The Films (4/5 Axe, 4.5/5 Kidnapped Coed)
When Orson Welles made what is arguably the most significant film in the history of sound cinema with Citizen Kane by the age of 25 he laid down the gauntlet for aspiring filmmakers for essentially the rest of film history. This was most certainly the case for the young Frederick Friedel, who although would not attempt to match the lofty heights of the Welles' film in his 2 earliest features would use Welles as his inspiration when going forward in making his 2 regional horror/crime features Axe and Kidnapped Coed.
Axe and Kidnapped Coed are interesting examples of regional horror and exploitation cinema of the early 70's period. The films take the basic conceits of both crime and horror cinema, and bring them down to their most basic elements. Axe follows a trio of sadistic murderers who end up at the home of a young girl, Lisa, and her mute Grandfather. The trio end up holding the pair hostage for a few days while planning their next move. Of course, this film is called Axe, and things don't exactly end up well the three. The second film Kidnapped Coed was shot a few months after Axe and shares the lead actor Jack Canon. This time Jack plays another criminal named Eddie who in the films opening moments kidnaps a young woman, Sandra, as she leaves her boarding house. The film then takes the pair all around the countryside as Eddie waits to collect his ransom.
A few weeks before the Axe/Kidnapped Coed double feature hit my doorstep I was listening to a podcast called Doing The Nasty, where the two hosts are viewing all of the Video Nasties list in alphabetical order, and of course, that puts Axe first on the list. The pair did not seem to enjoy the film, doing a bit of research after that the film did not have the best of reputations. However, when I came to view it I found myself completely loving the film.
Axe runs just a bit over an hour, and to get to that point Friedel really makes his shots linger, and pretty much throws everything he has into the edit, and yet the film rather than feeling overwhelming takes on a sublime quality to it. Even though the film is short, it doesn't feel like it moves too fast, or goes too long, and yet manages to pack a punch. Kidnapped Coed like it's predecessor moves quickly dispersing with any background, and getting right into the action. Where Axe only takes place at a handful of locations, and primarily one, Kidnapped Coed keeps moving around for it's 76 minutes. The film aside from the fact that it has more locations also feels more dynamic, Friedel obviously learned from the experience making Axe and applied those lessons to making Kidnapped Coed a better film with a more obvious structure to it.
Axe is more based in the world of low budget horror with the criminal element used as a template to make the splatter happen. Kidnapped Coed on the other hand plays a more diverse card in regards to genre, this is definitely more in the crime film camp, and there is certainly violence as such. However, it also has nice dramatic flourishes, and bits of comedy as well to create something largely unique.
Both films are supplied with gorgeous cinematography courtesy of Austin McKinney who brings a Malick-esque vision to the 2 films. Another benefit to Friedel's films is the scores provided by the duo of George Newman Shaw and John Wilhelm who create something really wonderfully unique for each film. The performances across the board are quite solid with Jack Canon who returns for both films being a particular standout as a hard-edged criminal.
Both films are presented newly remastered by Severin Films in gorgeous 1:78:1 1080p transfers that look nicely organic with a solid grain structure, excellent fine detail, and nice natural colors throughout. There is some damage from the source material, but it does not detract from how amazing both films look restored.
The audio is presented in a DTS-HD MA 2.0 track in English. Both tracks sounds quite excellent with dialogue coming through clearly, and both films scores really being shown off here.
If I gave Severin Films Axe/Kidnapped Coed package less than 5 in extras I'd be a lunatic. Had I fully absorbed this release a few weeks ago it would have been on our best of 2015 list EASILY. The set kicks off with a third feature called Bloody Brothers. This is going to take some explaining, but Axe and Kidnapped Coed were owned by Harry Novak, and Friedel did not see a lot of the money he should have from the films. In order to circumvent Novank's rights for the film he took some existing footage that was left unused, and edited Axe and Kidnapped Coed together into one long form feature with some onscreen text to explain it as the story of 2 brothers that were unaware of each others existence, committing violent crimes in the vicinity of one another. The transfer for this film primarily utilizes the new Severin remaster though some of the sequences in the film have to use full frame footage. However, the whole thing looks quite solid, and is a quite interesting addition to the set. This feature includes a commentary by horror historian Stephen Thrower who gives an overall insight not just into Bloody Brothers, but into the career of Friedel.
Following up from Bloody Brothers we get a pair of commentary tracks featuring the director and some of the films crew one for each of the features. Following up on this we get an amazingly in depth documentary detailing the making of and casting a look back on both features entitled At Last...Total Terror. It runs 61 minutes in length, and is an absolute blast to watch as Friedel and the crew of the film reflect on the making of both films, and visit some of the locations. We are also treated to a documentary featurette entitled Moose Magic about the composers of both films George Newman Shaw and John Wilhelm. This is followed up by a nine minute piece with Stephen Thrower on both films. The disc is rounded off by trailers, radio, and TV spots. There is also a soundtrack CD included with both films scores, and extra cuts.
One of the last Blu-ray highlights of 2015, and honestly something I would have added to our best of 2015 had I had it in my hands in early December. The Severin Films release of Axe and Kidnapped Coed takes 2 regional exploitation/horror obscurities and cast a light on them with in depth bonus features and a truly stunning remaster. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.