Blood Rage (1987)
Studio: Arrow Video
Release date: December 15th, 2015
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
Before addressing Blood Rage, let’s talk about renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow (just hear me out—I promise that severed heads are also on the agenda). Specifically a behavioral psychologist, Maslow posited that people are compelled to meet their needs in a hierarchical order ranging from basic physiological necessities to more existential ones. Resting at the top of the pyramid is the notion of “self-actualization,” or the belief that accomplished individuals eventually reach a place where they know what they have to do, set out to do it, and they do it.
While Maslow strictly relegated this theory to actual humans (citing the likes of Lincoln, Jefferson, and Einstein as pinnacles of human achievement), it’s probably fair to apply it to movies as well, particularly something as enlightened as Blood Rage, a semi-obscure dispatch from 1983 that distills this genre’s elements down to the base essentials. This is a slasher movie that knows exactly what it needs to do and just fucking does it—even if that only means delivering gallons of karo syrup and ample nudity. Nobody said anything about needing a lot of potential—only that you simply fulfill it.
By the time 1983 had rolled around, this genre had been so thoroughly strip-mined for ideas that it’s no surprise Blood Rage didn’t arrive on video store shelves until four years later. With practically every date on the calendar already marked by a machete, axe, or butcher knife, a ragtag group of Florida filmmakers settled on having sloppy Thanksgiving seconds (thanks to Home Sweet Home). Set on Turkey Day a decade after the Simmons family suffered a horrific ordeal at the local drive-in, the film finds the family enjoying themselves—in fact, matriarch Maddy (Louise Lasser) announces her engagement at the dinner table. However, a phone call from the local asylum interrupts the festivities with some bad news: it turns out that mentally disturbed Todd has escaped and will presumably return home to continue the killing spree he began over ten years ago.
Remarkably, there’s a catch to this premise, which sounds so formulaic that it borders on parody: we know that Todd (Mark Soper) isn’t actually a maniac. Rather, the drive-in set prologue has already revealed that his twin, Terry (also played by Soper), framed him for murder; in the intervening years, the latter has become very close to his mother. Between the Oedipal rumblings that greet the news of her engagement and his brother’s timely escape, it’s a perfect opportunity for Terry to start a bloodbath at his apartment complex.
Not only does this small wrinkle in the otherwise familiar formula heighten the dramatic irony of any scene featuring Terry (one sequence where he calmly approaches a buddy while hiding a machete behind his back is a hoot), it also untethers Blood Rage from the obligations of creating mystery and suspense. Unloosed from these shackles, it’s free to operate as an unhinged but straightforward slasher. From the outset, it makes no bones about its explicit purpose to fuck you up. Splatter fills the screen within a few minutes, as the 8-year old Terry casually strolls up to a couple and plants a hatchet into a guy’s face, mid-colitis. Not content to contain the carnage to one swift stroke, director John Grissmer captures multiple, messy hacks, inviting viewers to revel in the blood pouring like a fountain over a bucket of popcorn. A shot of the naked girlfriend fleeing through the drive-in follows, instantly solidifying Blood Rage’s dedication to delivering exactly what you expect from a slasher.
Something like a money shot that doubles as a prelude, this opening burst of violence sets the stage for an immaculate display of even more bloodshed. While writer Bruce Rubin arrays an impressive smorgasbord of assorted slaughter (ranging from decapitations to bisections to brain-spilling), Grissmer’s insistence on capturing every gritty, bloody detail elevates Blood Rage somewhere tpwards the vicinity of the Eurohorror arthouse-splatter canon. Ed French—who would continue to craft effects on similar disreputable trash before graduating to Terminator 2—might as well consider this a de facto demo reel since Grissmer’s camera never shortchanges his work.
To say the camera lingers is an understatement: rather, it lovingly gazes upon the carnage, leaving nothing to the imagination. Like a carnival huckster who knows his audience only wants to stare at freaks, Grissmer pushes in on the gore, gleefully inviting viewers to take a look at this shit. He practically looks a (supposedly) creatively bankrupt formula in the eye and finds some signs of life by embracing its basest requirements and realizing them in the most unswerving way possible. Blood Rage is a slasher with no pretenses—hell, it doesn’t even know what the word pretense means.
Included in this is a tacit admission that said formula also thrives on typical slasher chicanery, here amped up to even more absurd levels. As such, a couple decides to have a tennis match in the middle of the fucking night, just so Terry can add to his body count. Ted Raimi inexplicably sells condoms in a drive-in bathroom. Somehow, nobody can tell the difference between the sweaty, wild-eyed Todd and the relaxed, slick-haired Terry. Richard Einhorn’s synth-banger of a score relentlessly pounds out Carpenter-inspired chords to the point of absurdity. So much of Blood Rage feels like it was made for a modern audience weaned on the calcified silliness of this particular genre, as its bizarre inanities—from its garish tube-sock sense of fashion to the shot of a beer can crumpling in a severed hand—feel like the sort of thing today’s parodies would have to try to capture.
If the film weren’t produced before Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 (or, hell, the original SNDN), you’d swear Terry was modelled after Eric Freeman’s Ricky Caldwell, right down to the 80s teen-movie-villain look to his goofy catchphrase (“it’s not cranberry sauce!” he insists when admiring his blood-stained weapons). It almost feels appropriate that Blood Rage was shelved until 1987, long after the slasher genre had lapsed into this particular strain of lunacy. In truth, it almost feels ahead of even that time, as it seemingly anticipates what future audiences would latch onto and delivers them right alongside its carnage. For every severed head, there’s a gag that coaxes genuine guffaws. Sometimes, it’s even a cleverly scripted one, like an early scene where Todd sends a little girl home, tells her to lock the door, and warns her against opening it to strangers; only some sort of mad genius would be able to pay off the setup during the climactic chase like Grissmer and company do here.
Moments like this reveal an unexpected shrewdness buried deep within the surface-level slasher movie ineptitude. Blood Rage never strays into parody, its self-awareness extending only to its crude persistence on serving up every cliché as righteously as possible. Among them is the wacko relationship between mother and son, an oedipal affair operating just south of the blatantly incestuous overtures in Night Warning. Former prime-time and daytime soap star Lasser taps into a similarly histrionic energy as Susan Tyrell does in that picture, only it’s channeled into a nervous breakdown that’s light on homicide but heavy on crying into the telephone or collapsing at the refrigerator door, feasting on Thanksgiving leftovers.
You spend a fair amount of time laughing at these displays before they inexplicably enrapture you, revealing a strangely human center to a film that also features a wrongly-accused mental patient attempting to put a bisected body back together. By the time the climax sweeps you up in a crescendo of pure insanity, Blood Rage has transformed into a drive-in melodrama prone to wild mood swings and big, theatrical outbursts of rage, regret, and despair. Here, it ascends to nearly transcendent heights. Having fulfilled all the requirements for a slasher film, it aspires to achieve the pure mania of slasher movie nirvana, where the lines between irony, sincerity, humor, and schlock blur, leaving viewers both confounded and delighted. "What the fuck was that?!" they might wonder. One thing is for sure: Blood Rage knows exactly what it is.
Practically long-unreleased on DVD, Blood Rage hasn’t just finally arrived on the format: it’s done so in style, as Arrow Video has produced a definitive home video package. Boasting three separate cuts of the movie, their three disc combo pack captures the breadth of the Blood Rage experience. Most pressing is the uncut home video version of the film, which has gone unseen since the VHS era; this cut retains all of the gore excised by the Nightmare at Shadow Woods re-edit that somehow found its way into a handful of theaters (and, later, a dubious DVD release). While I can see no reason why anyone would ever want to watch this version, they at least have the option on disc two, which also houses a composite cut of both cuts (the Nightmare at Shadow Woods version does feature a smattering of new footage).
Had Arrow stopped right there, this would be a fine release. However, true to form, they’ve also lavished the film with a fine array of supplements, including a commentary with Grissmer and interviews with Lasser, Soper, French, Raimi, and producer/actress Marianne Kanter. A retrospective returns to the film’s shooting locations, and while alternate opening titles, outtakes, and stills gallery round out the two disc package. I can’t recall the last time a film went from absolute obscurity to a completely stacked release like this. Thankfully, we won’t have to wait long for a companion, as fellow obscure-regional slasher The Mutilator is due from Arrow later this month. Short of falling into a wormhole that actually spills out into 1987, this is the closest slasher fans may come to reclaiming an era gilded with blood and guts--but not cranberry sauce, of course. comments powered by Disqus Ratings: