Arrow Video gives new life to the underrated 1980s slasher BLOOD RAGE to Blu-ray/DVD combo on both sides of the pond in a fully-comprehensive limited edition three-disc set.
In 1974, young Terry Simmons brutally murdered the male half of a couple making out at a Jacksonville drive-in and laid the blame on his catatonic brother Todd. Ten years later, institutionalized Todd (Mark Sofer, GRAVEYARD SHIFT 2: THE UNDERSTUDY) is starting to recall what really happened, deeply disturbing his mother Maddy (Louise Lasser, BANANAS) who clings to delusions of a happy family and is still searching for a daddy for her two children. Todd's psychiatrist Dr. Berman (producer Marianne Kanter, DEVIL'S ANGELS) believes his story and does not want Terry (also Sofer) aware of her suspicions lest they set him off. That turns out to be unnecessary, however, as Maddy's announcement over Thanksgiving dinner that she plans to marry Shadow Woods apartment complex manager Brad (William Fuller, PORKY'S REVENGE) is enough to have Terry fondling sharp knives and wanting to carve more than the turkey. When Dr. Berman shows up looking for escaped Todd and orderly Jackie (Douglas Weiser, MIDNIGHT CROSSING) spills the beans to Terry, one of the twins starts hacking his way through the apartment complex with visiting girlfriend Karen (Julie Gordon, SUPER FUZZ), friends Artie (James Farrell) and Gregg (Chad Montgomery), and new girl Andrea (Lisa Randall) – who is planning to major in partying – among the potential victims.
Shot in 1983 but not released until 1987 theatrically and on tape (in two different cuts), BLOOD RAGE in its uncut version is a spirited entry late in the slasher cycle with over-the-top gore effects by Ed French (CREEPSHOW 2) – who also has a small role as single mother Julie's (Jayne Bentzen, A BREED APART) ill-fated date – a healthy body count, the requisite T&A (including a shower scene and diving board sex), woodland chase scenes (the apartment complex has a nature walk), a thumping synth and organ score by composer Richard Einhorn (the Florida-lensed SHOCK WAVES and EYES OF THE STRANGER), and plenty of feathered eighties hair. Quirky touches courtesy of screenwriter Bruce Rubin (ZAPPED!) and the instincts of actors Soper (who has viewers expecting violence every time he reaches offscreen or behind his back) and Lasser (who deals with the stress of an escaped mental patient son by drinking, eating out of the refrigerator, excessively cleaning, and drunk dialing) lend some welcome humor to the proceedings. Although the killer's mayhem seems random, his choice of victims is actually well-motivated with a single mother showing more interest in her date than her child (in a way, mirroring the relationship between Maddy and Brad), his two best friends showing interest in the two women he is interested in, and a few who might expose him. Performances are overall good to passable, and the film moves at a quick clip from murder to murder and does not wear out its welcome. Although the opening murder was lensed at a Jacksonville drive-in, the title sequence footage of the drive-in's concession stand and bathroom (where the victim buys condoms off of Ted Raimi) was lensed in New Jersey after production by editor Michael R. Miller (RAISING ARIZONA) and shot by EVIL DEAD cinematographer Tim Philo. The drive-in during the flashback is seen playing THE HOUSE THAT CRIED MURDER (aka THE BRIDE), also seen playing on television in a later scene, which was penned by director John Grissmer whose only other directorial credit was the 1977 thriller SCALPEL. Kanter's previous producing effort was the Vermont-lensed horror film DARK AUGUST.
Released theatrically as NIGHTMARE AT SHADOW WOODS, the film was cut for an R-rating (although Film Concept Group's other belated releases of titles like BURIAL GROUND and THE OTHER HELL were usually unrated) but would become known in its full-strength version as BLOOD RAGE when Prism released it on cassette. The uncut version (82:13) hits Blu-ray in a here in a crisp, clear, and boldly colorful 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC widescreen transfer from a seemingly spotless original camera negative bearing the original title SLASHER. The brighter image does expose some of the rubberiness of some of French's effects amidst the bright red gore, but it also gives viewers the opportunity to appreciate just how far he and the film were willing to go for slasher fans. Detail is also such that it is evident the apartment complex sign has had its original lettering painted over before Shadow Woods Apartments was stenciled over it. Although not every shot is as sharp as one would like it to be (particularly in the night exteriors), the new transfer does reveal a much more slickly-made film than evident on videotape. The 1.78:1 framing seems ideal, although it does reveal just above the bottom matte that one character is wearing underwear in the shower. The LPCM 2.0 stereo track is full-bodied when it comes to Einhorn's thumping score and some of the machete swings, but the mix is not always so adventurous. English SDH subtitles are included and highlight the ironic "an eye for an eye, a hand for a hand" sermon on Brad's radio.
SLASHER is accompanied by an audio commentary with director John Grissmer and the film's co-owner John Daley, moderated by Ewan Cant (marketing and operations manager at Arrow Films and producer of a number of documentary features on their releases of late). The track is a rather frustrating in that the film was a job-of-work for Grissmer so he discusses his working methods and some production anecdotes but has little to offer when Daley or Cant attempt to address aspects of the story and subtext which he explains are just adhering to conventions of the genre. He was not involved with the script and regards it as "job of work", but he does touch upon THE HOUSE THAT CRIED MURDER. Cant presses Grissmer to confirm some facts from the interviews (like Kanter replacing another actress as Dr. Berman) but he seems not to remember or might not have been aware. Cant points out the film predates Eli Roth's fake THANKSGIVING trailer but also notes that HOME SWEET HOME was the first Thanksgiving horror film. It's a pleasant enough track but neither super informative nor of the rousing viewing party with the cast or crew type tracks (the inclusion or substitution of Kanter and/or Soper or French might have made for a more substantial track).
Arrow and Red Shirt Pictures have also included five interviews. Actor Soper (11:01) discusses his interest in theater, preparing for BLOOD RAGE by watching slashers, his attempts to differentiate the twin characters, working with Lasser and Kanter, and how the different cuts of the film and their titles caused difficulty for him when he tried to list it on his resume. Lasser (10:21) discusses how she got into acting (she did not attend drama classes in college), replacing Barbra Streisand in a Broadway play, and her work on MARY HARTMAN, MARY HARTMAN as well as TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN and BANANAS. She recalls her acting choices for Maddy and admits that some of it is over-the-top (more so than appropriate for such a frazzled character). Producer/co-star Kanter (9:38) discusses the task of mounting an independent production, the conflict between herself, Lasser, and Grissmer that lead to him walking off the production briefly (with the cameraman offering to direct the rest of the film but ending up in over his head). Effects artist French (12:48) reveals that he did both acting and make-up in a theater group and was receiving more make-up job offers. Picking up a copy of Fangoria, he decided to try his hand at make-up effects and his first job was in a student film that also featured Bentzen. Although he had the opportunity to do some murder aftermaths and effects with dummies on NIGHTMARE and AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION, he wanted the opportunity to do gore effects and actors, including the inflicting of wounds on-camera (he would do SLEEPAWAY CAMP the same year). He recalls how he attempted to make each death scene a coup-de-grace and then to outdo it with the next one.
Raimi (3:18) appears in a brief interview discussing how he went to New York to look for acting gigs after losing his license for a year in Detroit. He agreed to come back home and work for his father if he did not get a job within a year, and he got his brief part in BLOOD RAGE at the last moment. "Return to Shadow Woods" (5:36) is a visit to the locations as they are today with Jacksonville film historian Ed Tucker who shows us the mental institution (actually a rehab center), the apartment complex which still looks the same but has been doubled in size with over a thousand residents, the pool location, the nature walk (which is on the other side of town on the campus of the University of North Florida). The VHS opening titles (5:00) feature the video-burn BLOOD RAGE title card and the entirety of the opening murder as seen in the feature presentation. A behind the scenes gallery (4:31) rounds out the first disc.
The second disc is the limited edition content starting with the film's R-rated cut under the title of NIGHTMARE AT SHADOW WOODS (79:26), a reconstruction using the 2K master of the uncut version and roughly six minutes of scenes unique to the theatrical cut from a 35mm print. Although there is a disclaimer about the drop in quality on the menu, the added scenes really do not look that bad apart from some rare scratches, dings, higher contrast, and slightly heavier grain evident in the night exteriors. The three most noticeable deletions are the drive-in establishing shot (so the film starts with the replacement title card on black), the entirety of Maddy's visit to the institution and the introductions of grown-up Todd and Dr. Berman (with the shot of her driving up to the institution's gate retained for the ten years later card but suggesting that she is pulling into the apartment complex), and Todd mournfully communing with the victim of a machete bisection. The first addition is a three minute scene with the youngsters at the apartment complex's pool which introduces Julie chatting with Andrea's mother Beth (Gerry Lou, DARK AUGUST) although it's unlikely Maddy would have confided Todd and the murder to the new neighbor, and the guys ogling Andrea in a bathing suit before Julie asks her to babysit. The sequence does not add much that was not established in the previous football scene introducing the Terry and his friends, although the aforementioned scene does end with the group deciding to go swimming. A brief shot of Andrea in the shower from later in the film is inserted here before the Thanksgiving dinner scene (which also has a few seconds at the beginning before the scene begins in the BLOOD RAGE version).
Some confusing shuffling includes a brief extract from the diving board sex scene before Andrea and Gregg pull their false scare on Artie and Karen, before the tennis scene, and before they actually do go to the pool to have sex on the diving board (the beginning of this scene is also extended by just under a minute). The tennis court false scare scene in which Andrea disappears to find lost ball while Gregg waits on the court has a minute-long complimentary scene in the theatrical cut in which Gregg goes looking for a ball while Andrea waits nervously. All of the gore has been cut down considerably, including the loss of the closer shot of a severed head, the death throes of the bisection victim (only the aftermath is seen in long shot once both halves have stopped moving), the entirety of the throat skewering, a machete being extracted from a chest in close-up, and additional shots of discovered victims after the initial shock reveals. Audio is in LPCM 2.0 stereo again the English SDH subtitles are also available for this version.
The new composite edit (85:07) does not incorporate all of the footage unique to the theatrical cut, so the theatrical cut is not so easily dismissed for the BLOOD RAGE completist. The theatrical version is the only place to see the second half of the tennis sequence and the extended start of the diving board sex scene; that said, the composite cut may play better than the primary SLASHER version for those who are not put off by a slight drop in quality during the added scenes. The outtakes (26:39) are without audio and include several additional MOS shots of other residents hanging around the pool, alternate takes of some of the victims death throes (including Randall knocked out of frame several times as the fake machete swings at her face), as well as two alternate poses for the Gregg and Andrea's bodies (once embracing, and another as seen in the film but with Randall's breasts covered by a towel). The third disc is a DVD copy of the first disc (there is no standard definition equivalent to the R-rated and composite cut disc). Not supplied for review are the reversible sleeve featuring original and the newly commissioned artwork by Marc Schoenbach and fully-illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Joseph A. Ziemba, author of BLEEDING SKULL! A 1980s Trash-Horror Odyssey. Presumably the standard edition that follows after this pressing is exhausted will drop the second Blu-ray disc in favor of a dual-format combo. (Eric Cotenas)
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