Some movies have to be seen to be believed, and while I wouldn’t ordinarily recommend a film as bad as Ax ‘Em, someone else must feel my pain. In fact, I think that every household in the world should own this movie so that the next time you see a film and claim it to be the worst you’ve ever seen, you can pop Ax ‘Em into the DVD player and say, “I stand corrected.” It actually takes talent to make a movie this bad. I mean, really, if you set out to make the worst movie you could, it wouldn’t even occur to you to include some of the gaffes that are in this film. It sucks in every way that a movie can suck — technically, creatively, genetically — and then some:
1) Picture – The first thing that strikes you is how dim and blurry the film is, like you’re watching a DVD on 4X zoom. And from scene to scene, the quality changes — alternately clearing up (relatively speaking) and then returning to fuzzy, as if they shot the film at two different times with two drastically different cameras. Both stink.
2) Sound – The sound quality is the audio equivalent of the picture: muddy, distant and echoed. It’s so muffled, you almost wish you could hear what the actors are saying! Almost. I guess a boom mike wasn’t in the budget. Perhaps that’s for the best, because you know it would’ve appeared in half of the shots.
3) Lighting – See #1.
4) Acting – It goes without saying that the acting is bad, but these “actors” are so amateurish that they constantly speak over one another and can’t resist mugging for the camera, telling jokes and putting on fake accents like they’re putting together an acting reel — just trying desperately to be funny. God, why couldn’t they die in real life?
5) Writing – There’s no story to speak of; just a bunch of students from Maryland’s historically black Morgan State University going to spend some time at a cabin in the woods. (An Amityville rip-off black-and-white flashback that’s supposed to tie into the story only serves to muddle the plot.) All of the characters’ dialogue feels improvised, as they just sit around trying to snap on one another for the whole movie (one scene has literally 5 straight minutes of “yo mama” jokes).
6) Direction – There’s no suspense whatsoever in this film; not even an attempt at a cheap “boo” scare. The killer just casually walks through the door, like, “Hey, how’s it going? Got any Zima?” The first time the students see him, he’s just standing there, fiddling under the hood of their car. He doesn’t even bother to look up as they scream and run away. In another scene, it takes the actors nearly two minutes to walk about 5 feet, with no dialogue whatsoever. Forget them; kill me!
7) Editing – This is where things go from merely disastrous to downright apocalyptic. Scenes fade out in the middle and fade back in for no reason. Other scenes are cut off in mid-dialogue. At one point, the same scene of a girl running into the woods is played twice in a row. At the end of another scene, you can actually hear the director yell, “Cut!”
8) Music – The score plays at wildly inappropriate times, from the over-the-top orchestra music blaring when there’s nothing going on to the generic, homemade hip-hop that drowns out the dialogue. Again, probably for the best.
9) Action – The killer doesn’t stab or slash so much as poke or gently tap: “Um, excuse me; I’m killing you now.”
10) Makeup – Perhaps the least sucky of the elements, only because there’s little need for special effects with so few onscreen kills. Pity.
To give Ax ‘Em some credit, though, I suppose it was fairly groundbreaking at the time; it may be the first modern, straight-to-video, all-black “urban horror” film, setting the (low, low) standard for dozens more throughout the late ’90s and into the 21st century. In the process, it set the formula for the urban horror sub-genre to follow:
Bad movie + good cover art + great distribution + Ebonic title = ka-ching!
Although the DVD was released in 2002, the music (Can you say Chubb Rock?) and fashions (Can you say Cross Colours?) peg this stinker as early ’90s. (Ex-Rap City host Joe Clair’s presence implies 1993-ish.) Ax ‘Em might’ve been entertaining in a campy way if it weren’t so damn pitiful — sad, really. Even sadder is the fact that writer/director Michael Mfume drags his family into the fray, ending the film with a dedication “to the memory of my grandmother Emily Madison 1928 – 1993”. Grandma would’ve been surprised to find out that he hated her this much.