Release Date(s)1987 (December 15, 2015)
Studio(s)Film Concept Group (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: D+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A
When it comes to the gonzo slasher movies of yesteryear, there was an unprecedented amount of them, so much so that they just seemed to fall through the cracks, having hardly an distribution – theatrical or otherwise. Many came and went, lost in the haze (or the arterial spray, as it were), but now thanks to revival screenings and home video, many have been given a second life as cult movies. And nothing screams both gonzo slasher and cult better than 1987’s rarely-seen Blood Rage, otherwise known as Nightmare at Shadow Woods.
Blood Rage is something of a revelation for both fans of slasher movies and for those of us who enjoy an excellent good/bad movie (I happen to be from both camps). The plot (as if it matters) is pretty straightforward: one night at a drive-in showing, a set of young twin boys sneak off from their mother (Louis Lasser), who is busy making out with her boyfriend. One of them, just for the sheer fun of it, kills a fellow drive-in patron. He then blames it on his brother who is institutionalized for most of his young life. After his escape on Thanksgiving, his murderous brother (Mark Soper) decides to go on another killing rampage, murdering everyone around him with the intended purpose of blaming it all on his so-called “lunatic” brother (also Soper).
Blood Rage is a mostly confused movie in the way you might expect, unless the synopsis has led you to believe otherwise. While the plot elements seem somewhat reminiscent of those set up in Halloween, none of the new material grafted onto it has much business being there and helps in making any of the dramatic scenes ineffective. At times it wants to be a slasher with hardcore gore effects, while at others it wants to be a melodramatic look at a mother (Lasser) who is slowly going insane and unable to cope with her son being institutionalized. It doesn’t help that almost all of the actors give over-the-top performances, particularly during scenes of what is supposed to be the drama.
All of this, however, makes for some hilarious unintentional comedy. Such is the case with the mother sitting in the floor and splayed in front of an open refrigerator eating Thanksgiving dinner with her bare hands, or perhaps the severed torso of a victim flailing with its head still attached and screaming at the top of its lungs. The fun is also in the lack of logistics, such as the mother arguing with an operator on the phone, trying desperately to get through to her boyfriend who is the apartment complex manager... yet his office is a mere stone’s throw away. A brisk walk might’ve saved you the anguish, eh lady? The killer himself also has some hilarious one-liners, such as his infamous quote when referring to blood: “It’s not cranberry sauce.” It’s a line he repeats over and over again throughout the movie, and is a future Fright Rags t-shirt line if ever there was one.
And it’s no surprise to learn later that the movie also had a troubled production. Rumors have sprung up about both Louise Lasser’s and director John Grissmer’s unwillingness to give it their best, while at the same time not getting along with each other. It’s all hearsay, of course, but it’s still clearly a project that wasn’t thought through very well, and was just merely executed. Despite the presence of special effects technician Ed French on one of his early projects and delivering some top-of-the-line gore effects (mostly cut out when released theatrically), it was mostly forgotten as an otherwise forgettable piece of slasher trash from the 80’s.
It’s also worth noting its sordid release history. It was filmed under the title Complex and completed with the title Slasher in 1983, but shelved until 1987 when it was picked up by the Film Concept Group for theatrical distribution, but in a heavily-edited form and with another new title: Nightmare at Shadow Woods. It was eventually released on VHS through Prism Entertainment as Blood Rage, and later on by Legacy Films on a lackluster DVD, both of which have been long out of print... which brings us to Arrow Video.
And may I just start off by saying God Bless Arrow Video for digging up this extremely obscure gem and saving it. Not only have they seen fit to give it a Blu-ray release, but also load it with extras, include three cuts of the movie, and most importantly, give the movie a brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative (carrying the original title of Slasher, as well). It’s a wonderful presentation, and one that I’m sure many will feel is overkill for a movie that just doesn’t deserve this kind of treatment. I disagree as I feel everything is valid, especially on home video. Blood Rage sports a film grain-soaked presentation, rich with a high amount of visual detail on all tiers. Color reproduction is quite strong as well, although the color temperature pulsates during a couple of shots in the movie, including during the aforementioned severed torso scene. Black levels are never consistent due to the grain levels dipping from time to time, but they can be a bit crushed when given the chance (such is the case with low budget filmmaking sometimes). Contrast and brightness levels are very satisfactory though, and there are absolutely no signs of digital clean-up or enhancement on display. There were also only the most minor of film artifacts left behind. For the other cuts of the film (the theatrical and composite cuts, the latter of which features all of the footage from both of the original cuts), the presentation is on par with the main one, but suffers a little due to the use of other film elements to make the versions complete. The soundtrack, which is a single English 2.0 LPCM track, features a very strong mix, but not overly even throughout. Dialogue is mostly clean and clear, but the sound effects and score struggle a little bit at times to stay even with each other. There are no distortions as a result, however. It’s a very clean-sounding track, as well. There’s not much in terms of spatial activity, but it has some occasional depth to it. It’s a very strong presentation, both visually and aurally, overall. There are also subtitles in English SDH for those who might need them.
For the supplemental package, you get a very nice array of material to cull through, most of which has been created by the folks at Red Shirt Pictures specifically for this release. As previously mentioned, you have three different cuts of the movie to choose from: the extended home video version, the theatrical version, and a composite cut of both. On Discs 1 and 3 (Blu-ray and DVD, respectively), you get the extended home video version (Slasher), as well as several interviews: Double Jeopardy, an interview with actor Mark Soper; Jeez, Louise!, an interview with Louise Lasser; Both Sides of the Camera, an interview with producer/actress Marianne Kanter; Man Behind the Mayhem, an interview with special effects creator Ed French; and Three Minutes with Ted, an interview with Ted Raimi. There’s also Return to Shadow Woods, a featurette that revisits some of the movie’s filming locations with Jacksonville, Florida film historian Ed Tucker; the movie’s original VHS opening titles; a behind-the-scenes gallery; and an audio commentary with director John Grissmer. On Disc 2 (Blu-ray), you get the re-edited theatrical version (Nightmare at Shadow Woods), the composite cut, and a set of silent outtakes. Also included is a 20-page insert booklet with an essay on the movie by Joseph A. Ziemba. It’s also worth noting that even though this is an Arrow Video release, it’s Region-Free, meaning that anyone in the world can enjoy it.
If you enjoy balls-to-the-wall, schizophrenic, lost-to-the-world slasher movies from the 80’s, Blood Rage is the perfect movie for you. Arrow Video continues to impress with lavish editions of movies well beyond their prime or interest level, and with such a presentation, it makes you wish that some American distributors could step up their game a little. The bottom line though is that this is one of the most surprising releases of last year, as well as one of my favorites. It’s a guilty pleasure, but I’m sure I’ll be watching it many times over, and you might possibly do the same. Highly recommended for horror fans and fans of good/bad movies alike!
- Tim Salmons