The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at] I'd love to check out what you got. And check out my book, Chad in Accounting, over on Amazon.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Axe Giant: The Wrath of Paul Bunyan (2013)

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I've had this in my Instant queue for sometime now, and last week I noticed our buddy Moe Porne on my Twitter feed talking about it. I asked him to give me his thoughts when he was done, thinking I might review it, and he told me I'd get a kick out of it, so here we are. As an aside, you can catch Moe on his Drunk on VHS podcast hosted by Couch Cutter, a fine site I used to write for from time to time. 

Axe Giant takes place in the Minnesota wilderness, where a boot camp operator takes some troubled teens to rehabilitate them in lieu of a stint in the pen.  Things go from bad to worse though when one of the little brats rips a horn off an ox skull lying on the ground.  Turns out that skull belongs to Babe the Blue Ox, and Paul Bunyan is an enormous twisted man-child with a penchant for murdering people who desecrate Babe's burial ground.  Now everyone is in for it.

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This one was pretty fun, but its ending was all over the place, which betrayed the proceedings.  There was one thing I had a real issue with that I'll get into in my last paragraph because it contains spoilers.  It was definitely a low-budget schlockfest that worked both as a time killer and a good bad movie night option until that ending, when it kinda wasn't as much fun anymore.  It definitely had those great low-budget touches though, like I loved that they just took a National Forest ranger office or something, slapped new words over the sign, and passed it off as a juvenile detention center.  And Joe Estevez combined with a scant Dan Haggerty added more laughs.  Paul Bunyan himself was a great baddie, and the idea of making him a horror villain was fun too.  As someone who used to watch Maury, I also appreciated the way they made fun of the drill sergeant in the boot camp episodes.  It had a lot of elements like that that worked, and I think even with the bad ending, it might be fun enough to get you to the church on time.  On the other hand, it's not very remarkable, and with all there is to chose from on Instant, maybe not worth it.

Joe Estevez played the crazy local, and I couldn't figure out what to do with him, but the fact that he was Joe Estevez was enough I guess.  He was playing the stereotypical Southern backwoods crazy, even though he was supposed to be from Minnesota.  It's hard to tell if he was just overacting because he's a D-movie actor, or he was doing a spoof on that character from most horror films.  That's the problem with a lot of modern low-budget horror flicks, they try to have this meta-spoof quality to them that insulates them from criticism, because they can say "oh, we were making fun of that kind of thing, we weren't actually doing it."  The Asylum seems to have made a cottage industry out of that, but theirs often work better.  On the other hand, if you don't trust that Estevez was spoofing old horror flicks, and think he was overacting, you can at least make fun of him.

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The Maury boot camp episode has always been the biggest crock to me, and this film really got that right-- which is a reason why I'm inclined to give them a pass on Estevez's character.  I've always seen it as these moron drill sergeants who suffer from a form of Little Man's Syndrome and get off by yelling at defenseless kids.  I remember one when a girl on the show, after being berated by the audience and the drill sergeant while her mom played the innocent victim, said "but my mom is doing drugs with her boyfriend all the time", and the drill sergeant yelled at her "this is about you, not her!"  No, really it's about you being a mental midget Mr. Drill Sergeant, and this movie nailed that with their own drill sergeant, played by Boston's own Thomas Downey.  He was a total jerk to the kids and the counselor, played by Kristina Kopf, who was sent to help the kids.  I kind of wished he'd done it even more, been like the real morons you'd see on Maury, but I guess this was good enough.

If you've been rockin' with me for sometime, you may know I enjoy hiking, and not just any hiking, I like to go up good-sized mountains, hit some steep sections, and really give myself a kick in the pants.  But I'm in good shape, and I enjoy it.  That's why it was funny to see the drill sergeant take the kids on a hike for punishment, and I had to realize that for most Americans, that would be a punishment.  Like the hike I just went on yesterday in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  I had a great time, but it had some long steep sections that would not be a lot of people's idea of fun.  I guess one person's past time is another's punishment.

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As I mentioned above, the end of the film was all over the place, and it started with Paul Bunyan killing one of the kids, Rosa, played by Victoria Ramos.  She's developed as an honorable and just character, who has a young daughter that she wants to regain custody of once she's out of the pen.  The kind of character we want to root for, or at the very least, don't want to see die because she has a young daughter.  Of course the film then decides to off her.  Really?  How mean-spirited can you get?  That's just bad form, and ruined an otherwise fun horror flick.  From there it gets worse, when her friend Marty, played by Cliff Williams, is killed by Joe Estevez in a fit of craziness as Estevez tries to stop everyone else from killing Paul Bunyan.  It was just weird and an out of place way to knock off another character.  It just seemed like the film couldn't figure out how to end things, and the ending is the most important part.

So that's it, and we didn't even get into Martin Kove's son Jesse, who plays one of the kids, or Dan Haggerty as a Grizzly Adams type who runs a logging operation up there in the late 19th century.  It's all kind of hit or miss I guess, and while this has its moments, the ending ultimately kills it for me, but you might not have as much trouble with it.  At least it's on Instant, so it's not much of an investment.

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