal opportunity nudity, and nasty knife attacks, including a brutal ending that anticipates a certain hit erotic thriller by a few years. Like a lot of other South African films it has a woozy, The Shadowed Minddrugged-out feeling that can be a challenge for some viewers, but there's definitely nothing else quite like this one especially once the nastiness really starts to kick in like a sexed-up version of The Ninth Configuration with a lot more blood and frontal nudity.

Anyone who ever saw this film at all did so via a gray market version floating around from what purports to be a Panamanian VHS source, presented open matte and looking very dark and murky. For the film's global Blu-ray debut, Severin has used the sole existing film element, Sundström 's own 35mm print, and luckily it's been kept in good shape with fine color and no significant damage. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono track also sounds fine for an optical track, with English SDH subtitles included. Sundström turns up for a new audio commentary (which has some good production info but also often lapses The Shadowed Mindinto reciting what's happening on the screen) and an interview featurette, "Into the Shadowed Mind" (39m58s), chatting with Trevor Steele Taylor about his entire career starting with this film including its origins as a low budget, quickly shot production originally entitled The Mind Boggles designed to obtain a government subsidy. The Shadowed MindHe also goes into the vaguely post apocalyptic setting, the ins and outs of South Africa film production in the '80s and early '90s, and his brushes with Cannon as well as indie drive-in films that mostly went straight to VHS. Also included are four of the director's short films starting with the controversial Suffer, Little Children (31m45s) from 1976, with optional commentary and in very lo-res quality but nice to have for the curious; it's a well made but ultimately brutal look at how religious indoctrination leads to some seriously nasty consequences for some kids living out in the countryside when they get their hands on some nails. After that you get The Hunter (15m49s), Summer Is Forever (33m37s) (scored with music from The Stunt Man!), and On the Rocks (13m42s), plus VHS-sourced promos for The Shadowed Mind (4m8s), On a Rooftop Waiting... (9m7s) (scored with Escape from New York), and The Piscean Factor (6m27s).

Reviewed on June 9, 2022