The Film: 4/5
Thanksgiving has come at last to scenic Jacksonville, Florida, and at the Shadow Woods apartment complex, Maddy (Louise Lasser) and her family – including her doting charmer of a son Terry (Mark Soper) – have gathered together to celebrate the occasion with a delicious home-cooked meal. Unfortunately, their happiness is interrupted by the news that Maddy’s other son, and Terry’s twin brother, Todd (also Soper) has recently fled the mental institution where he has lived since being convicted as a boy of the brutal murder of a stranger at drive-in. Todd’s psychiatrist Dr. Berman (Marianne Kanter, who also produced) soon arrives at the apartment in the hope that he will show up there and can be swiftly taken back into custody, but it’s not long before several residents of Shadow Woods begin to meet with gory demises. That’s because (MILD SPOILER WARNING) Todd is the real killer, and with his innocent brother believed to be a bloodthirsty maniac, he feels secure to resume his murder spree since he has been gifted with the perfect alibi.
Until Arrow Video announced that they would be bringing the gruesome cult slasher flick Blood Rage to Blu-ray in its uncut form a few months ago, I had never known of its existence. This is one of the special kind of motion pictures that usually get denied by movie-going audiences and have to rely on home video rentals and cable airings to find an appreciative following because it’s just too good to go unnoticed forever. Yes, you heard me correctly, Blood Rage is good. Really good. Perhaps not great, and there are times when it’s awful, but as a relic of blood-soaked 1980’s camp horror cinema, it’s terrific fun for lovers of unorthodox storytelling and practical gore effects executed with love and skill. The latter is provided here in plentiful quantity by the great make-up artist Ed French, whose invaluable work has graced memorable exploitation movies such as Romano Scavolini’s Nightmare and Larry Cohen’s The Stuff and now can be found in big-budget hits like Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Clint Eastwood’s recent Oscar-winning war drama American Sniper.
Blood Rage, which comes to us from little-known director John Grissmer and Zapped! screenwriter Bruce Rubin (using the pseudonym Richard Lamden), tells a simple story and tells it with little narrative complexity. Sometimes it doesn’t even appear to be taking itself all too seriously, which is the right approach since the film isn’t particularly suspenseful or terrifying. Shot in 1983 until the title Complex (later changed to Slasher, the title that adorns the restored uncut version of the film presented on this Blu-ray) but delayed in its theatrical release until 1987 when it was heavily edited to secure an R-rating and retitled Nightmare at Shadow Woods, Blood Rage is a refreshing change of pace for the genre of mad killers dispatching stupid white people with memorably graphic methods. Grissmer and Rubin tell a self-contained story that doesn’t leave the door open for a sequel at the end. The decision to film at a real apartment complex in Jacksonville is a nice change of scenery from the usual suburban neighborhoods and dilapidated summer camps where slasher movies that often provide the psycho’s demented playing field. Grissmer also has several murders take place in the woods surrounding the property so that Terry does not have to be merely content with invading apartments in search of fresh prey.
Top-billed star Louise Lasser, a television star and respected film and stage actress once upon a time, is a sweaty, nervous hoot as the overwhelmed mother of twins whom she can no longer tell the sweet kid from the soulless murderer. Isn’t that what always happens with twins? Lasser treats the material like she’s holding center stage in an Off-Broadway staging of Eugene Ionesco, so when she’s on camera you can never quite take your eyes off her. There are times when she really makes you believe that what is happening with Terry and Todd is tearing her poor heart out. Lasser most likely did this movie when she was at a low point in her acting career, but you can’t exactly accuse her of sleepwalking through her performance in Blood Rage. Mark Soper carries the majority of the film with laudable dual performances as the calmly methodical lunatic Terry and his misunderstood twin Todd. One of the more comical ideas in the story that even though Terry is the killer his personality is so disarming that no one would ever suspect him, while Todd is supposed to be totally innocent yet he can’t help but act suspicious even when he’s trying to convince Terry’s friends to run for their lives while they still have them. It’s hardly an original concept but it works to help Blood Rage stand apart from most slashers, and the only thing hampering this interesting dichotomy is the bland character development. The rest of the cast serves no function other than to get naked, scream, and eventually die.
Composer Richard Einhorn (Shock Waves) joyfully summons up a wall-to-wall assault of aggressive synths that kicks in at the very start and rarely ceases, giving Blood Rage a catchy musical identity often marred by unnecessary shock cues that never work. But it’s the effects created by French that make the greatest impact; here we are treated to vicious machete stabbings, a hand removal complete with spurting arm stump (plus the hand continues to clutch its owner’s beer after getting chopped off), a head bloodily cleaved in two, a severed head turned into a charming front door ornament, and one unlucky murder victim gets the Dewey Cox treatment if you know what I mean (and I think you do).
Arrow really did right by Blood Rage for its Blu-ray debut. The first disc features the original uncut version of the film long available only on the out-of-print Prism Entertainment VHS release. Sourced from a 2K scan of the original 35mm camera negative, this sick little gem of the slasher genre looks amazing in glorious 1080p high-definition. The picture has been framed in the proper 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio and Kodak Digital Ice software was employed to clean up the print, although the digital grading effort could only do so much since some brief sequences display signs of fading and chemical staining. Regardless of the flaws inherent in the camera negative that the restoration team couldn’t remove or lessen, the picture is mostly spotless and boasts warm, vibrant colors and a grain structure that retains the filmic quality of the print and is consistent from beginning to end with only a few scenes appearing grainier than others. The gallons of fake blood that flow in the gory murder sequences look appropriately dark, but the garish 80’s fashions and sparse set design for the apartment interiors look better than ever before. Facial details and skin tones appear their best in close-up shots.
The English PCM 2.0 stereo track was transferred from the 35mm optical negative by Arrow and features clear dialogue (even Lasser’s whispered lines can be heard just fine) and a strong presentation of the Einhorn score without being hindered by noticeable traces of damage and distortion. English subtitles have also been provided.
Arrow has provided their Region Free limited edition release of Blood Rage with plenty of juicy extras both newly produced and archival, the bulk of which can be found on the first Blu-ray disc in this three-disc set. The fun kicks off with a candidly informative audio commentary with director Grissmer, who is joined by rights holder John A. Dalley and Arrow’s moderator Ewan Cant. The track makes for an entertaining and enlightening listen due to the commentators’ refusal to sugarcoat the troubled production of Blood Rage and the flaws that remain in the final cut, but Grissmer also speaks at great length about working with the actors, the rigors of filming the gore effects, shooting in Jacksonville, and more.
In conjunction with Red Shirt Pictures, Arrow has produced five new interviews with other surviving members of the cast and crew of Blood Rage. First up is “Double Jeopardy” (11 minutes), which brings in lead actor Soper to talk about the beginnings of his career and his work playing twins in brief. “Jeez, Louise!” (10 minutes) has Lasser offering up a look at her early work on the stage and as the star of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and vaguely recalls some of the details of acting in Blood Rage. “Both Sides of the Camera” (10 minutes) focuses on producer/actor Marianne Kanter and her struggles raising the funding for the film, securing locations in Jacksonville, and having to step in to play the psychiatrist after the actress chosen to play the part bailed on the production. Effects creator Ed French is front and center on “Man Behind the Mayhem” (13 minutes), and he gives us a broad overview of his beginnings as an actor (he appears in Blood Rage as “Bill”), getting into the make-up effects business, and providing the gore for Blood Rage. Finally, “Three Minutes with Ted” (3 minutes, naturally) sits down with actor Ted Raimi and lets him talk about how he came to play a condom salesman during the opening credits sequence of the film.
Thrown in for good measure is the opening sequence from the VHS release (5 minutes), which is identical to the one in the Blu-ray transfer except for having the Blood Rage title card clumsily edited over the original title Slasher. This feature is presented full-frame and looks to have been sourced from a worn videotape. Closing out the extra features on the first disc is an animated gallery of behind-the-scenes stills (4 minutes) set to selections from Einhorn’s score.
Exclusive to this region free limited edition release is a second Blu-ray disc where Arrow has kindly stored Nightmare at Shadow Woods, the 79-minute theatrical cut of Blood Rage with most of the Ed French effects work left on the cutting room floor and a previously deleted swimming pool scene reinserted to make up for some of the lost time, and an 85-minute composite cut that beefs up the gorier home video version with the extra scene from the Shadow Woods edit, which was transferred from a 35mm print. You might prefer one of these alternate cuts, but seeing as how the reinstated footage is superfluous and Blood Rage ain’t nothing without its blood, I’ll stick with the unrated version on the first disc. Included with both cuts is a reel of outtakes from the film (27 minutes) that are presented without sound.
The third and final disc is a DVD copy containing a standard-definition transfer of the uncut film and the accompanying bonus features.
Arrow has also included a reversible cover sleeve featuring the original poster art and a new image by Marc Schoenbach and a collector’s booklet with an extensive new essay about Blood Rage written by author Joseph A. Ziemba (Bleeding Skull! A 1980’s Trash-Horror Odyssey, a book I highly recommend by the way) and details about the film restoration.
Bless the lurid, loony Blood Rage and its heart full of energy and the stuff that “isn’t cranberry sauce”, and bless Arrow Video for resurrecting this entertaining oddity of the slasher genre from undeserved oblivion and giving it a fully-remastered, extras-loaded Blu-ray release. Between the stunningly improved picture and sound on the uncut version, the two alternate cuts, and additional supplementary material, fans of this cut-‘em-up flick like no other will have plenty to keep them occupied on Thanksgiving and every holiday. Highly recommended.