America, though relatively young as a nation, still has its fair share of folk heroes and tall tales of fantastic men and weird creatures: Johnny Appleseed, Pecos Bill, John Henry, Bigfoot, the Jersey Devil, the Jackalope, Mothman and Ryan Seacrest. Added to this bunch is the biggest of them all, Paul Bunyan, a giant lumberjack with a pet blue ox named Babe. The character originated in folktales among lumberjacks in the northeastern United States and eastern Canada at the end of the 19th Century, and then found more widespread recognition when reworked into a logging company’s advertising campaign starting in 1914. Since then, many children have read about him, and many towns and companies have tried to make a buck off him by claiming to be his original birthplace or be his favourite beer and crap like that.
But to my knowledge, he’s never had a whole movie to himself. And if he has been, I’m sure he hasn’t been portrayed as being as… grumpy as he is in AXE GIANT, from Gary Jones (SPIDERS, MOSQUITO), a movie that shows you don’t have to be SyFy or the Asylum to make crap but fun movies like they do.
The movie opens in winter in 1894, in Minnesota, where a group of lumberjacks led by foreman Bill (GRIZZLY ADAMS’ own Dan Haggerty, who gets top billing in most lists for what will amount to a cameo), who are getting ready after a long day of moving logs and working their choppers (yes, I’m gonna go a bit Benny Hill on this one, folks, so strap yourselves in) to feast on the most massive piece of meat roasting over a pitifully small fire; there’s gonna be food poisoning with that undercooked meat, I tell ya! Foreman Bill goes off to the outhouse… and returns to find the lumberjacks and their women all slaughtered, so I guess the food poisoning scare was a bit unnecessary. Sorry.
A man appears, with a face only a motherfucker could love, and an axe to grind, and though looking no bigger than Haggerty, scares Grizzly Adams enough to chase him into the nearby sawmill, and cutting up our hirsute hero in half like a silent movie heroine. And the first thing you’ll notice is that the gore is plentiful. And animated. It’s CGI, but it looks cartoonish, but fortunately it’s quick enough that maybe you won’t mind.
We then fast forward to the same area in the present day. Sergeant Hoke (Thomas Downey, SORORITY PARTY MASSACRE) from the Minnesota Department of Corrections is going to take one of those ragtag bunch of “juvenile” delinquents that you only see in the movies on an expedition to the woods to rehabilitate them. And of course Sgt Hoke is one of those drill sergeant wannabees who comes up with nicknames for his charges like “Prairie Dog”, “Happy Hour” and “Chicken Little”, and when he tells you to jump, you will ask How High, maggots! Accompanying him is a social worker (Kristina Kopf, ETERNAL), and of course Sgt. Hoke has no time for her liberal wishy-washy crap, but since this is a mixed group (as we will see later when one of them gets her top off for a few seconds)…
The “kids” are the usual mix (a nerd hacker, the bad ass Latina chica, the young girl whose father happens to be a local sheriff and I’m sure that won’t be relevant later, will it?). Hoke and the Social Worker take them into an isolated part of the woods, where they’re watched by local crazy guy Meeks (Joe Estevez! Hi Joe, whaddya know?) as Hoke puts them through the usual boot camp paces (to his credit, though, Downey doesn’t make the character too much of an a*****e, and at times even comes across as self-deprecating.
Meanwhile nearby, we see a bear sneak up on a deer, which seems oblivious to him (maybe coz he’s CGI). But the bear is himself oblivious to the giant man sneaking up on him (maybe coz they’re all CGI!) and breaking his neck. And the giant man (Chris Hahn) is GIANT, as in twenty feet tall and weighing several tons. How the hell do these animals not hear this elephant-sized creature stomping through the forest?
Anyway, while being bored, one of the kids finds a charred circle with some bones, and a huge curved ox horn. He brings it back to the others, hoping to turn the hollow item into a bong, and as the wind races through the horn its sound alerts our mammoth friend, who hasn’t gotten any prettier with age, and begins chopping and slicing his way through the group who have desecrated the remains of old bovine friend. Who will survive, and what will become of them?
AXE GIANT is fast-paced (though it does take about 30-40 minutes before we start seeing more body parts flying), bloody, dopey fun. It’s an insanely silly premise but is at least original. They even try to come up with a plausible explanation for the titular creature’s existence (a genetic disorder that prevents his body from knowing when to stop growing and also retards his ageing) and attitude (abused and mistreated Frankenstein monster style by the people in 1894, who then built up a false story of the Big Friendly Giant to keep the tourists coming along). And the creature is given moments that actually really work, where he’s alone in his cave lair, silently cleaning his axe, and Hahn is able to make him sympathetic and yet still dangerous.
The acting is serviceable, carried by Downey and stolen by Estevez, who never did learn to dial it down, did he (for that matter, neither does the director, giving Estevez whole scenes alone where he just chews everything in sight for no good reason, almost as if he wanted to pad out this movie. Hmm…)? As for the effects, well, the quality varies
(as does Paul Bunyan’s size, often from scene to scene). Some work very well (especially if you squint). Others go back to that thing I mentioned earlier, about them looking like hand drawn cartoons. If you can tolerate that, you’ll love this, because you’ll see people chopped in half (through the middle and from top to bottom), beheaded, abused and otherwise manhandled.
In other words, good clean fun.
The trailer is below. The movie itself will be available on DVD in the US on June 18th. Watch it if you love monster movies like I do!
Director: Gary Jones
Plot: 4 out of 5 stars
Gore: 7 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Derek “Deggsy” O’Brien. The D is silent. And is really a smile that’s been turned on its side. Awww…