Blood Rage (1987) Blu-ray Review: Because Florida

American school history books used to (and probably still do) paint a pretty picture about Christopher Columbus and a certain genocidal invasion by foreigners that would later be celebrated as a holiday known as Thanksgiving. A certain famous old television commercial would have you believe a serendipitously accidental collision between two young guys resulted in Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups being born. Now, what happens when you take the great taste of Thanksgiving and combine it with the subgenre of regional horror? The answer: a seasonal slasher flick that was shot under two different names in 1983, and then released in two different forms onto two different mediums in 1987. Because two great tastes taste great together.

Those who have actually seen it know it by its home video title Blood Rage, though that is just one of four different names the movie has been associated with. Its original on-screen title was that of Slasher (having ditched its production moniker, Complex, somewhere during filming). Appropriately, the regional seasonal horror Thanksgiving offering from the lawless land of Florida wound up being sliced and diced every which way before it saw saw a limited theatrical run as Nightmare at Shadow Woods shortly before being dumped to home video under the name it is best known by today. Of course, either way you slice this Thanksgiving turkey, it still serves up the same messed up story.

Beginning with a flashback to the ’70s, we witness tweenage terror Terry axing a fornicating drive-in theater patron to death after something snaps inside of him. We assume it is because he has discovered Louise Lasser has been cast as his desperate-to-find-a-man mother. Smearing his shocked twin brother Todd with blood and placing the murder weapon in his hands, Terry blames his innocent identical sibling for the crime, which finds the poor blonde-haired, blue-eyed bastard being locked away for ten years in a mental institution. Moving forward to the present time, 1983 (well, it wouldhave been the present had the movie made it to screens when it was intended to!), we find growed-up Terry (now played by Mark Soper) living happily with his older, crazier mum in a Florida apartment complex.

But the illusion promptly disintegrates once a new (slightly slutty) girl arrives at the Complex, reinstating Terry’s dormant Blood Rage back in effect. The coincidental escape of his brother (also played by Soper) ‒ who recently recovered from being his evil twin brother’s patsy ‒ only encourages Terry to switch over to Slasher mode once more, resulting in a regular Nightmare at Shadow Woods. Will Todd arrive in time to stop the carnage? Spoiler alert: no, he won’t ‒ it wouldn’t be much of a gory ’80s horror flick if he did! And besides, how would we be able to marvel at Ed (Terminator 2: Judgment Day) French’s low-budget (but highly effective) makeup effects if Todd did show up to put an end to these bloody Thanksgiving festivities?

Essentially, Blood Rage was made for one reason and one reason alone: to cash-in on the still rollin’ bandwagon put into motion by the unexpected runaway success of John Carpenter’s Halloween in 1978. From the opening, which blatantly mimics a post-murder comatose Michael Myers, to the fact the short-on-narrative tale takes place on the very next U.S. holiday on the calendar, Complex / Slasher / Blood Rage / Nightmare at Shadow Woods is not here to beg for the mercy of its characters, or for the forgiveness of its audience. It’s here to shock, plain and simple. And with nothing more to offer us than ample servings of flesh and blood, it succeeds admirably.

Mark Soper, probably best known to mainstream audiences as an ill-fated student in The World According to Garp, only delved into the horror genre twice during his career, but he positively shines here as withered good brother Todd and his cool-as-a-cucumber homicidal counterpart Terry. In fact, so good is he as both brothers, it makes the moments where a stand-in actor is present all the more noticeable. Likewise, top-billed “marquee star” Louise Lasser brings with her the strongest performance of the film ‒ even her interaction with the rest of the cast is so limited (as Terry is out murdering, she’s sitting in front of an open fridge or having a breakdown on the telephone), it’s almost as though she’s starring in another movie altogether!

Zapped screenwriter Bruce Rubin and director John Grissmer, the auteur behind another rarely-seen film that bore at least three different on-screen titles ‒ Scalpel (aka False Face, aka Woman of the Shadows) ‒ both appear to have been phoning it in here. And there’s no crime to be had at that: this is an exploitation film, after all. Following a lengthy absence from the world of home media since its initial videocassette release in the late ’80s, Blood Rage finally finds a home for the holiday season thanks to Arrow Video, who have remastered this once hard-to-find gem from original vault materials, and released the regional horror flick in both North America and the UK in a stellar three-disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo.

Stellar, as Arrow’s presentation of Blood Rage not only bears the original on-screen title, but also includes three different editions of the film: the original version that was released on videocassette, the less-bloody/more-talky Nightmare at Shadow Woods edit that briefly hit select cinemas, and a composite cut that combines both of the aforementioned cuts. Multiple special features, newly produced for this new-to-digital release, include interviews with cast/crew Mark Soper, Louise Lasser, Ted Raimi (who appears at the beginning of the film in a cameo), Marianne Kanter, and Ed French; an audio commentary with director John Grissmer; a visit to the Jacksonville, Florida filming locations; the original VHS credits; a collection of previously unseen outtakes (yes, that means even MORE blood and nudity, kids!); and a gallery of stills.

The transfer of the film presents Blood Rage in a widescreen 1.85:1 (or thereabouts) aspect ratio, with the quality looking so darn good, you can see all the little flaws in the makeup now (wait, is that really a good thing?). Audio-wise the three cuts sports original 2.0 stereo audio (PCM on the BD), and English subtitles are included for those of you who truly don’t want to miss out on the classic line “It’s not cranberry sauce, Artie.” Arrow wraps up this blood feast with a collector’s booklet featuring an essay by Bleeding Skull!’s own Joseph A. Ziemba, and an assortment of cover artwork (including a slipcover that seems to have been inspired by Eli Roth’s mock Grindhouse trailer more than anything) for the obsessive horror aficionado to choose from.

Highly recommended.

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Luigi Bastardo

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