By C. Michael Forsyth
The title of Axe Giant: The Wrath of Paul Bunyan is so spit-out-your-drink funny that when I heard about it, I couldn’t wait to watch what sounded like a horror movie so bad it’s good. Sure enough, the opening scene, set in a logging camp in 1846, is one of the worst ever committed to celluloid. The costumes wouldn’t pass muster in a porn film. Bunyan, attacking the loggers, shows up in what looks like a Halloween mask from a Wal-Mart discount bin and he’s conspicuously smaller than Dan Haggerty as the foreman. Haggerty doesn’t exactly add gravitas to the film. You’re only surprised that he’s still alive and that the dough he raked in from the 1972-74 TV series The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams took so long to run out, he wasn’t forced to resort to a grade Z flick like this before.
But hang on–this is no hatchet job. Despite the 2-star rating it roundly received, the movie turns out to have some good thrills, a dose of humor and enough gore to please any horror fan. I’d categorize it as a guilty pleasure rather than the heap of amateurish garbage the first scene suggests.
More than a century and a half after Bunyan’s bloody rampage, a group of young first-time criminal offenders are escorted into the woods as part of a boot camp. When they make the mistake of messing with the bones of Bunyan’s beloved Babe the Blue Ox, the 20-foot lumberjack takes his revenge. He’s not, as it turns out, the cheerful, gentle giant of America’s tall tales, but a dimwitted, deformed, troll-like monster. If you’ve seen your share of horror flicks, you won’t have trouble sorting out which of the youths will die and in what order. You’ve got your slut, your athletic guy, the black nerd, the virgin, etc. But the parts are quite well played and Thomas Downey is hilarious as the over-the-top-tough Sgt. Hokes, the corrections officer in charge of the ill-fated party.
The monster effects, though hardly state of the art, are effective, whisking me back to those delightfully scary, unreal-yet-real Ray Harryhausen stop-motion creatures I saw as a kid.
The goofy premise of the movie got me wondering about what other American folklore heroes could be rebooted as horror movie villains. John Henry swung a mean sledgehammer and his spirit has plenty of cause to be angry at greedy railroad magnates. I can see him as a Candyman-type, vengeful wraith wreaking havoc on passengers trapped on a runaway train. “BEWARE OF JOHN HENRY: He doesn’t like trains. He doesn’t like trains at all.” Or Johnny Appleseed protecting his groves by any means necessary. The tagline: “Don’t Mess with His Apples.”
ALSO FROM THE AUTHOR OF THIS REVIEW:
Check out the novel HERE.