ON DUAL FORMAT BLU-RAY AND DVD: NOW, from ARROW VIDEO
RUNNING TIME: 85 min/ 82 min/ 79 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
At a drive-in cinema, a mother is far too busy making out with her boyfriend to notice that her twin boys Terry and Todd, who were supposedly asleep, have crept out of the back of their truck and headed out onto the forecourt. After a brief confrontation with a teenage couple whom Terry interrupts having sex, Terry hacks the boy to death with an axe, then gives the hatchet to his brother and leaves him to face a life behind bars in an asylum for a crime that he did not commit. Fast forward ten years and Todd, who has been in a catatonic state since that fateful night, begins to recollect what happened and sets out to clear his name and bring his sibling to justice. Meanwhile Terry isn’t too pleased that his mother’s getting married….
When our webmistress told me that our friends at Arrow Films were offering a review copy of a film called Blood Rage, I replied that it was a film I’d never heard of, but five minutes later I thought that I actually had heard of it, and seen it around a couple of decades ago too, until I found out that the grimy psychopath drama I recalled seeing – in fact, I used to own the Vipco [whom I distinctly remember misleadingly claiming the film as their bloodiest or goriest on the back cover] video release – was actually a different film called Bloodrage. So Blood Rage I hadn’t seen before at all, and I didn’t know a thing about it when I put the disc into my player, which can often actually be a good thing. I guess I anticipated a typical 80’s slasher movie, and this horror fan has far more of a soft spot for older slashers than the more recent kind, but Blood Rage, while it does contain some of the elements familiar to that type of movie, also attempts to be a bit different. For a start, the killer is calm, cool and attractive to women much like Patrick Bateman, and also has a twin brother who is blamed for his crimes. The film flits between being somewhat tongue in cheek and deadly serious, while there’s plenty of the red stuff, though overall, while I did quite enjoy the picture, I was left with the feeling that it was something of a missed opportunity and that its desire to have someone killed every ten minutes kind of got in the way of what could have been a more interesting, if admittedly probably less entertaining, psychological thriller.
Though it dates from 1987, Blood Rage was actually made in 1983. Shot chiefly on location in Jacksonville, Florida, director John Grissmer didn’t feel comfortable on the production and failed to get on with star Louise Lasser whatsoever, causing him to eventually walk and the cinematographer Richard R. Brooks to take over directing duties until it became apparent that he wasn’t much good at it, whereupon Grissmer was called back. Producer Marianne Kanter had to fill in for one of the acting parts when the intended actress failed to show up. What was initially called Slasher had major distribution problems and didn’t hit cinemas until 1987 under the title Nightmare At Shadow Woods, and with most of the gore removed but an extra dialogue scene and a few shots, mainly of nudity, put back in. By this this time the first slasher boom had gone and the film made little money, but it did acquire a cult reputation, especially when the original cut was the one that ended up on video. For my viewing of the film, I watched Arrow’s ‘composite cut’, which is basically the Blood Rage version with the extra bits from Nightmare At Shadow Woods, though I flicked through Nightmare At Shadow Woods afterwards to see what was trimmed from the murder scenes, and it was a hell of a lot!
The opening sequence [look out for Ted Raimi as a condom salesman] is pretty strong stuff, though the brutality of the axe murder [God, this kid is extremely strong, but aren’t they often in these films?] is undercut by poor sound design where you never hear [let alone see] the film playing at the drive in where the scene is taking place, a missed opportunity when the movie is something called The House That Cried Murder [what a great title!]. We feel really sorry for little Todd when, so shocked by what he’s seen he can’t speak, he’s sent away for a killing he didn’t commit. Then we cut to ten years later, and a really strangely done scene where teenage Todd’s conversation with his doctor is narrated by the actual doctor, as if she’s reading from her notes, over the actual conversation. Never mind, Todd soon escapes from his “special school” [as it’s called] and is soon being hunted, but of course the person they should be hunting is Terry, who has taken Terry’s rightful place all these years. I think we’re supposed to assume that, since his boyhood slaying, he hasn’t killed anybody in the interim, but finding out his mother is about to get married makes him snap, and he sets about murdering anyone he comes across, inadvertently helping his brother when some of the victims are the folk who are hunting him.
I liked the level of gore in the film – stronger than your average Jason Voorhees flick, but not enough to be disgusting – while the effects by Ed French, who went on to work on many major Hollywood productions from Terminator 2: Judgement Day to American Sniper, are excellent, considering the limited money he had to play with, as they range from a severed hand clutching a beer with its fingers still moving to a fork in the neck, but Grissmer, who only seems to have directed one other film, another horror movie called False Face which thematically appears to have distinct similarities to Blood Rage, doesn’t really do much with the supposedly scary scenes in the picture and fails to make the most of some promising set-ups. There’s a good bit when there’s a knock at a door and the person inside looks through the door’s small window, obviously sees someone’s face, then opens the door, only to be confronted by the hanging severed head of the person she saw. However, how much better wouldn’t the scene have been if we’d seen what the person looking through the window had seen before she opened the door? The climactic scenes don’t really carry the thrill that such moments ought to in a slasher film, while there are very clumsily shot moments throughout which don’t even seem to be in focus, and I wasn’t originally going to even mention the acting, which, aside from the two main leads, is often astoundingly poor and has some of the most painful line deliveries I’ve seen in a while.
Still, Blood Rage still manages to entertain as long as you don’t take its dodgier ideas seriously, such as its portrayal of single mothers as sluts. The script does do well in its suggestion of incestuous aspects involving the mother and her two kids without spelling things out except for right at the end which is quite a clever and ironic conclusion in some respects. Not quite enough, though some good moments do remain, is done though with the idea of identical twins – I expected far more examples of mistaken identity – and the script raises some fascinating psychological issues which the film, because of its emphasis on bloody killings, just doesn’t have room to explore. Characters just seem designed to belong to archetypes or fill symbolic roles, and don’t always go anywhere, like the best friend of one of Terry’s two female admirers who clearly has feelings for her, though the idea of Terry having two different girls, one a ‘nice’ girl, one more of a ‘bad’ girl, interested in him is a nice reflection of the idea of the two twins. And then there’s the films inconsistent tone. It tries to play its story straight, for the most part, but at times almost feels like a parody of itself, if that makes any sense, which, while keeping the film quite fun, limits its overall impact. Terry is a genuinely creepy and believable psychopath, for example, but his several utterances of “it’s not cranberry sauce” seem to be an attempt to give him a funny tagline.
If Blood Rage works at all, it’s primarily because of Louise Lasser’s intense performance which genuinely feels quite “real”, plus the well thought-out essaying of the twins by Mark Soper, delineating the two brothers believably but giving each one certain mannerisms of the other. Richard Einhorn’s synthesiser score is often delightfully cheesy and, along with the fashions, helps place this film in its era, but is sometimes quite catchy and occasionally, when some eerie bleeps are employed, slightly unsettling. Blood Rage is hardly an unrecognised gem, and for me didn’t fulfil its potential, but still contains much for fans of this kind of movie to enjoy and does attempt to be something more than your typical body count effort. In fact, I would say that this is precisely the kind of film that could do with being remade – something that isn’t too well done overall but which, with some work, could be turned into something very good indeed – rather than really good movies which are hard to improve on.
Arrow’s Blu-ray release contains both versions of the film, plus a combination of the two, which, as I mentioned earlier, was the version I watched in full. The Nightmare at Shadow Woods cut hasn’t been restored and the version of it on the Blu-ray is based mainly on the Blood Rage version but of course makes the same cuts that that version did and adds the extra bits from a scratchy 35 mm source. Aside from some shots which look poor perhaps more due to poor filming than poor restoration, Blood Rage generally looks great; sharp, colourful and with the perfect level of grain without losing that distinctive cheapo 80’s slasher movie look. Arrow have gone well and beyond the call of duty in putting together a set for a film which some may say doesn’t really deserve such good treatment, with a strong array of special features. What I heard of the director’s commentary wasn’t too great [but at least he agreed to do it], but the interviews, if quite short, are worthwhile though of course I enjoyed the outtakes on disc two the most; even when silent, I just love watching this kind of stuff.
3-DISC DIRECTOR-APPROVED LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS
*Three versions of the film – Blood Rage, the original home video version, Nightmare at Shadow Woods, the theatrical re-cut, and an alternate “composite” cut combining footage from both versions
*Original Stereo 2.0 sound (Uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
*Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
*Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Marc Schoenbach
*Fully-illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Joseph A. Ziemba, author of BLEEDING SKULL! A 1980s Trash-Horror Odyssey
BLU-RAY DISC 1 & DVD – BLOOD RAGE
*Brand new 2K restoration of the “hard” home video version, transferred from the camera negative and featuring the original title card Slasher
*Audio commentary with director John Grissmer
*Both Sides of the Camera – an interview with producer/actress Marianne Kanter
*Double Jeopardy – an interview with actor Mark Soper
*Jeez, Louise! – an interview with actress Louise Lasser
*Man Behind the Mayhem – an interview with special make-up effects creator Ed French
*Three Minutes with Ted Raimi – an interview with actor Ted Raimi
*Return to Shadow Woods – featurette revisiting the original locations in Jacksonville, Florida
*Alternate opening titles
*Motion still gallery featuring rare behind-the-scenes make-up photos
BLU-RAY DISC 2 – NIGHTMARE AT SHADOW WOODS [LIMITED EDITION EXCLUSIVE]
*Nightmare at Shadow Woods – the re-edited 1987 theatrical cut featuring footage not seen in the Blood Rage home video version
*Alternate composite cut of the feature combining footage from the home video and theatrical versions