Suggested Audio Candy:
 Antonio Vivaldi “L’inverno”
 Huey Lewis & The News “Hip To Be Square”
The trusty axe has long held a rather exclusive place within the bloody precincts of horror. The woodsman’s favored sidekick may be traditionally used with the purpose of cutting down forestry but numerous horror icons have learned how to swing it with panache. It was Jack Torrence’s preferred tool when hacking through that sturdy door frame, desperate to end his wife’s incessant sniveling, and one can hardly blame him for such urgency. Should I have gained access to such an instrument and been snowed in for months on end with Wendy in a remote location then The Shining would have been a far shorter film.
For me, the money shot has always been the vertical head strike. Nestling into that fleshy spot mid-cranium, the axe becomes a rather effective piece of weaponry when plumping for this one-hit dispatch. It affords respectable leverage and has a trajectory as imposing as your reach, enabling that downward blow to split a head as though an over-ripened honeydew melon with nary a fuss. It’s one of only a handful of weapons with the clout to part a particularly bushy monobrow and is ideal also for individual limb displacement. Many an appendage has been separated from its fleshy origin; whether fingers, arms, legs, or the old top box itself, the axe knows precisely how to get the job done and a few well placed swipes should be enough to make one helluva bloody mess if nothing else.
During the first of Keeper’s A-Z season, I will pay affectionate homage to all manner of butchery from the past few decades; think of it as Sesame Street for deviants and you’ll be in the right ball park although I can’t promise Snuffleupagus. That said, you’ll never get this level of service from Jim Henson Studios. Could you imagine Kermit attempting to lift a hatchet off the ground with those spindly green arms of his anyhoots? It’s just not gonna happen. Instead I shall endeavor to source and discuss the very best dismemberments from within my extensive vaults and adorn these words with some truly heinous screenshots of the very best failed head counts that horror has to offer.
When the word axe is muttered one image pops up into my mind instantaneously – Sean S. Cunningham’s iconic 1980 slasher Friday the 13th. In particular, hapless Marcie in those skimpy white panties leaning towards that ominous drape, revealing the outline of her peachy buttocks and receiving Betsy Palmer’s salutations from beyond the drawn curtain. The axe’s swift greeting was, you guessed it, dead centre of that purty little forehead or what I like to call the Peter Gallagher money shot aka The Monobrow Splitter. I felt rather harshly done by as Marcie decided to split as I had been hoping there was a shower behind that drape.
To this very day, this dispatch still holds up decidedly well and, while we were ushered away to a swinging light at the moment of impact, the aftermath was shown in all its gruesome glory. The Sultan of Splatter, Tom Savini, was, of course, the orchestrator of said imbedding. The image of her slumping back against the cabin partition with a grill full of ground alloy sticks out like a bloody thumb with good reason: Savini was approaching his apex after learning and mastering his art already during the seventies and he was finally being let off his leash a little.
In the happiest of accidents, his uprising coincided with the upsurge of slasher and he replicated the technique once more a year down the line for Tony Maylam’s seminal slasher magnum opus The Burning. The vertical head blow gained another run-out although this time its destination was a tad overcooked as Cropsy’s run was finally ended. The crispy critter had pruned the living shit out of all manner of unhappy campers until that point. Like Edward Scissorhands on a bad acid trip he snipped away with great merriment, attempting to reach out to the cum-crammed adolescents who made the ill-fated downstream paddle to his neck of the woods. Eventually scrawny Alfred buried the hatchet, so to speak, and any hopes for a sequel were regrettably dashed.
Back when the short-lived slasher craze was making headlines, Charles E. Sellier Jr.’s Silent Night, Deadly Night emerged from the long list of hopefuls and caused all manner of controversy. Parents objected to the marketing campaign which took their favorite annual holiday and threw a psychopathic Santa into mix, eventually leading Selier Jr.’s film to be removed from theaters within the first week of its release. It focused on little Billy Jackson, a young boy who took his senile grandfather’s advice a little too literally after watching his parents slaughtered and embarked on a festive death march once he came of age. To be fair, Billy wasn’t overly fussy about his tool of dispatch but the axe certainly received a fair run-out. While the film itself was hardly one of the more accomplished additions to the eighties cycle, it did unfathomably spawn four increasingly insipid sequels, and amass a cult following in the process.
Matt Farnsworth’s world conquering social media savvy slasher, The Orphan Killer, featured a particularly savage dismemberment, a nun no less, as she received recurring digs to the torso from an infuriated cruel choir boy, namely Marcus Miller. Farnsworth held back commendably for most of the scene, choosing to show instead the gleeful executioner’s imposing stance as he repeatedly swung the deadly pendulum, accompanied by the audio of each squelching strike as it landed. However, that final swing of the axe was shown in its full glory as a massive flip of the bird to censors worldwide. Not one to cower from showing the brutality directly resulting from pilfering a young child’s innocence and abusing one’s position within the church, he demonstrated, through his eloquent masked aggressor, such an exclusive understanding of what makes the axe such a vicious implement of dispatch.
Another stellar axe kill came courtesy of Romano Scavolini’s renowned video nasty, Nightmares in a Damaged Brain. This time the donor of doom was a young lad of tender years and this less than chipper chappie decided to partake in a little chop suey after catching his duplicitous father in the act with his brass of choice. X marked the spot for George as he dispatched both of them in turn mid-coitus, saving the telling head split for daddy dearest and what a doozy it was. This scene provided just one of numerous reasons why Scavolini’s film ran into a dash of strife with the incensed censors and, in the UK, the film’s distributor, the late David Grant, actually received jail time for allowing it to slip through the net. It’s laughable when you think about it now but I’m assured that Grant failed to see the funny side.
Our next stump-crafting creation came in the form of Andreas Schnaas’ relatively anonymous 1999 remake of Joe D’Amato’s renowned nasty Anthropophagus: The Beast, mystifying named Anthropophagus 2000. A slutty flame-haired vixen found herself on the receiving end of multiple body blows and Schnaas even had the gall to include a little face-shredding as a brief interlude to any axe-work. A fair share of her face was crudely removed, one presumes for later consumption, as D’Amato’s beast made his fine name from chowing down on unborn fetuses and even his own intestines. The blows were scattered widely across her torso, planted deep into the membrane of her leg, back, neck, and fingers before finding residence on the right side of her face. This low-rent remake was worth viewing for that scene alone as there was precious little other reason to endure it.
Wrong Turn enjoyed two separate occurrences of gruesome mutilation. Rob Schmidt got the ball rolling in style with that glorious panning shot of Carly’s pinned head (mouth upwards) as her lifeless corpse tumbled down into the foliage beneath out of focus. The original may be culpable for pioneering a franchise which soon became decidedly tired but once was certainly a charm, and Carly’s treetop termination was undoubtedly its crowning moment.
Joe Lynch then went one better with his terrific opening dispatch for the amiable Wrong Turn 2: Dead End. Distraught Kimberly looked to have flattened Sloth’s nephew in her sporty hatchback and rushed to survey the damage. However, this was no mere roadkill and instead a dastardly ambush. Whatever possessed this sassy sexpot to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on such a hideous tree licker will forever have me befuddled but, as a result, she became the recipient of a chewed off jaw as the deviant in question reciprocated her kiss of life. Then came the axe and one solitary strike was all that was required to traverse her entire mainframe leaving a pile of giblets which would prove ideal garnish for the subsequent buffet.
A brace of backwards bozos then commenced to drag away individual halves, exhibiting both sheared cross-sections to the viewer with brash intent. To this very day I struggle to think of a more effective use of prosthetics as every detail was replicated, right down to her freckles. Historically kills gain momentum as a film picks up pace but Lynch decided to throw all his eggs into one bloody basket from the offset, creating an exquisite entrée which it had no chance whatsoever of matching.
In Friday the 13th: A New Beginning a woodsman’s axe found sanctuary in the blubbery spine of blathering Joey as Fred Ward’s body double relocated his chopper in the whimpering boy’s spleen for interrupting a fairly innocuous spot of wood cutting. Poor lad never got to finish his candy bar, although any fleeting sympathy was swiftly replaced by uproarious laughter which ruptured from my abdomen soon afterwards as Joey hit the dirt, still clutching his confectionery. Voorhees didn’t even bother showing up for the fourth sequel although I’m assured he would echo the sentiment.
How could I possibly even think of wrapping up without making mention of our man, Patrick Bateman. Mary Harron’s American Psycho is, in my opinion, one of the very finest films of the millennia thus far and Christian Bale’s embittered yuppie effortlessly ranks amongst my top five all-time anti-heroes. The victim in question was fellow high-flyer Paul Allen and the poor inebriated douche just didn’t see it coming despite the newspaper meticulously laid out across the potential splash zone or the fact that Patrick was fastening his raincoat as he prepared for blitzkrieg. I don’t know what was more demented; Huey Lewis & The News as the pop bubblegum accompaniment, or blood spattered Bateman’s sudden transformation into vicious killer as spat the lines “try getting a reservation at Dorsia now, you stupid fucking bastard!” Pure cinematic caviar.
Whether tiny hand-held hatchet or gargantuan battle-axe, there can be no denying that it gets the job done in no uncertain terms. This weapon of mass destruction originally surfaced as far back as 6000 BC although that minus the handle. Here’s to another 8000 years of dismemberment and I, for one, will continue to grind mine daily. It may not be the most accurate or, indeed, the most conclusive if not suitably sharpened and swung, but it’s still a migraine just waiting to happen. Now. who’s up for the chop?
Axes To Grind
I couldn’t allow this moment to pass as the axe is far too majestic a weapon not to provide a little closing firewood with. The following gallery offers just a tantalizing taste of what The True ABCs of Death sequence looks to provide. I could simply carry on waxing lyrical but sometimes it’s better to let your chopper do the talking. You want proof? You can’t handle the proof! Just kidding, here’s my optical homage to my beloved axe. I trust it will sate those insatiable appetites. Don’t make me go all Bateman on you. By the way, that’s a very fine Chardonnay you’re not drinking.