Ax ‘Em (2002) Movie Review

Black people all over the world have always maintained that if everybody in Slasher movies were black, they would all survive because, the theory goes, black people have more common sense than white folk. This notion is reinforced somewhat by the token presence of at least one black character in Slasher films. According to my own theory, if this particular Token Black Character is sassy enough, he will officially earn the status of Sassy Black Guy, which means his chances of survival has just increased tremendously.

“Ax ‘Em” explores the age-old question of black folk being different from white folk when it comes to machete-wielding maniacs. Oddly enough, according to co-star/writer/director Michael Mfume, there’s not that big of a difference after all. The movie concerns a group of black college students who leave the sanctuary of their urban life for a weekend in the woods. There, they encounter a machete-wielding black man who is, the film’s opening title card tells us, also mentally deficient. (Or retarded to you politically incorrect folks out there.) After a lot of running, mugging for the camera, and 100 versions of, “No way I’m getting killed by no machete-wielding sucker!” half of the characters get killed off and the other half ambush the killer.

First off, “Ax ‘Em” is one of the most visually atrocious films I’ve come across in a long, long time. To be honest, I had trouble concentrating on what was taking place onscreen because I kept trying to figure out how director Mfume could have destroyed his movie’s aesthetics so badly. Movies are usually shot on rolls of film, which are given to a lab to process into working prints, which are then used to “cut” the movie — that is, arrange the shots into a useable state. When all the films are shot, processed, and edited, you have your movie. This is the most basic and traditional process of making a film.

What must have happened with “Ax ‘Em” is this: Director Mfume, in an attempt to save money, had his film rolls processed, but instead of making a working print, made videotape masters. Using these masters, Mfume made copies, which immediately degrades the quality of the movie right there. Mfume then cuts the movie using the videotape dub of the master — using a two-VCR system, one to play back the movie and another to record/edit it. Then, with each copy of the “finished cut”, Mfume must have gone back and re-cut the movie, and each time he had to dub the previous cut into another generation. (Remember what happens when you keep dubbing copies of the same movie, but instead of using the original copy to make your new copy, you dub from the copy of the copy?)

As a result, there are whole sequences in “Ax ‘Em” that just looks horrendous. The scenes are grainy and nearly incomprehensible. Mfume must have either realized what was happening and stopped doing it, or by a stroke of luck didn’t have to keep dubbing other copies over and over. The film constantly cuts between scenes with fairly decent aesthetics to one that looks like someone had stepped on it, ground it into the mud, kicked it around the woods for a couple of weeks, and then processed it.

As a Slasher movie, “Ax ‘Em” is parts comedy and parts camp. The actors have been instructed to act as goofy as possible, which may or may not be a good thing depending on how you approach Slasher movies. If there is one saving grace to the film, it’s this: there is a 10-minute window where the film is really, really funny. In this window, a white female character shows up just long enough to get killed; the funniest thing is that the character keeps tripping for no particular reason as she’s walking through the woods!

The less said about the kill scenes the better. I’m not sure why filmmaker Michael Mfume decided to make a Slasher film in the first place. (Aside from that whole notion of entertaining the prevailing black thought that black characters would act with more common sense than white characters in Slasher films, that is.) The director doesn’t have an inkling about how to film a kill scene, the heart and soul of all Slasher movies. The movie’s idea of kill scenes is to let its lumbering serial killer (a black man who, for some odd reason, bleeds yellow blood?) lumber toward a victim, then cut to the victim laying dead with a big gash on his/her head. The whole thing is just too incompetent for words.

If you ever had a passing thought that characters in Slasher films would survive more often if only they were more like black folk, then “Ax ‘Em” is for you. The film is definitely not much to look at, even by Slasher standards. Despite its slick movie poster, I am tempted to call “Ax ‘Em” an average student film, but even the average student filmmaker has more talent and skill than Mfume shows here. And despite its short running length of 70 minutes, the film is actually only 60 minutes long, with 10 extra minutes consisting of a “dance show” filmed at a black college campus. Can you say, “Padded running length?”

FYI: Despite the title, the serial killer actually only uses an ax once. The title, I suspect, is a play on the Ebonics slang where the word “ask” is replaced by “ax”, as in, “I axed him” instead of “I asked him.” Get it?

Michael Mfume (director) / Michael Mfume (screenplay)

Buy Ax 'Em on DVD