Blood Rage (1987) – By Roger Carpenter

 

Made at the height of the slasher craze in 1983 but not released until the tail end of that same craze in 1987, Blood Rage had the bad luck to (finally) arrive on screens just a bit too late to become a sleeper hit in the slasher genre. This delay in releasing, coupled with an extremely limited release (it apparently only played in Florida and Texas), helped the film sink into obscurity.

Filmed mostly in Jacksonville, Florida, on a shoestring budget, the film was not only crippled by a limited and delayed release, but also by production problems, having to shut down at one point when the director resigned mid-film (he eventually came back to finish the film).

Blood Rage is a fairly typical 1980’s slasher film that has become something of a cult film due to its obscurity as well as its reputation for being censored due to extreme gore. Bootlegged around the world, the film has finally been released uncut by Arrow Films.

The plot revolves around twin brothers, Todd and Terry (both played by Mark Soper). It’s 1974 and the twin’s mom has taken them to the local drive-in theater and put them to sleep in the back of the family station wagon while she makes out with her boyfriend. While Maddy (Louise Lasser) is getting it on with her boyfriend, the two boys sneak out the window. Terry finds an axe in the back of a pickup truck and summarily chops a teenager’s face off when the guy yells at Terry for peeking at him while he’s having sex with his girlfriend. Todd, the sensitive twin, is horrified to paralysis and Todd uses this to his advantage by smearing his bloody hands on Todd’s face and blaming him for the murder.

Fast forward to many years later. It’s Thanksgiving and Todd has escaped from the insane asylum in which he’s been locked up for a decade. While everyone is nervous at the escape, and the local psychiatrist and her aide is running around trying to locate Todd, Maddy and her friends and family try to have a normal Thanksgiving dinner. Perhaps showing her naiveté, Maddy tries to over-compensate for the bad news about crazy Todd by announcing at dinner her forthcoming marriage to her longtime boyfriend. But unbeknownst to Maddy, Terry is the actual killer and the asylum escape coupled with the marriage announcement pushes Terry over the brink and he begins to kill again.

Blood Rage is your typical low-budget 1980’s slasher film. Cut for distribution and retitled Slasher in the U.S. and Nightmare at Shadow Woods for television, this is classic slasher fare. Holiday theme? Thanksgiving–check. Somewhat of a name star for recognition? Louise Lasser–check. Pretty bad acting? Check. Pretty teenaged girls with really bad hair? Check. Glossy, colorful look that simply screams 1980? Check. Super bloody effects that get cut for an R-rating? Check. So this film has it all.

Thanksgiving is actually played down a bit. The location is Jacksonville, so the grass is still green and leaves are on the trees. The days are sunny and bright and you don’t see any decorations. In fact, other than a few mentions and one dinner scene, the Thanksgiving theme is really underutilized. Louise Lasser is the centerpiece of the film. Probably best known as being Mrs. Woody Allen (the second), Lasser had starring turns in several Woody Allen films as well as appearing in many television series such as The Bob Newhart Show, Mary Tyler Moore, and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. Primarily a comedienne, her career took a downturn in the early eighties and she was relegated to supporting roles in big films with the occasional star turn in an independent feature. Here she eschews her typical comedy for a dramatic performance. She is clearly uncomfortable with the material and overacts horrendously. Her overacting actually creates some unintentional comedy. In one scene she sits on the kitchen floor with the refrigerator door open, legs splayed out and dress hiked up, cramming her face with Thanksgiving leftovers. It’s a bit of a throwaway scene and causes some confusion. I suppose she is trying to show how she deals with her anxiety, but with no real explanation, it comes across as awkward and, frankly, points to her genetics as the reason for her familial troubles. The dress she wears throughout the film is truly awful, even by early-eighties standards, and her hairstyle causes her to look like a weirdly adult-sized child. And her voice, deep and very scratchy, is completely annoying. I suppose the filmmakers thought getting her was a coup while some cult film fans praise her performance as unique. I thought she was spectacular…ly terrible. Many of the other actors and actresses have gone on to bit parts in Hollywood productions and television work, but most are average actors at best. But hey, we don’t watch slasher films for the acting, now do we?

I would be remiss if I didn’t touch on the other character’s clothing and hairstyles as well. Believe me, Lasser wasn’t along in making some really unfortunate choices. While the young women are all attractive—and at least a couple remove their clothes for the camera, thank God—practically all of them have horrific early-eighties Hollywood-style hair. It’s simply a riot and really fun to watch them prance around. The film also has that classic, glossy look of a 1980’s film, with vibrant colors that are somehow too bright, with all the characters having an airbrushed look. It was great to relive that period of my life while watching the film.

There was plenty of atrocious acting and poorly-played set pieces, as if the writer created death scenes and worked backward to write the script, simply filling in skimpy characters and plot points to move from one effect to the next. One particularly bad set piece involved the psychiatrist (producer Marianne Kanter) and her hired help running around the apartment complex in search of the killer. While the psychiatrist at least had a lab coat on and looked the part of a doctor, her aide was some dude with a mullet wearing a terrible sleeveless shirt (you remember those awful things). He clearly was thrilled at his very first film and couldn’t help cheesing all through is lines. Another hilarious setup was a single woman with a baby on a date with a total nerd (played by special effects artist Ed French). The single mother apparently couldn’t even be bothered to name the baby as everyone just calls it “baby,” as in, “Oh, Baby, please don’t cry,” or “Be quiet, Baby, so Mommy can marry this rich stock broker.” Actually, Ed French, as the awkward date, is one of the best actors in the film and plays his character with perfect comedic timing.

But the real reason to watch the film is for the gore. Ed French was still early in his career and eager to showcase his talents. While the practical effects are perhaps a bit dated, they still stand up reasonably well. And it’s always fun to see all the creative kills in these kinds of films. There are face-choppings, dismemberments with arterial sprays, several gory machete stabbings, and a couple of other terrific effects that play very well.

Lest you think my comments above were meant as criticism, let me be clear: this isn’t a great film by any means. But it is a terrifically fun film which, if you are of a certain age, is even more fun because of the specific time period in which it was made. I enjoyed it immensely.

The version I received for review was the 3-disc special edition which contains the “hard” home video version of the film entitled “Slasher”, presented in both Blu-ray and standard DVD and in a 2K restoration. The third disc includes the cut version shown on television and internationally, entitled Nightmare at Shadow Woods, as well as a bonus composite version of Nightmare at Shadow Woods that combines all footage from both versions for the ultimate experience in 80’s slasher cheese. While this version is rapidly becoming hard to find, Arrow Films has also released a two-disc special edition that contains all the special features, missing only the cut theatrical version and composite version of the film.

There are tons of great features including short interviews with producer Marianne Kanter about the production history of the film, lead actor Mark Soper on his experiences with the film and in playing twin brothers, an interview with Louise Lasser, and a fun interview with special effects artist Ed French. We also get “3 minutes with Ted Raimi” where he discusses his first real (nonspeaking) film role as a teen selling condoms in a bathroom, a look at the locations 30 years later, an alternate opening credits sequence, and a still gallery. There is also an audio commentary with the director of Blood Rage, John Grissmer, that is really not terribly good. You feel sorry for the moderator who struggles to pull information out of Grissmer. Questions are answered in three words or less and very little detail is given, making this audio commentary something to skip. Otherwise, the featurettes are all excellent.

Leave it to Arrow Films to unearth this rarity and give it a deluxe—and well-deserved—release. The film is worth owning in either release, 2-disc or 3-disc editions and would be a great weekend party film for a group. Available now, you can order from Amazon or directly from Arrow at: http://www.arrowfilms.co.uk/category/usa