Blood Rage Blu-ray Review (originally published 2015)
Todd and Terry seem like sweet kids – that is, until one of them takes an axe to face of a fellow patron at the local drive-in. Todd is blamed for the bloody crime and institutionalized, whilst twin brother Terry goes free. Ten years later and, as the family gathers around the table for a Thanksgiving meal, the news comes in that Todd has escaped – and he’s heading their way. But, has the killer twin, in fact, been in their midst all along? One thing’s for sure, there WILL be blood…(From Arrow’s official synopsis)
Not to be confused with Joseph Zito’s psychothriller Bloodrage (aka: Never Pick Up a Stranger, 1979), John Grissmer’s Blood Rage (aka: Slasher, shot in 1983, but not released on video until 1987) spent decades languishing as just another generic slasher sitting on the shelf of the local mom & pop video store. I know from personal experience that its generic title/cover art, lack of fan buzz, and standard-issue R-rating (often a sign of edited violence during the post-Friday the 13th era) kept me moving down the line towards more promising unrated “big box” rentals, like Andy Milligan’s Bloodthirsty Butchers (1970) or Joe D’Amato’s Buried Alive (Italian: Buio Omega, aka: Beyond the Darkness, 1979). More recently – much more recently, in fact – Blood Rage gained some cult steam following a slew midnight movie and festival circuit showings. And now, thanks to this Blu-ray collection, those of us that judged this particular movie by its cover can find out what we were missing.
What we were missing, It turns out, was a worthy entry into the grindhouse wing of the slasher genre museum – a place that houses the grimy, ghastly likes of Juan Piquer Simón’s Pieces (1982), Buddy Cooper’s The Mutilator (1985), and Romano Scavolini’s Nightmare (aka: Nightmare in a Damaged Brain, 1981). Every frame is packed with salacious intent, slathered in uncomfortable sexual tension, and brimming with acting choices so bizarre that they must actually be brilliant. Oh, and loads of violence, enough that I had to double-check the R-rating on that original Prism Entertainment VHS release, because this much gore simply couldn’t have been okayed under mid-80s R standards. It seems likely that Prism falsely used the official rating (a relatively common occurrence). And it’s not just the quality of the violence, which is thoroughly juicy (hatchets in faces, severed hands, squirming torsos, cleaved heads, slashed throats, stabbed throats, and split skulls), but the frequency and sheer quantity of violence that caught me off guard. Still, there is a contagious glee to the carnage on display. Like one of Herschell Gordon Lewis’ early splatter movies, everyone involved with the making of Blood Rage seems aware of their shortcomings and celebrates them for the sake of a good time.
Bruce Joel Rubin – the future screenwriter of Adrian Lyne’s highly acclaimed Jacob’s Ladder (1990) – used John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) as a template for his Blood Rage script. This includes the opening sequence, in which a child murders a post-coitus adult, and the single evening structure to the murder-spree. Todd’s psychiatrist (Marianne Kanter) even acts as a gender-swapped version of Dr. Loomis for a bit, but is quickly dispatched before she can save the day. Rubin is savvy to the cliches of the genre and even makes some substantially funny jokes at their expense. Aside from the killer joyfully exploiting the unreasonably trusting nature of his victims (always smiling….), every character, except for psychopathic Terry and child-like Todd, drips with the most awkward carnal desire. This includes the Final Girl, Julie (Karen Reed), who only remains a virgin because she can’t get laid throughout the movie, and Todd & Terry’s hysterical mother Maddy (Louise Lasser), whose desperate loneliness sort of inspires Terry’s murderer spree. Mark Soper is pretty great as the adult versions of both twins (he plays them as distinctive personalities), but Maddy wins all-star status as she binge eats (with the ‘fridge door open), drinks, and furiously cleans the house until she passes out when faced with bad news. She also sits cross-legged on the couch screaming at a phone operator for a shockingly long time, as if the scene wasn’t scripted and she was just making it up, praying that Grissmer would call cut (for flavoring, the sequence is completely out of focus, as well).
Grissmer only worked on two other feature films, according to his imdb.com page. He co-wrote Jean-Marie Pélissié’s No Way Out (aka: The House that Cried Murder, 1973) with the director and he co-wrote/directed a plastic surgery-themed thriller called Scalpel (aka: False Face, 1977), which Arrow released on Blu-ray in 2018.
For years, the 82-minute uncut version of Blood Rage was only available on VHS. The alternate censored cut was released under the title Nightmare at Shadow Woods (79-minutes) on a 1.33:1 DVD from Legacy Entertainment, but that disc appears to have been ripped directly from the VHS tape (and is long out-of-print, anyway). This means that Arrow’s Blu-ray/DVD combo pack marks the first US and UK Blu-ray and DVD releases of the uncut version. Blood Rage (technically, the title on the print is Slasher) was restored from the original 35mm camera negative, which was scanned in 2K. The booklet included with this set warns that some scenes appear soft and strobe-y due to “severe fading and chemical stain” issues. There are some brief inconsistencies here and there, but nothing so fuzzy that it mars the experience (the only major strobing occurs during the dinner table scene about 13 minutes into the film). In addition, Nightmare at Shadow Woods was scanned from the “best available 35mm print elements,” which means it is not quite the same quality as the longer version. In addition to that, Arrow has supplied a composite version using elements from both scans, because Nightmare at Shadow Woods includes some exclusive footage (though, the bigger differences manifest in the order of some events, specifically the pool-based sex scene is stretched over a longer period and spliced between unrelated scenes earlier in the movie). All three versions are presented in 1080p, 1.78:1 video (slightly reframed from the 1.85:1 OAR).
Blood Rage looks fantastic, though, naturally, a bit dated in terms of grain and posterization effects. Colors are rich and vibrant, which helps to sell the perverse ‘80s saturation of the film. Details are sharp (sharp enough to see that the prop gun is plastic as hell), though some of the textures are foggy, due to soft focus choices (or mistakes). The sunny outdoor sequences are a smidge overheated, leading to some gamma balance issues and snowy noise (perhaps this is the ‘severe fading’ the booklet warns us about), but, overall, black levels and contrast are pretty well-balanced. Even as grain levels increase in darkness, the strength of the blacks continue to support shapes and separate elements. The Nightmare at Shadow Woods cut, which is available on the second disc, utilizes the cleaner Blood Rage transfer when possible, but, when necessary, it includes the much rougher alternate footage. The super-long composite cut features a lot of the Blood Rage footage with a few shots of scratchy, dirty Nightmare at Shadow Woods scenes peppered throughout.
Blood Rage’s original stereo soundtrack was also scanned from the 35mm negative elements and is presented here in uncompressed LPCM 2.0. The sound quality is pretty consistent and smooth, minus the hiss and pop that usually come with this type of movie. There are some issues with volume and clarity throughout. This is rarely Arrow’s fault, however, as the problems almost always coincide with obvious ADR or other post-production tampering. B-horror standby composer Richard Einhorn (Shock Waves, 1977; Don't Go in the House, 1980; The Prowler, 1981) supplies a funky, electro-pop score that’s more likely to make you want to dance than scream in terror. I suppose there are also some enjoyably corny piano motifs that signify Terry’s devolving mental state. Love it, hate it, or love to hate it, the music sounds pretty great on the track. As discussed in the video section, the Nightmare at Shadow Woods footage is mixed and matched with the Blood Rage footage, so the audio quality is largely the same, give or take some really awkward trims to the musical soundtrack and a couple of pops.
Commentary with director John Grissmer and ‘co-owner’ of the film/producer of the HD transfer, John Dalley – This new commentary is moderated by Arrow Films’ Ewan Cant, who, along with Dalley, presses the director for information on the production. It’s not the liveliest discussion, but there are some interesting factoids about Karen Reeds entirely white outfit (it was a specific choice to represent ‘purity’), future star effects designer Ed French’s contributions, and editor Michael Miller directing the opening sequence (i.e. all of the stuff at the drive-in).
Double Jeopardy (11:00, HD) – Actor Mark Soper, who, again, plays both Terry and Todd, covers his experience on the film, his co-workers, and the fun/challenge of playing twins.
Jeez Louise! (10:20, HD) – Blood Rage’s all-star actress Louise Lasser discusses her early career, from stage work and Woody Allen movies to popular turns on television that included the lead role on a Norman Lear series called Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman (1976-77). Her memories of Blood Rage are cluttered (in part because she was confused as to what Grissmer wanted), but not entirely negative.
Both Sides of the Camera (10:00, HD) – Producer Marianne Kanter, who also plays the ill-fated psychiatrist, is probably the most prepared and informative person on the entire disc. Her interview isn’t very long, but it fills in an awful lot of behind-the-scenes tidbits missing from the commentary. Apparently, Grissmer was frustrated and quit the film at some point. After an unnamed cameraman tried and failed to direct, Grissmer eventually returned (I don’t believe this was mentioned at all during the commentary). Kanter gives Grissmer and the cast some credit, but also admits that French’s make-up and Miller’s editing saved the film from utter ruin.
The Man Behind the Mayhem (12:50, HD) – Make-up guru Ed French, who appears briefly in the film as the nebbish father that loses his head, is also keen to discuss his early career, beginning mostly with Blood Rage (following work on Amityville II: The Possession, 1982), which led him all the way to an Academy Award nomination for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) and an Emmy win for House, MD (2004).
Three Minutes with Ted (3:20, HD) – The incomparable Ted Raimi, who makes a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ cameo at the beginning of the movie, quickly does his best to remember his first ever film role.
Return to Shadow Woods (5:40, HD) – Author/film historian Ed Tucker visits the present-day Jacksonville locations.
VHS release opening titles (5:00, HD version of SD footage)
Behind-the-scenes image slideshow set to music from the movie (4:30, HD)
Outtakes (26:40, HD, Disc 2) – A long series of 1.33:1 raw outtakes. There is no sound available for this extra.
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