I only managed to do one Slasher Search entry in October of ’22, SAVAGE LUST a.k.a. DEADLY MANOR. In that review I mentioned that I didn’t know if there was much of anything left that fit the qualifications I was looking for in a Slasher Search title: a slasher or slasher-esque movie, preferably from the subgenre’s heyday in the ‘80s, that has never had much of a reputation or been rediscovered. Over the years I’ve mostly found these by looking at the dwindling number of titles that are still only available on VHS, but Arrow, Vinegar Syndrome and other great blu-ray labels have diminished that pool even more than I have myself.
I’d like to thank everyone who encouraged me to continue the series in some form, even if it meant changing the type of titles I cover. I’m happy to hear that there are people besides me interested in spelunking through the splatter, so I’m gonna take your advice. Today I’d like to share with you a selection of no-name slashers of the 2000s I tried out.
I’ll start with the one I got the most out of: AXE (2006), a.k.a. AXE – KILLER BIKER GANG, a.k.a. GREED. It is not a remake of AXE (1974), a.k.a. LISA, LISA, though I believe both have people being terrorized by fugitives. This one starts out pairing decent atmosphere with the narrative bluntness of a porno: a couple is making out outdoors on a car seat next to their trailer, the radio they’re listening to reports that there’s been a prison break, they joke about it for a minute, and just then the escaped prisoners in question walk right up to them.
The larger prisoner, named Ivan (no last name given) but better known as “The Axe Man” (Tim Sitarz, ALEX CROSS) uses the smaller one he’s chained to as a human shield, borrows a machete to chop off the guy’s hand and unburden himself of the weight, and enters the trailer to do some sort of off camera activity that splashes blood around. A little later a woman stopping on the side of a road to pee will discover dead bodies exactly as a related news bulletin plays on the radio. And of course almost any time a TV is on in this movie it’s exactly as a report on this crime spree comes on.
Our heroines are two friends, Raven (Darlene Tejeiro, STARSKY & HUTCH) and Ashley (Andrea Bogart, “Drug Rep,” SIDE EFFECTS), who are riding dirt bikes together to go on a climbing trip. They stop for “some cold ones” at a roadhouse called The Vault, where they have a nice conversation with the bartender (Jason London, THE RAGE: CARRIE 2), who they think is cute. Unfortunately some sleazy bikers led by T.J. (Thomas Crnkovich, SGT. KABUKIMAN, N.Y.P.D.) start harassing them, and it escalates to a fight and motorcycle chase (with lots of gratuitous jumps). At the end of it Raven and Ashley no longer have motorcycles but, on the positive side, have picked up a bag full of money one of the bikers was carrying. Being on foot far from civilization, they stay the night at a motel called the Fairweather Inn that’s completely vacant except for the night manager Doug (Stephen Ferguson).
There’s also a plot about FBI psychiatrist Dr. Margret Levinthal (Fiona Loewi, NATIONAL LAMPOON’S SENIOR TRIP) who’s in town to search for The Axe Man and say stuff like “He’s… extraordinary. It’ll take an army of men to capture him.” She drives around with Sheriff Powell (Nathan Anderson, “F-18 Pilot,” GODZILLA), so she’s basically the Dr. Loomis character, except she immediately pulls over so the sheriff can fucker her up against her car on the side of the road, which, unless I’m misremembering, Loomis and Brackett never did. Another difference is that the sheriff stops to pistol whip some guy and yell about “I want my cut of the 300 grand.” ACAB.
The bikers track the ladies to the Fairweather, but the day manager Ned (Joe Goodrich, MONSTER MAN) won’t give them up, so it turns into a shootout and another chase. During the chase the Axe Man kills T.J., and maybe that should be the end of it, but Ned runs over the Axe Man and leaves him for dead, so now they have a way worse person chasing them.
And not only him. Nice guy bartender Robert meets up with them at the motel (he knows Ned) and hits it off with Raven. But when he finds out they have the money suddenly he’s holding knives to throats and kicking them in the stomach. This is all very straight-faced, but there’s a retro-exploitation vibe to it with the heroines casually walking around in bras, multiple characters randomly hooking up, and virtually every man being a secret (or not-so-secret) bad guy. I think the only man who’s not a piece of shit is Doug, whose main character trait is that he watches slasher movies at night to relax, so – good for him.
It quickly became evident that this feels way more like an action movie than horror, but we do have this grunting serial killer who leaves quite a trail of bodies, and his primary weapon is an ax. So it counts. It’s a fun idea that the treacherous/handsome bartender is manhandling Raven and Ashley trying to get the money but then runs into the serial killer and has to fend for his life. In maybe my favorite moment, Ashley gets ahold of a gun and shoots Ivan as he’s hovering over Robert with the ax. Robert is relieved and says “I owe you one” but then she shoots Ivan again and he falls ax-first onto Robert. Whoops. Sorry ‘bout that.
In the slasher tradition, Ivan somehow survives the shooting, gets up and continues the chase. But because this is action-horror, that means he gets on a
moped four-wheeler and chases after their commandeered station wagon, swinging the ax at them! The action here isn’t crisply shot or anything – in UNIVERSAL SOLDIER terms it’s closest to THE RETURN – but it’s all practical, real people in real vehicles driving fast and swerving around. I respect it.
Eventually they spin out and have to take off on foot again and, wouldn’t you know it, they find themselves free-climbing up a rock wall. Oh yeah, this was supposed to be a climbing trip! I like that.
AXE is the only movie from director Ron Wolotzky, but he was producer of that HBO show Dream On and directed 12 episodes. I can’t give this movie a high recommendation, but it’s an above-average version of this kind of b-movie in this era. It’s not winking at you, but it’s certainly not taking itself too seriously, it moves around to different locations at a swift pace, and it understands the cinematic potential of a big bald guy on a moped swinging an ax. More movies should explore that issue, honestly.
Unfortunately, just having an axeman on a four-wheeler drive by in the background would be better than anything that happens in the other movies I’ll be covering today. One reason I’ve previously avoided this era is the advent of digital video. The democratization it provides has a downside in that it makes it much more affordable and accessible to make an unbearably dull piece of shit horror movie. I also have a personal aesthetic preference for shitty movies shot on film. They seem more like a real movie than shitty movies shot digitally. And if it was done 35 years ago instead of 15 it’s more likely to be a laugh instead of boring.
So I’m gonna call the rest of these…
The Discard Pile
THE 7TH HUNT (2009) is Australian and seemed like it might be kind of fun because it has a goth main character and a bunch of very aughts computer stuff (she online-chats with a guy and teases over a webcam). But it’s immediately worrying with its amateurish onscreen text and montage-of-headlines-backstory (apparently there was a torture scandal at a school, referred to as an “Inquisition”?)
It turns out to be about a rich family with a very organized operation choosing people to stalk, kidnap, and then torture and/or hunt, mostly in a visually boring abandoned building. It’s kind of funny how openly evil they are – the dad brags that he’s untouchable because he’s “counselor to over 50 top cops.” He says, “30 victims, and the police don’t have a clue.”
This does seem fairly ambitious for its budget as far as having different settings and types of characters. For example one of the killers is a snobby hot lady in a nice Asian dress who does “kung fu shit,” so that’s better than just some dude. Unfortunately not just the ladies-tied-up-screaming-in-dank-basements but the overall tone, pacing and sound of this thing just seemed painfully slow and unengaging, and I had to turn it off. Sorry, 7TH HUNT.
IMDb also lists a 2021 movie co-directed by the same guy, called THE HUNT and with seemingly the same cast. Could be a remake, but one of the reviews describes it as looking like it was filmed in the ‘90s and mentions old phones being used, so I’m betting it’s one of those re-edits of old footage. I’m afraid I won’t be watching that one either.
SLAUGHTERED (2010) is another Australian one, this time from writer/director Kate Glover, and it has a pretty cool idea: it takes place at a pub over a couple nights, with a mysterious creep in a weird mask with glass shards coming out of it stalking the staff and regulars around the bar. The lead actress Chloe Boreham (“French Girl #2,” WOLF CREEK 2) is pretty good, but overall it’s just one of those very digital looking, very amateur-actor-feeling movies that I couldn’t buy into the reality of. If you’re gonna set a movie entirely in a bar and you’re gonna have the music turned down lower than the dialogue the whole time it’s gonna be very hard to feel immersed, I’m afraid. That just not feel like an actual bar.
But I do really like the idea of a horror movie populated with people who are bonded by working a service job together, and who are on the clock during most of the horror. It’s anybody’s guess who the killer would be because they’ve dealt with so many weirdos. Best part: somebody’s beer looks like it has blood in it, so they run down to the cellar and sure enough the tap is hooked up to a dead body.
I don’t know why they chose such a generic title. I was trying to think of a better one and I came up with BLOODTAP, PINT OF BLOOD, BEER FEAR, LAST CALL, and LAST MAUL. Then I discovered that the working title was SCHOONER OF BLOOD. Okay, I can see why they didn’t stick with that one, but at least it gave you an idea of what the gimmick was. Respect the gimmick, it’s the main thing you have going for you!
update: Thanks to Gary Anderson in the comments for explaining, “‘Slaughtered’ is Aussie slang for being shitfaced drunk.” Okay, I take it back. That is the best title!
TRAIL OF BLOOD (2011) is one I never heard of that has an official Master of Horror vouching for it – it’s released as “Joe Dante Presents TRAIL OF BLOOD,” and Dante may have been involved in setting it up, not just distributing, since his boy Robert Picardo (THE HOWLING, EXPLORERS, INNERSPACE, AMAZON WOMEN ON THE MOON, THE ‘BURBS, GREMLINS 2, MATINEE, THE SECOND CIVIL WAR, SMALL SOLDIERS, Masters of Horror: Homecoming) has a supporting role in it as a scary FBI agent.
It’s about a group of twentysomething friends who go on a camping trip together. They’re all pretty interchangeable bros and their girlfriends, and the actors are natural enough at whoo-hoo-ing and shotgunning beer that I hoped I would forgive their lack of personality, but as soon as things get dramatic it becomes clear that this cast is not at an advanced enough level to sell this dialogue, and the tone is too serious for that not to be a dealbreaker.
One of the girls notices her boyfriend has been secretive about something before the trip, and is convinced he bought a ring and is about to propose to her. But when he tells her they need to talk he doesn’t get down on one knee – he tells her proudly that he signed up for the Marines, as if she’s gonna think it’s great news. When she’s like “What the fuck!? Why would you do that?” he gets defensive and says he’s “trying to become the kind of man you deserve.” Immediately after this – like, a minute later – his friend finds a bunch of blood and says they need to leave, so he seizes the opportunity to play big bad Marine and say, “We need to assess the situation.”
So they investigate, and sure enough there are some dead campers. Suddenly a couple a little more grown up than them pop out and hold them at knife and gunpoint. For a while they believe that it’s a misunderstanding and that the couple think they’re the ones who killed these people, until they figure out that yeah, obviously, these psychos are the ones that did it. So then it’s a hostage situation, some rapiness, some trying to reason with them, trying to play psychological games with them, etc. Meanwhile, two FBI agents are searching for a dangerous rogue soldier. (Okay, that sounds like it’s gonna be a twist where the guy they’re looking for is not who we assume, but no, it’s just this guy holding them captive, “The Marine,” played by Trevor Torseth, LAKE DEAD).
He’s called The Marine because early on the main kid Jim sees a tattoo on him and says, “You’re a Marine? I’m a Marine too.” The guy is skeptical, and Jim really seems to believe he has the right to go around identifying as a member of this group he just signed up for. He’s like a guy who signs up for a marathon and goes around bragging about being a marathon runner before he even does it. I’m sure his friends would all be horribly embarrassed for him if not fearing for their lives.
The Marine gives him all kinds of macho talk, sometimes berating him, sometimes acting like he’s mentoring him, “I was like you once” type of shit. He makes him do the ALIENS knife between the fingers trick. He has all kinds of generic tough guy dialogue like “You’re gonna be a real popular boy in prison” and calling a male friend “your boyfriend” and also he asks him stuff like “You ever stare into the eyes of death?” Whoah, that’s deep stuff, man. A real poet of the battlefield.
There is something interesting to explore here with a young doofus feeling he can only be a worthy “man” by joining the military, but this is very surface level, stereotype-based and unconvincing. I don’t know what the backgrounds of the actors are, but most sound like they’re trying to do southern accents, and they don’t sound right to me. There’s also a scene where some pretty normal looking hunters are cartoonishly racist, so they put fuckin banjo music coming out of their car radio to make sure you understand they’re hillbillies.
I can’t fault the filmmaking too much – just low budget digital shot in the woods shit. Not exciting, but competent. I did notice one instance of directorial flair, when Picardo’s character comes to the murder scene and as he describes what he thinks happened we see it happening around him. Like when Torretto investigates the car crash in FAST & FURIOUS.
Otherwise about the most original thing is not necessarily good – (spoiler) it has a totally nihilistic ending where his girlfriend dies so he commits suicide by FBI! Would be a bummer if I was invested.
Well, hopefully by next Halloween season, if not sooner, I’ll figure out how to fine tune a new approach to Slasher Searching, and I’ll come up with some better ones. But before that I will have at least one more of the traditional type, a semi-amusing VHS find about (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) an escaped mental patient. I hope they catch him!