Friday, 10 April 2015


Recently there has been a real surge of films that pay homage to the classic slasher films of yesteryear. I've reviewed a few here at The House (Dorchester's Revenge, The Woods Within) and here's another.
Now, some of you may ask why I'm reviewing The Pickaxe Murders Part III first without covering the first two instalments. The answer is simple — they don't exist.
Director Jeremy Sumrall has exerted some wonderfully screwy logic here — he claims that whenever a horror trilogy is produced the final chapter is invariably the weakest. As a comparatively inexperienced filmmaker he is embracing this and making the weakest part of the blood-thirsty tale of diabolical mass-murderer Alex Black first, while he is still learning his craft.
Of course, this suggests that the first chapter (or should that be the third) is going to be a dreadful film. Is that true?
Or have I picked a winner?
Read on...


Dir: Jeremy Sumrall
Starring: Tiffany Shepis, A. Michael Baldwin, Ashley-Marie Zgabay, Elizabeth Redpath, Ben Warner, Will Morgan, Gage Tijerina, Danielle Jones, Cory Ahre, Sal Governale, Kelly Byrns, Amber McKenzie, Shawn Hernandez, Keefer Barlow, Lyndsey Case, Michelle Ellen Jones, Jayson Champion

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I'll try not to spoil too much here but read on at your own risk.

Notorious slasher Alex Black, a serial killer believed to be the son of Satan himself, is dead. However, his legacy lives on after rampages in which a group of teens were slaughtered at Camp Arapaho outside the sleepy town of Woodland Hills, then again a year later at Meadow Falls Sanitarium, the institution in which the sole survivor of his first attack was housed.
Now that survivor, Adrienne (scream queen extraordinaire Shepis) lives an isolated existence, drinking to excess and irreparably damaged by the horrors she witnessed, while being dismissed as a kook by most of the locals. However, town lawman and former lover, Sheriff Mathews (Phantasm star Baldwin) still cares for her and is the one now tasked with dealing with her unruly outbursts.
However, when a young couple stumble upon Black's amulet in the woods (in a scene with a fine performance from Conjoined's Michelle Ellen Jones, whose Conjoined co-star and Hickey's House of Horrors fave Keefer Barlow also has a small but very memorable role as self-proclaimed 'slut' Marilyn) the infamous murderer rises from his grave one final time.
Meanwhile, a group of teens including good-girl Heather (Zgabay), her boyfriend Tommy (Warner), best friend and wildchild Jamie (Redpath), Jamie's horndog boyfriend Kevin (Morgan) and Jamie's dork brother Larry (Tijerina) win tickets to THE biggest concert of the year by the hilariously monickered Sacrilegious Desecration. This means a roadtrip and staying at a cabin in the woods en route.
Along the way they pick up fellow concert goers, stoner Bill (Ahre, previously seen in Sacrament) and down 'n' dirty rock chick Ashley (Danielle Jones), plus the nerdy Caroline (McKenzie) who bears quite the crush on Larry.
As a large cast of characters move ever closer to the monstrous Black the bodycount begins to mount and a personal connection is revealed to Black's previous murder spree.
Will the teens reach THE concert of a lifetime? Can Adrienne overcome her demons and redeem herself? And, having survived his previous rampage, can Adrienne and Mathews possibly hope to last again?

THE BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): More than anything The Pick-Axe Murders Part III is a fun flick. There is a lot of humour in the film, not just from the plentiful in jokes and classic slasher references, but from the witty dialogue and neatly written characters. What's more, this is humour that is actually funny rather than ill-advised and misfiring, as is so often the situation when it comes to indie horror movies. Sumrall wrote as well as directed and he deserves some serious praise for keeping things fun throughout.
A lot of the best moments come from the obviously funny characters, who are all brought to life by a cast of polished actors. The likes of the impressive Ahre's Bill, the likeable dweeby Larry (played excellently by Tijerina) and lunkheaded  and permanently horny — jock Kevin (a suitably sleazy performance from Morgan); all have their moments to shine, usually alongside some particularly crude but uproarious one-liners.
However, it's not just the comedy roles that are played well. First and foremost, Tiffany Shepis is brilliant in her portrayal of the haunted and on-edge Adrienne. Shepis is probably more well known for sexier roles, so it was great to see that she is more than capable of delivering the goods when she keeps her clothes on too! This role reminded me a lot of Jamie Lee Curtis in H2O, albeit amped up to 11. She bosses every scene in which she appears and is definitely the standout here. It just goes to show what experience adds to a performance.
Speaking of experience — and great acting to boot — A. Michael Baldwin is superb as the sweet-natured sheriff Mills. I've been a big fan of Baldwin ever since I first saw him in Phantasm and I can't wait to see him in the upcoming fifth film in the saga, Ravager.
Until then, this is a great reminder of how good Baldwin is and he adds some gravitas to proceedings. He's an assured and reliable hand, and he nails this. Kudos!
Of course, it's not just the older cast members that deliver. When I realised that Shepis and Baldwin would have less screentime than the youngsters, I felt dubious. This was a first time gig for some of the key teens and I was concerned that they could come across as amateurish when compared with the bigger names.
Luckily, the major roles are filled by fantastic actors and actresses.
The real lead of the film is undoubtedly the very talented young Zgabay. She carries the film admirably and delivers a spine-chilling monologue about the first night Alex Black slaughtered the teens at Camp Arapaho. She's pretty, likeable and she can act — I predict big things for her.
Speaking of pretty and likeable, the hilarious Elizabeth Redpath is another one to watch out for. She gets far more fun scenes than Zgabay, getting to act both bitchy and wild at different times, while still maintaining sympathy for her character, Jamie. With her striking red hair and plenty of attitude, she's a joy to watch and has made a fan here at The House.
Finally, Jayson Champion impresses as the diabolical Alex Black. He's a big guy and he moves in such a way as to exude menace. Much like classic slasher actors such as Gunnar Hansen and Kane Hodder, Champion is able to use his physically imposing frame to maximum effect. His is a silent role but he uses body language to strike fear into the hearts of  viewers and he does it well. 
He is helped immensely by the character design which gives Alex Black a nightmarish look. That's not the only bit of wonderful design work — the movie is set in 1988 and feels very much like a film of that era. Sets, costumes, the soundtrack and even the film stock itself feel straight out of that time, as does the plot.
Sumrall is obviously a big fan of the horror movies of the era and this is all too apparent in his meticulous eye for detail. With superb production design by Courtney Sandifer, plus atmospheric cinematography from John Hale, Sumrall has made a late Eighties slasher that feels more authentic than plenty of actual late Eighties slashers!
He doesn't just make a fun throwback, however, the film works in its own right. Every scene with Shepis carries some weight (especially those she shares with Baldwin), while the teens have their moments, not least the AWESOME Sacreligious Desecration massacre scene.
With laughs, frights and pathos, Sumrall manages to display a surprisingly wide range to his directorial talents. If this is truly the worst film in his Pick-Axe Murders trilogy, I look forward to seeing his skills develop in the subsequent offerings.

THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): I was assured that the version of the film I watched was unfinished and required further work in post, including visuals, sound (including ADR) and some effects work. As such I'll simply acknowledge there was a little work to be done there (but surprisingly little to be honest), but I wholeheartedly believe that any wrinkles will be well and truly ironed out by the time any of you get the chance to watch the movie.
On the content side, slasher films, particularly the more campy fun ones, often rely on blood, guts and gore (along with plentiful bare flesh) to keep audiences on side — sadly, the one area in which PAMIII fails to replicate the films it so yearns to ape is the classic Savini-esque gore quota. It has a couple of decent gore gags, but for the most part the kills are all pretty tame with at least one fairly major death occurring offscreen. 
The flick very nearly claws it back during the concert sequence, but ultimately, when it comes to the red-stuff, Pick-Axe Murders Part III underwhelms.
However, one area in which it doesn't hold back is in the boobs and butts region. There is a massive amount of nudity in this flick. Like, 90% of the cast disrobe at one point or another. Some may find this gratuitous, but this was very much a part of the Eighties slasher movement. In its attempts to homage that particular genre PAMIII inherits its many flaws. 
Another such flaw was the use of some characters who serve little purpose other than to bulk up the bodycount. As much as I loved the scenes with the always wonderful Keefer Barlow, Lyndsey Case and the surprisingly good Shawn Hernandez (of TNA wrestling fame), they were pretty much a fun distraction and contributes  little to nothing meaningful to the development of the story. However, Hernandez's confrontation with Black did lead to one of my favourite gags in the film. Equally, perhaps a little too much time is spent with the proprietors of Lou's Gas & Gulp, Lou and Bonnie, played by Governale and Byrns. While these are fun and accomplished performances, it doesn't help that other characters feel a little shortchanged when it comes to screentime. Obviously more Baldwin and Shepis could only be a good thing, but it also feels like more could have been done with McKenzie's Caroline and, especially considering her role at the beginning of the movie, Michelle Ellen Jones's Dana. Here's hoping that some of those that missed out on screentime this time around get a tonne more in parts 1 and 2.

VERDICT: I love classic slashers like Madman and The Burning, not to mention the bona fide classics like Friday the 13th, so The Pick-Axe Murders Part III was going to have to be every bit as terrible as Sumrall intimated final parts of trilogies can be to lose me. But Sumrall was being modest to the extreme, PAMIII is a brilliant fun flick with some awesome performances (even beyond the obvious greats in Shepis and Baldwin), some killer jokes, plenty of sweet Eighties atmosphere and one hell of a villain in the terrifying Alex Black. If this is the worst film in Sumrall's Pick-Axe trilogy, we have plenty of treats to look forward to in the first two chapters! Get onboard early and be sure to check this out as soon as you can.

Keep an eye on the film's Facebook page for more news on when it'll be available or playing at a film festival near you — and give it a big old Like while you're there!

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Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.

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