Films Of Frederick R. Friedel, The: Axe/Kidnapped Coed
Released by: Severin Films
Released on: December 15th, 2015.
Director: Frederick R. Friedel
Cast: Leslie Lee, Jack Canon, Ray Green, Frederick R. Friedel, Leslie Rivers, Gladys Lavitan
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Frederick R. Friedel may not be a household name in horror/exploitation circles the way that someone like H.G. Lewis is, but the two films he made – Axe and Kidnapped Coed – have become cult hits over the years, and rightly so. While Friedel’s directorial output is slim, the two movies he made in the seventies, collected on Blu-ray here, at top notch examples of quirky, creative and sometimes genuinely impressive low budget regional filmmaking.
Made in 1974 for twenty-five thousand dollars, Axe begins when a trio of thugs – Steele (Jack Canon), Lomax (Ray Green) and the younger, hippie-ish Billy (Friedel himself) arrive at a hotel. They take the elevator to a higher floor, let themselves into a room and wait. Their two marks show up, and after one of them is killed the other jumps out the window to his death. Now on the run from the fuzz, the three hop into their car and head out into the country. They stop at a convenience store for some food, rough up the poor woman behind the counter, and then wind up at a farmhouse out in the middle of nowhere.
At first they think the place is empty but soon find that a pretty young woman named Lisa (Leslie Lee) lives there with her grandfather (Douglas Powers), a paralyzed man confined to a wheelchair. She makes it quite clear that she doesn’t want them there but they’re not having any of it. They’re going to hide out here for a bit and that’s that. They make her cook for them, but something seems off about Lisa. She’s a little too quiet. That doesn’t stop Billy from falling for her, a fact that doesn’t go unnoticed by his two older cohorts. When Lomax decides, in the middle of the night, that he’s going to have his way with the poor girl she takes matters into her own hands… these guys clearly stopped at the wrong farm house.
Also known as Virgin Slaughter and Lisa, Lisa, this is a briskly paced picture that clocks in at less than seventy minutes in length. It’s a lean, efficient low budget picture that makes excellent use of its primary farm house location to build atmosphere and suspense. Even when the film heads out of doors, which it does occasionally, Friedel still manages to get the most out of the outlaying buildings and creepy wood lots that surround it. The low budget is obvious in spots (the gore effects are clearly just that – effects – though they were good enough to earn this one a spot on the UK’s infamous Video Nasties list) but Friedel gets every penny of his low budget up there on the screen.
The interesting, and at times surprisingly artistic, look of the film is complimented perfectly by the performances. Jack Canon exudes seventies tough guy cool in a way that makes you wonder why he wasn’t a better known actor than he was, while Ray Green (who went on to become a motivational speaker!) plays the older, slightly more unhinged hitman with his own quirky charm. Throw Friedel in as the afro’d bleeding heart of the three and you wind up with an interesting set of characters made all the more interesting by the presence of the beautiful Leslie Lee. Though she’d never act in another film, she makes quite an impression here. She doesn’t have loads of dialogue but is able to say enough with her facial expressions and body language so that she doesn’t really need it.
The second feature, made two years after Axe, once again stars Jack Canon this time as a crook named Eddie Matlock. He decides to kidnap a pretty red haired teenaged girl named Sandra (Leslie Rivers) and after he does just that, hits a payphone to demand the ransom money from her father (never seen on camera but voiced by Friedel). From there, he takes them to a rundown hotel to wait for the drop, but before that happens two gunmen arrive, tie up the kidnapper and then rape the poor girl. Eddie manages to escape and kill the two thugs, after which he grabs Sandra and hits the road.
Away from the scene of the crime, the two get to know one another and soon enough have clearly formed a strange bond that quickly blossoms into an equally unusual romance. There are, of course, plenty of people out there who have no problem whatsoever of getting in the way, however…
Originally intended to be released as The Kidnapper (which explains why it has in the past appeared with a title card inserted over the film makes it read ‘Jack Canon as… Kidnapped Coed’!) this is more of a crime drama than the straight up exploitation picture the Kidnapped Coed title would have you believe. Alternately also known as Kidnapped Lover (which is the title that appears on the transfer for this release) it focuses as much on the actual relationship between Eddie and Sandra as it does the more salacious elements of the film and our two leads handle this aspect of the movie quite admirably. Canon is once again very good here, he brings an earnestness to the part that makes him likeable even if, in the back of your mind, you remember he’s a crook, a man who was willing to put this woman’s life at risk for some easy money. Rivers is also solid in this film, she’s likeable enough and really just cute. It’s hard not to life the two of them in the film, they do very fine work.
Again, as with Axe, the locations and cinematography (both pictures were shot by Austin McKinney who also worked on cult classics like The Love Butcher, Pit Stop, Alien Terror, Galaxy Of Terror and a few others) are top notch. There’s a lot of obvious care put into the look of the film, with some interesting angles and bold use of color frequently standing out and catching our attention. The music also helps create some nice atmosphere here, while a few subplots (one involving Eddie’s aging mother played by Gladys Lavitan) give this one a bit more depth than the title might imply.
Severin presents both films transferred at 1.78.1 in AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfers taken from the original camera negatives. Axe has a bit more print damage than you might want, but it adds to the film’s atmosphere and it’s mainly small scratches and nicks, not massive tears or emulsion marks. There’s a bit of flicker here and there but the colors look great, those very artificial looking blood splatters really pop nicely and skin tones look good. Skin tones can look a little smooth but not too waxy. Kidnapped Coed is in nicer shape, less print damage here but again we notice some really nice color reproduction. Black levels are strong on both features and we get some pretty solid detail and texture throughout each presentation. Compared to the previous DVD editions, each film gets a substantial upgrade.
DTS-HD Mono tracks are provided for both films in English, with both films also getting a German language option (without subs). For older single channel mixes of low budget films, these sound just fine. There are some spots in Axe where the dialogue is a little muffled but the DVD was the same way so this is very likely just an issue with the original audio. Aside from that, there aren’t any problems here and there’s even some noticeable depth to the scores for each film. No subtitles or closed captioning of any kind is provided.
Extras are, in a word, substantial starting with the commentary tracks provided over each film in which Friedel is joined by makeup artist Worth Keeter and production manager Phillip Smoot for some in-depth and genuinely good natured talks. They cover a lot of ground in each commentary, noting how and why the casting decisions were made the way that they were while offering up plenty of information about the cast and crew that were involved in each film. They also talk about the filmmaking scene in North Carolina at the time, the locations that were used for each picture, and the team spirit that existed on set (meaning if you weren’t busy, they’d find something for you to do!). These are fantastic documents of a really fairly obscure regional filmmaking scene of the early seventies offered up with warmth and humor but also with a score of great information. If you want to learn more about these pictures, this is the way to do it.
Given that the film’s had pretty shifty distribution over the years, in the late eighties Friedel decided to recut both pictures into one feature length film called Bloody Brothers with Canon basically playing a dual role. It doesn’t always work perfectly but it’s an interesting idea and Severin have included the full length version of this oddball variant on the disc as well, with an introduction from Friedel explaining his intentions behind this version. Maybe more importantly than that, there’s an optional commentary track from Nightmare USA’s Stephen Thrower available over this version in which he talks about the respective histories of each of the two films that were cut into Bloody Brothers and in which he offers up a ton of information about both Axe and Kidnapped Coed as well. A mix of critical insight and historical analysis this is another interesting and essential addition to this release.
Having said that, if you want to learn even more about Axe and Kidnapped Coed, be sure to check out the sixty-one minute documentary At Last... Total Terror! The Amazing True Story Of The Making Of Axe And Kidnapped Coed! Friedel, Keeter and Smoot are here again but so too is Canon’s widow, some archival interview clips with Green, and a few others. This paints a really comprehensive portrait of the making of each picture, with Friedel starting the documentary off by talking about how, when he learned that Orson Welles hade made Citizen Kane at twenty-give, he gave himself a similar goal. We then learn how he went out and achieved it by securing the financing, getting some help from Pat Patterson (a.k.a. Don Brandon a.k.a. J. G. Patterson the man behind The Body Shop/Doctor Gore) and then going on to cast and the scout locations for the film. They talk about Leslie Lee, the first time actress who had done some modelling (she declined to be interviewed for this) and her presence on the set and they talk about Jack Canon, who really does fine work in both pictures. From there, Friedel talks about following up Axe with Kidnapped Coed, some of the story ideas and then how Harry Novak came in and basically took the pictures from Friedel and company. There’s quite a bit more of course, but watch this one for yourself – it’s worth every second of its running time.
Two additional, albeit shorter, featurettes are also found on the disc. Moose Magic: The George Newman Shaw And John Willhelm Story is a thirty-eight minute long featurette that goes into quite a bit of detail on the history of the two men who composed the scores for our feature attractions. While they’ve both passed on, there are a lot of great interviews with their relatives and a lot of the people they knew and worked with which, when coupled with some great archival footage of them performing live at various venues throughout their careers, makes for a fascinating time capsule. The second shorter featurette is a nine minute piece with Thrower in front of the camera simply offering up an appreciation of the two films and making the case for their importance, their artistry and their historical significance in the annals of oddball American regional exploitation pictures.
Outside of that we get a few different trailers and TV spots for the film, menus, chapter stops and a bonus CD containing the complete score for Axe, the complete score for Kidnapped Coed and a few interesting unused bonus tracks as well. An insert card is included that contains the full track listing for the CD – a nice touch.
The Final Word:
Severin’s Blu-ray release of The Films Of Frederick R. Friedel: Axe/Kidnapped Coed is pretty much the definitive statement on these two pictures. Both films are really strong low budget pictures, both inspired and creative in their execution, worth of re-evaluation – this release is a fantastic way to do just that. The films hold up well, they look and sound quite good considering their origins and the extras do an amazing job of documenting both their respective histories and cultural significance. Don’t miss this one.
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