When they have a subject that inspires them, Severin Films can do amazing work. The latest example of this is their blu-ray special edition of Axe and Kidnapped Coed. Not only does it rescue these two deserving films from out-of-print DVD oblivion, it gives them a strong hi-def makeover and a Criterion-level barrage of extras that extends all the way to a bonus soundtrack CD.
Things start swimmingly with new transfers for both films. Both look pretty impressive, offering levels of color and detail the old Something Weird DVD couldn’t get near. These films are also transferred at a 1.78:1 ratio for the first time here. Lossless version of the original mono soundtracks for each film are included and both do well by the simple mixes, adding some nice depth to the synth-layered musical scores.
Severin has also stacked on as many extras as a dual-layer blu-ray can support. It all begins with commentary tracks for both films featuring writer/director Frederick Friedel, camera assistant Phil Smoot and makeup artist Worth Keeter. It’s a reunion for all three and they offer up a variety of shoot memories, details on cast and locations and fond thoughts of learning their craft on the job. Friedel is tough on his own work but appreciates the experience of making these films. All in all, you get a nice perspective on what making a regional horror film in the ’70s was like.
This disc also sees the debut of Bloody Brothers, a composite feature that Friedel edited together from both movies. The initial motivation for this was to reclaim some lost profits from his work but it’s actually an interesting exercise in crosscutting that works surprisingly well and makes the most of Jack Canon’s pair of effective yet different performances in the two source films. Stephen Thrower provides a commentary track for this re-edit: as usual for Thrower, it’s a thoughtful and insightful combination of historical details and critical analysis. It complements the other two commentary tracks nicely.
And that’s not all for the extras. Next up are a pair of excellent, in-depth featurettes. “At Last… Total Terror” runs 62 minutes and covers the production of both films, their distribution troubles and their eventual rediscovery. Friedel, Smoot and Keeter all play a vital role here, even revisiting several locations to share fun production anecdotes. Thrower pops up to discuss how he sought out Friedel for his classic tome Nightmare U.S.A., which started a chain of events leading to the rescue and remastering of the films. Along the way, you also get intriguing portraits of indie genre figures like Pat Patterson and Harry Novak. It’s a captivating segment, both for its exploitation flick history and the cautionary tale it offers for indie filmmakers.
The other segment is a 38-minute piece entitled “Moose Magic” and is devoted to George Newman Shaw and John Willhelm, the duo who composed the scores for both of Friedel’s films. These two gifted musicians died in a car accident shortly after working on the soundtracks so this retrospective piece collects their family and friends to pay tribute to their lives. The resulting segment paints a touching, sometimes witty portrait of a pair of friends who balanced each other out and became ace musicians along the way. Friedel also appears to discuss how Shaw transformed a sound recording job on Axe into doing both scores and there are plentiful clips of the two musicians playing their complex jazz songs. Overall, this piece is the unexpected but welcome surprise amongst the extras.
Thrower returns near the end of the extras for a nine-minute piece offering his thoughts on Friedel’s work. His literate comments make interesting points about Friedel’s enigmatic, visuals-driven storytelling approach and how the tyro filmmaker turned his lack of experience into a virtue with his unorthodox storylines. The blu-ray extras are rounded out by a trailer gallery that includes theatrical, t.v. and radio spots. You get to see the multiple titles and marketing approaches, all of which are geared towards the drive-in audience.
This set closes out with one final, jumbo-size extra in CD form: it collects the Shaw/Willhelm scores for both films and also several of the original songs by this duo that appear in the “Moose Magic” featurette. It’s a nice tribute to the legacy of two composers who deserved more time to create.
In short, this is an excellent special edition that will delight anyone who devoured the tales of indie horror in Nightmare U.S.A. Severin Films and Stephen Thrower are a team made in obscure genre-flick heaven and their collaboration here is one of the best cult movie blu-ray releases of 2015.
To read Schlockmania’s film review of Axe, click here.
To read Schlockmania’s film review of Kidnapped Coed, click here.