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“BLOOD RAGE” (Blu-ray/DVD Review)

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As reports of the decline of physical media proliferate, it’s heartening to see a cheeseball obscurity like BLOOD RAGE getting the kind of deluxe, three-disc treatment Arrow Video has afforded it.

Shot under the title COMPLEX during the tail end of the early-’80s slasher craze (many sources cite it as a 1983 production, but clapboards and a newspaper article seen in this set’s bonus features place the shoot in March ’84), BLOOD RAGE has a few factors that differentiate—if not exactly elevate—it from its contemporaries. One is that its killer is neither masked nor mysterious, and the second is the totally nutz performance of Louise Lasser as the villain’s mom. We first meet her making out with her boyfriend at a drive-in while her twin preteen sons are supposed to be napping in the back of the car; instead, the two sneak away and young Terry breaks out a hatchet and murders another patron, pinning the crime on brother Todd. Ten years later, Todd (Mark Soper) is out of the mental facility where he’s spent the intervening years and headed home, giving Terry (also Soper), who has apparently been repressing his homicidal urges all this time, license to go on a new killing spree. (Though the action takes place on Thanksgiving, that’s so incidental to the story, the oft-repeated line “It’s not cranberry sauce” notwithstanding, that this barely qualifies as a holiday horror flick.)

BLOODRAGEBLURAYREVMeanwhile, Lasser takes the twisted scenario as license to mercilessly chew the scenery and indulge in strange behavior, and her scenes launch BLOOD RAGE into the realm of unintentional oddball comedy. Everything around her, on the other hand, is a played-straight stalkerama chock full of dumb characters, unatmospherically overlit shots, middling performances, gratuitous nudity and extreme gore FX created by Ed French. Suspense and scares are pretty much nonexistent, though the movie’s eccentricities and excesses certainly provide plenty of unintended entertainment value.

Arrow’s package offers both the uncut BLOOD RAGE (the title under which it was released on VHS, though the onscreen moniker here is actually SLASHER) on one Blu-ray and a DVD, and the slightly different, toned-down theatrical version titled NIGHTMARE AT SHADOW WOODS on a Blu-ray exclusive to this limited-edition set. The NIGHTMARE cut is missing an opening visual reference to director John M. Grissmer’s previous THE HOUSE THAT CRIED MURDER, an early scene in the loony bin inexplicably narrated by minor character Dr. Berman (played by producer Marianne Kanter) and quite a bit of the bloodshed, swapping in a superfluous scene at a swimming pool and a few more seconds of T&A. The 1.85:1 BLOOD RAGE/SLASHER transfer from the original negative is a very fine, sharp and colorful replication, while the NIGHTMARE cut has been sourced from that version and the best possible 35mm elements of the additional footage, with only a slight and certainly not damaging downgrade in image quality. For true completists, the second Blu-ray contains a composite cut with all the material from both.

Complementing this exhaustive presentation is an equally wide-ranging collection of featurettes by Red Shirt Pictures and other extras. Praise must be given for tracking down all of the production’s major players (save screenwriter Bruce Rubin, but then he didn’t even want to take credit and uses the pseudonym “Richard Lamden” on the movie), starting with director Grissmer. He shares an audio commentary with Arrow producer Ewan Cant and John Dalley, current owner of the film rights—yet despite three participants, the track has quite a few gaps of silence and isn’t as thorough as one might hope. We do learn a few interesting factoids about BLOOD RAGE, and that Rubin wrote the script to the “specifications” of producer Kanter, based on commercial imperatives—even as the final result is hardly as generic as that approach would suggest.

Grissmer’s positive recollections of Lasser and the shoot also don’t square with Kanter’s own memories in “Both Sides of the Camera.” Although the production was so troubled that she says she has “tried to block it out” since, Kanter now dishes enough dirt to make this the most enjoyable of the featurettes. The producer reveals that Lasser clashed with both her and Grissmer, and that the latter actually walked off the film, to be briefly replaced by cinematographer Richard E. Brooks, before he was talked into returning. In her own on-camera interview, fittingly titled “Jeez, Louise!”, Lasser seems a little nonplussed by the “oddness” of her own performance, admitting she “can’t really explain it” but seeming to have no regrets about this deranged stop on a career highway that also includes co-starring in Woody Allen comedies and TV stardom on MARY HARTMAN, MARY HARTMAN.

“Double Jeopardy” sees Soper laughing appreciatively as he recalls the “elevated, demented gravitas” of Lasser’s turn, addressing the specific challenges and process of portraying two very different twins and noting how difficult it is to include a movie with multiple titles on one’s résumé. Some of the most detailed reminiscences are shared by French in “Man Behind the Mayhem,” in which he points out that this was his first time creating active blood gags, as opposed to the aftermath corpses of a previous job (presumably SLEEPAWAY CAMP), and gives FANGORIA a shout-out for inspiring him to pursue the craft! “Three Minutes With Ted Raimi” is an appropriately brief chat with the actor, who shares the entertaining backstory of his very first film appearance in BLOOD RAGE’s main-title sequence, shot separately from the rest of the movie (and DP’ed by THE EVIL DEAD’s Tim Philo—coincidence?).

And there’s still more: author, film historian and BLOOD RAGE superfan Ed Tucker takes us back to the shooting locations (most looking very much the same) in “Return to Shadow Woods,” a number of great behind-the-scenes images are packed into a five-minute slideshow, the VHS opening credits featuring the BLOOD RAGE title are thrown in and there’s nearly a half-hour of silent outtakes, with a few amusing bloopers sprinkled throughout. It’s an insane amount of supplemental goodness for such a previously marginal film—and on that note, this reviewer would dispute Cant’s assertion on the commentary that between this and fellow Thanksgiving stalker flick HOME SWEET HOME, BLOOD RAGE is “by far the most fondly remembered of the two.” I, for one, would be happy to see a special edition of the equally schlocky-fun HOME, especially if key cast members “Body by” Jake Steinfeld and Vinessa Shaw (future co-star of THE HILLS HAVE EYES, COLD IN JULY and HOCUS POCUS) could be corralled…

MOVIE: 2_skull

DISC PACKAGE: 3.5_skull

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About the author
Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold has been a member of the FANGORIA team for the past three decades. After starting as a writer for the magazine in 1988, he came aboard as associate editor in 1990 and two years later moved up to managing editor. He now serves as editor-in-chief of the magazine while continuing to contribute numerous articles and reviews, as well as a contributing editor/writer for this website.
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