An affable lumberjack and his discolored bovine pet receive character makeovers in an independent creature feature that gets a weeklong run at Zinema 2.
"Axe Giant: The Wrath of Paul Bunyan," directed by Gary Jones, opens at 9:05 p.m. Friday as part of a tour through Minnesota that included a screening in Minneapolis, and will make a stop in Winona in addition to other possible dates. The movie, by Kinetic Filmworks, won the audience award for Best Picture and a Best Writing award at the Shockfest Film Festival in Hollywood.
This Paul Bunyan is a different take on the legendary character claimed as a regional figure in Minnesota, Michigan, Canada and the Northeastern part of the country. According to more than 100 years of lore, it took five storks to carry Paul Bunyan as an infant. His footprints created the Great Lakes. He personally dug out the Grand Canyon.
This movie version plays on that but adds heartbreak to the backstory. Then things get gruesome.
Consider this: If you've seen an ax split a log, you should see what it can do when it connects with the part in a teenage girl's hair.
The concept was born of a brainstorming session with Jones' writing partner, Jeffrey Miller.
"What about Paul Bunyan? He's got an ax and he's killing people and he's big," Jones said in a phone interview. "I kept thinking how I could turn it into a big creature movie."
The plot centers on four teenage first offenders who trade in jail time for a military-style camping trip in the Minnesota woods with a barking, snarky sergeant and a talk-it-out counselor.
One of the kids, a pretty-boy drug dealer, finds an oversized animal horn and shoves it into his backpack as a keepsake. Zack doesn't realize that he has messed with the grave of Paul Bunyan's sidekick, Babe the Blue Ox. The ox was killed years ago, but it's fresh pain for the big bad Bunyan man.
This new slight fuels an ax-swinging rampage.
Entire logging camps will be dismantled and bodies will be sliced mid-torso through the course of the film. Meanwhile, there is a crazy bearded recluse played by Joe Estevez, younger brother of Martin Sheen, according to IMDB.com, who knows more than just the family-friendly legend of Paul Bunyan.
Jones and Miller weren't looking to turn a flannel-shirted woods stalker into the striped-shirted, sharp-taloned Freddie Krueger from Elm Street or the goalie-masked Jason of "Friday the 13th." They wanted a bad guy with a tortured soul -- someone audiences could be sympathetic toward.
"Like the King Kong angle," Jones said. "How he's been wronged, and he's just lashing out."
The 90-minute movie has a low-budget, campy horror aesthetic helped along by Jones' retro special effects. This is the director's specialty. He is also behind the movies "Spiders" and "Mosquitos" and he has worked with cult horror guru Sam Raimi.
Instead of digitally creating the film's bloodier moments, Jones worked with a giant Bunyan costume, miniaturized people models and a green screen.
"It's a throwback to the old-style monster movies," he said. "The way it would have been done in the 1950s or '60s -- '80s or '90s."
"Axe Giant" hasn't had many mainstream reviews yet, but movie bloggers have begun posting opinions ranging from "It's nice to see a movie like 'Axe Giant' get a chance to be seen on the big screen' (clevelandmovieblog.com) to "You rarely see this kind of genre film made today with so much care" (Film Radar) to "It's an entertaining slice of schlock, good for a few giggles and some handsome creature feature craftsmanship. However ... (it) isn't the runaway mine cart viewing experience the title promises" (Blu-Ray.com).
Meanwhile, Lois Moon has no intention of seeing the movie.
The Bunyan revision isn't sitting well with one of the owners of Paul Bunyan Land, six miles east of Brainerd.
Moon sent a letter to the filmmakers after watching the trailer.
"I was questioning why they would choose a Minnesota icon for something like that?" she said.
Around her 40-acre seasonal Bunyan-themed destination, the lumberjack is billed as "The huge friendly lumberjack," Moon said. "Capital F on friendly."
The filmmakers responded to her letter and said their Bunyan is a sympathetic character in the movie.
Moon said she isn't expecting fallout from the movie, which is getting a limited first run.
"The people who know who he is ... it's not going to affect it," she said. "The age we're geared to are the younger ones through 10, 11, 12. Is it going to affect our business? Probably not."
Moon might be interested in Jones' plan for a sequel.
He's already written a version in which the lumberjack redeems himself, Terminator-style.
(c)2013 the Duluth News Tribune (Duluth, Minn.)
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