The fun begins at a Florida drive-in, in 1974. Twin brothers Terry and Todd sneak out of the back of their mother's car while she's busy making out with her latest boyfriend. They go looking to spy on other couples having sex in their vehicles - though, unbeknownst to Todd, Terry has picked up an axe along the way. Sure enough, upon finding a naked couple getting it on, he hacks repeatedly at the unfortunate lothario's face. By the time a crowd has gathered, Terry has smeared blood onto his mute brother's hands and passed him the axe - so everyone thinks Todd is the guilty party.
Fast-forward ten years, and Todd has spent the time in-between under the care of Dr Berman (Marianne Kanter). His mother Maddy (Louise Lasser) visits Berman for a progress report and is shocked to learn that adult Todd (Mark Soper) has not only regained his speech but also his memory of that fateful night. Maddy is horrified to discover he's blaming college stud Terry (also Soper) for the murder.
Maddy leaves Todd in Berman's care, the doctor revealing to us via voiceover that she will continue to investigate Todd's claims even if his mother won't accept it. Meanwhile Terry waits for his mother's return at home, where everyone in the neighbourhood is busy preparing for Thanksgiving celebrations - including new girl on the block Andrea (Lisa Randall), who's caught Terry's eye.
During Thanksgiving dinner, Maddy receives a call informing her that Todd has escaped from Berman's hospital - and could well be on his way to the home she now shares with fiancÚ Brad (William Fuller) and Terry. Upon learning this, Terry regains an evil glint in his eye and the murders begin again.
Can he successfully blame his twin brother for his killing spree ... again?
BLOOD RAGE - the onscreen title is SLASHER - was first released in 1987, at the tail-end of the stalk 'n' slash cycle. Post-A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, which really turned the conventions of the slasher movie on their head, entries in the sub-genre didn't really make much impact - despite decent films such as INTRUDER and SLAUGHTERHOUSE begging to be more widely seen. This is a shame, because a film like BLOOD RAGE actually ticks all the right boxes and should've been a lot more well-known than it ever has been.
Typical 80s fashions and hairstyles, a trashy synth score, gory practical FX work courtesy of Ed French, obligatory female nudity, a cameo from Ted Raimi - they're all here, doled out at a brisk pace by director John Grissmer. He knows how to keep things ticking over nicely with regular set-pieces, sharp editing and frill-free dialogue to help propel the barmy plot along.
Performances are generally strong in terms of the genre, Soper hamming it up nicely in his dual role. Lasser has fun with some of the rum dialogue, her experience lending a knowing eccentricity to the madness of it all. Cinematography and production values (lighting etc) are very good. But the real reason for watching BLOOD RAGE, of course, is to get your fix of Ed French's gory practical special effects.
Faces are slashed, heads are spliced in two, throats are punctured, hands are severed ... all in tasty, explicit fashion. If anything, Grissmer perhaps lingers on a few effects shots too long. Not because they're nasty, but because they're robbed of being convincing, thanks to us seeing too much of the illusion. Still, gorehounds will find little to grumble about.
The plot is pure hokum, of course, and continuity is all over the place. Julie Gordon, who portrays Terry's regular girlfriend Karen, is laughably listless when being chased later in the film. And the mid-section does admittedly sag, thanks to too many peripheral characters being introduced merely as fodder to increase the body count.
But all of these facets simply make BLOOD RAGE all the more fun, all the more of a fascinating failure.
Arrow Films Video are releasing BLOOD RAGE as a dual format blu-ray and DVD edition on both sides of the Atlantic. We were sent screener copies of the 2 blu-ray discs to review.
On disc 1, we get the full uncensored version of BLOOD RAGE. Presented as an MPEG4-AVC file which shows the film in its original 16x9 widescreen ratio with the benefit of full 1080p HD resolution, it looks amazing. Bright, vibrant, colourful, clean - I never expected this little-seen oddity from almost 30 years ago to have scrubbed up this well. Light grain is natural throughout, clarity is profound, detail in lighter scenes really is something to behold.
Lossless English 2.0 audio does a fair job in terms of cleanliness, though it's sometimes a little muffled-sounding. I put this down to limitations in the original source material. Optional English subtitles are well-written and easily readable at all times.
The disc opens to an animated main menu page. From there, pop-up menus include a scene selection menu allowing access to the film via 12 chapters.
Bonus features begin with an audio commentary track from Grissmer, moderated by Arrow's Ewan Cant. They keep it light while discussing actors' wardrobe choices, anecdotes from the shoot, French's set-piece efforts, and much more. Grissmer isn't always as forthcoming as you'd hope, but things do improve as this track progresses. He cites the film's influences as HALLOWEEN, FRIDAY THE 13TH and - surprisingly - LES DIABOLIQUES.
An engaging new 11-minute interview with Soper follows. He reveals the reasons he got into acting in the first place and shares some of the nuances he relied on to characterise each twin.
Lasser gives us 10 minutes of her time in an enjoyable interview, where she looks back on her successful pre-BLOOD RAGE career. Photographs reveal that she was quite beautiful in her youth.
Kanter makes for an enjoyably frank interviewee in her own 10-minute chat. Acting as producer as well as actress on the film, she recalls how the shoot became nightmarish when the director walked out and the cinematographer proved too incompetent to fill his boots. She's honest enough to speak with less than rose-tinted glasses about certain cast members too, but does recognise that the film owes its cult appeal to French's impressive FX work.
Speaking of which, a highlight for me is the 13-minute chat with French, "Man Behind the Mayhem". Explaining how he made the move from acting to being an effects artist, he cites Fangoria magazine among his influences and goes on to discuss his career with fondness.
"Three Minutes with Ted" is just that - a brief chinwag with Raimi, who expands on how he landed his debut screen role as a condom salesman in the film.
"Return to Shadow Woods" finds film historian Ed Tucker taking a video tour of the film's original Jacksonville, Florida locations.
The film's original 5-minute opening credits sequence is played out in soft pan-and-scan VHS next, serving as a reminder as to how impressive the new restoration really is.
Disc 2 presents two alternate cuts of the film: NIGHTMARE AT SHADOW WOODS, the original version of the film which enjoyed a limited theatrical run, and a composite edit incorporating the SLASHER cut with additional scenes from the theatrical print.
Both are interesting, though not wholly different, versions which come with similar audio and video specifications to the presentation on disc 1. NIGHTMARE is notably less gory than the final cut, but compensates with extra scenes of dialogue. The composite cut brings everything together to little extra effect.
We also get a whopping 26 minutes worth of outtakes on disc 2.
This bountiful set is rounded off by a DVD containing the "hard" SLASHER cut of BLOOD RAGE in standard definition, along with the extras relating to it, and a colour booklet featuring an engrossing new essay from "Bleeding Skull! A 1980s Trash-Horror Odyssey" author Joseph A Ziemba.
All in all, this is a most impressive release of one of the more interesting slasher also-rans of the late 1980s.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Arrow Video|
|see main review|