Thursday, 8 January 2015


In less than one month Midnight Releasing's Axe to Grind will go on sale.
I actually watched the film, starring scream queen legend Debbie Rochon as, um, a scream legend called Debbie(!) some time ago, but now is the moment of truth.
Could the movie possibly match up to that wonderful title and the clever meta premise of a disgruntled old-school horror actress gone bad?
Read on...


Dir: Matt Zettell
Starring: Debbie Rochon, Guy Torry, Matthew James Gulbranson, Paula LaBaredas, Michelle Tomlinson, Dani Thompson, Adrian Quihuis, Tony Van Halle, Kelsey Zukowski

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

Following a flashback in which a teen girl is covers that Horror star Debbie Wilkins (Rochon) has been dumped by her long-term partner and film producer Peter Burgess (Gulbranson) for a younger starlet - and to make matters worse he's now cast aside his former muse for younger leading ladies in his pictures. Debbie is not impressed.
Later, Debbie turns up unannounced at the abandoned hospital in which Peter's latest horror flick, Bayou Butcher is being shot by in-demand young director Eddie Wilcox (Torry) and starring a gaggle of nubile pretty young things: bitchy blonde Delilah (LaBaredas), busty Brit (Thompson) and rough, tough Cheryl (Tomlinson). Debbie claims she has a role in the movie and is there on Burgess' behalf.
Despite initial misgivings the crew accept Debbie's story and prepare to start filming. Soon Debbie befriends the creepy, axe-collecting caretaker Norman (Quihuis) and sets about settling her differences with those who have wronged her.
But what fate has befallen Peter... and what fate awaits Debbie's next targets?

BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): This is probably the easiest decision I'll make in some time — Debbie Rochon. Recently I wrote a Sinister Six piece on top scream queens and Rochon featured on the list. I strongly praised her acting ability and once again, she is fantastic. A classy performer, she completely owns her role and is sympathetic and frightening in equal measure.
There is a hell of a lot of eye candy in this film (as attractive casts go, this one is right up there — a strong selling point in itself to some!), yet it is Debbie Rochon who commands the viewers' attention.
Excellent work from an excellent actress.
Of course, she isn't the only cast member to impress. I was a big fan of Quihuis's turn as Norman, his Perkins-like performance was suitably over-the-top and great fun. I also want to praise Tomlinson and also the very cute Zukowski as the young Debbie. Great work ladies!
I particularly loved the clever premise of the film — the self-aware story (a horror movie starring a celebrated scream queen that covers the making of a horror movie) offers Scream-like entertainment levels. It pokes some gentle fun at the industry, depicting those involved in the filmmaking process as a dysfunctional group of misfits and prima donnas. Tongues are well and truly lodged in cheeks at times and the bleak humour often hits the spot. As an aside, I loved the throwaway line explaining why a movie called Bayou Butcher is being filmed in an abandoned inner-city hospital. A simple gag that really made me chuckle!
The non-linear storyline also really spices up the film, throwing numerous flashbacks into the mix that build towards a quite surprising twist in the latter stages of the flick. I’m a sucker for this kind of thing and loved the way that the very talented Zettell used them.
Zettell’s work is definitely worth some discussion. Axe to Grind is wonderfully shot, it’s capably filmed, edited and presented and driven by an assured hand and clear vision. Well done, sir.
Finally, kudos must go to whoever actually tracked down a genuine abandoned hospital as a filming location. Sets can only be dressed so well, especially with a limited budget, so finding this creepy setting was a real coup. It is brilliantly utilised and makes for some excellent set pieces and atmosphere.

WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): I think the biggest problem I had with Axe to Grind was that it often failed to fulfil its own potential. The premise really does lend itself to some incredible satire, not just of the movie industry but of the nature of fame and vanity among those who perform for a living. The film does touch on these but never offers the level of cutting examination it could.
The film also has the potential to be a high-camp grindhouse romp, full of bad-taste humour and horribly OTT poetic murder sequences. Unfortunately, after some superb splatter effects in the flashback sequence, the remaining kills are surprisingly gore-free. There are a few moments in which the film gets close to attaining those levels of camp fun, plus some decidedly dark revelations later on in the script, but this is actually where Axe to Grind has most of its comic misfires. A case in point would be the partying scene on the cast’s first night in the hospital. The one-liners are a bit stilted and the characters just prove a little irritating during a sequence which feels like it drags on for far too long. It isn't helped by the stereotypical writing for Torry’s Wilcox. He‘s a talented guy but I felt like some of the dialogue penned for him really hindered his performance. Oh well, c’est la vie.
Actually, while we’re discussing the acting it is worth mentioning the double-edged sword that is landing an actress with Rochon’s ability — much like Bill Oberts Jr’s work in Deadly Revisions, she is constantly firing on all cylinders so her co-stars need to be on top of their game at all times to hang with her. Sadly, every now and then a couple of cast members don’t quite match up to Rochon’s admittedly very lofty heights. However, this isn’t a problem that ruins your enjoyment of the film and it feels a little rude to find faults with the film because one of the cast is so brilliant!
Finally, the incredible location could have lent itself to a legitimately frightening horror move. The set is atmospheric but rarely if ever truly scares. Perhaps that is Axe to Grind’s only true flaw — it could be so many things, yet by trying to be too many at once it never quite hits its true potential in any one field.

VERDICT: I may have come across as quite harsh while critiquing Axe to Grind and feel it is important to state that it is most definitely NOT a bad movie. When you add in the delightfully camp and clever premise, the impressive set and the always wonderful Debbie Rochon, you get a film that is more than worth your time and money. I’d actually love to see a sequel (and the film offers several routes which sequels could take) that continues the story while addressing the few issues in this film. 
In short, I recommend Axe to Grind as a great fun movie, one that offers humour, frights and plenty of great moments and quotable, witty dialogue. It won't win any oscars, but it will earn plenty of fans. What more can a low budget genre flick wish for?

Axe to Grind will be released on 3rd February, so do check it out. While you’re waiting, visit the official Facebook page, give it a like and help spread the word. These guys and girls definitely deserve our support.

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Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.

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