Axe Giant: The Wrath of Paul Bunyan (2013)
Directed by Gary Jones
Dread Central’s own Mr. Dark screened part of Axe Giant: The Legend of Paul Bunyan at the last Texas Frightmare Weekend and described it in a festival report as “one of the worst things ever shoved into my eyeballs.” And people think I’m one for hyperbole. Knowing that I would eventually be the person to pen a review, he offered me the following words of warning:
“I'm sorry your path in life has led you to this point. May the Lord have mercy on your poor damned soul.”
Mr. Dark clearly hasn’t experienced many truly awful movies in his life. One of the worst movies you’ve ever seen? This wasn’t even the worst movie I saw in the last 72 hours. Maybe I’m just inoculated to what others consider all-time bad, having spent years suffering through the insufferable filmography of Ulli Lommel, a decade’s worth of Syfy original movies, and other horrid works of cinema from the bowels of obscurity. It could be that I know you have to judge b-movies such as this on a curve and be willing to embrace their shortcomings. I know I could sit Mr. Dark down right now and show him some films that would have him begging for another round of Axe Giant in a matter of minutes. Not only is this far from the worst movie I’ve ever inflicted upon my eyeballs, it’s actually somewhat enjoyable and goofy. You just have to be willing to overlook some pretty bad acting, hokey dialogue, crude digital effects, and… Okay, I am willing to concede that Axe Giant might not be a good movie by conventional standards.
The biggest mistake Axe Giant makes is that it takes entirely too long getting to what we’ve come for. Outside of a short prologue, Bunyan doesn’t do much at all (let alone any massacring) for about 40 minutes. I’m all for character development and taking your time setting the stage for the action to come, but nothing any of these dullards said or did amused me. For a short while there I was beginning to wonder if Mr. Dark wasn’t entirely on point. But once Bunyan's wrath gets in full swing, budgetary restraints aside, the mere sight of this giant mongoloid mountain man terrorizing teenagers makes up for it.
This is slasher flick shot like a Syfy Original Movie that could easily have been retitled The Amazing Colossal Hatchet. Imagine if Victor Crowley were 25 feet tall and his weapon of choice was an enormous axe. He doesn’t start out that way. The pre-title sequence flashbacks to the late 1890’s, when human-sized Paul Bunyan axe murders some guys before shoving TV’s “Grizzly Adams” into a computer-generated logging saw. Fast forward to the present, where the long lost son of Animal House’s “Niedermeyer” runs a first-time offenders’ boot camp deep in the woods. Their true offense will be taking a bullhorn from the grave of the only friend Paul Bunyan ever had, Babe the Blue Ox. Sometime during his 100+ years of cave seclusion, Bunyan has grown to such sizable proportions that he now kind of resembles an Incredible Hulk version of Grumpy Dwarf, and, boy, is he grumpy. From here the film becomes Attack of the 50-Foot Wrong Turn, with just a dash of King Kong at the very end.
As mountain hermit Joe Estevez excitedly explains (how rare is it to call Joe Estevez the best actor in a movie?), the real Paul Bunyan was just a mentally-retarded, physically-deformed, backwoods boy shunned by society – much like a certain Hatchet killer. He suffered from an unnamed disease that caused him to look like the lovechild of Victor Crowley and Walder Frey. This disease was also responsible for him seeing the world in funhouse vision, becoming super-sized, and, I assume, still being alive after more than a century. That’s a hell of a disease.
The thing I enjoyed most about Axe Giant is that its maniacal monster is not just a total computer effect. That's almost always the case in Syfy creature features. For all the quibbles about the obvious green screen work and digital trickery, this is still a real person smashing a cabin with his giant axe, chasing a jeep a la Jurassic Park, and dealing with the heartbreak of being rejected by a teenage hooligan who bears a passing resemblance to the girl he had a crush on long, long ago. Robert Kurtzman’s Creature Corps did splendid work on the make-up. Enough to make me wish Jim Henson had created more monsters for R-rated horror movies back in the 1980’s.
If only Creature Corps had been allowed to handle more of the gore effects. Much of the red stuff is computer generated, painfully obviously so. It takes the oomph out of some splatacular kills. I’ve come to accept digital gore in low budget monster movies and I realize the killer here is technically a monster, but Axe Giant’s sensibilities are a slasher movie at heart and digital splatter in slasher movies rarely works. It’s hard to make CGI gore look great even with bigger budgets, and this is a movie already struggling with being more visually ambitious than its meager budget will allow.
The closing credits declare that “BUNYAN WILL RETURN.” If so, first of all, someone better warn Mr. Dark. Secondly, I hope next time around they have a little more money to work with, a little less digital gore to rely on, and don’t take as much time getting to the action. Then maybe, just maybe, introduce a 30-foot John Henry for him to fight. Axe vs. Hammer: it could be the tall tale version of War of the Gargantuas.
2 1/2 out of 5