Lisa Lisa AKA Axe (1977)

Stay away from Lisa!
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Lisa Lisa AKA Axe - Stay away from Lisa!

In 1977 Frederick R. Friedel's marketing people decided to shock the US with horror marketing typical of the time and a film called Lisa, Lisa (more commonly known as Axe but also known as California Axe Massacre, California Axe Murders, The Axe Murders and The Virgin Slaughter). The artwork and the trailer made the movie seem so much more than it was and this is the main reason that Axe was another movie condemned to the UK's Video Nasty List and banned from corrupting the hypersensitive ethics of British viewers.

The film itself does contain some disquieting and possibly politically incorrect scenes but overall the body count is low and, despite some violence, the red stuff is not abundant. There is the compulsory rape scene seemingly required to make a movie "nasty" but, without belittling the subject, it is not graphic or traumatising to the extent of such scenes in I Spit on Your Grave or Last House on the Left. The violence is nice when it happens with scenes such as a bludgeoning with a toy doll, switchblade laceration and obviously some axe action but the real charm is the shy and introverted Lisa's (Leslie Lee's) execution of the executions.

Two vulgar criminals and their afro-sporting Peter Sutcliffe lookalike companion take refuge from the law in a remote farmhouse. The occupants of the house are the good natured Lisa and her catatonically disabled father, who are no way prepared to cope with company of this nature. The thugs get horny and thuggy, the situation gets out of hand, shit happens, regrets are had and everybody lives happily ever after.

It is subtleties of the Lisa character compared to the tawdriness of two of her intrusive house guests makes the dynamics of the situation appealing. This is further complicated by the hesitancy of the third interloper. Leslie Lee convincingly assumes the role of a withdrawn individual with not much social experience and her nuances not only project a troubled life but also hint that not all screws are adequately tightened. A suicide attempt and imperturbable collected body disposal notifies the viewer that our Lisa is unlikely to be the life and soul of any frat party.

Apart from the Lisa character there is not really much more to make this movie stand out among the slashers of the genre, it feels very Last House inspired but fails to add any more to build on its muse. The shocks are dumbed down and the harrowing torment of a select few exploitation movies previous is completely missing. Little sympathy is fashioned for any of the characters and as the kills don't provide much trauma for those watching, the most any fan of exploitation/slasher movies of the era will gain is nostalgia.

The movie is obviously a low budget affair trying to cash in on the popular horror at the time. The storyline is fairly clichéd and the music more befitting of a seventies Satanic hippie movie for 60% of the time while the rest of the score is seemingly performed by a Parkinson's sufferer locked in a bongo factory. One scene stands out though and this is the relevance of the commentary on the horse racing on TV while unspeakable acts occur in the foreground. This isn't really enough to save the film from its mediocrity (and could just be a sweet coincidence).

Axe is another stunning example of how the Video Recordings Act of 1984 achieved exactly the opposite of what it set out to achieve. A mediocre Boston Box dog that would have no value today (except for avid fans of 70s exploitation) is propelled to a status of notoriety (for Video Nasty aficionados) whereas, without the negative media, it would have just blurred into the past with the slew of similar movies released that decade.
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