Blood Rage — sometimes known as Slasher, plus there’s a version titled Nightmare at Shadow Woods, though Blood Rage really fits it best — is an outstanding example of what the worst Thanksgiving ever might look like. But fortunately for horror movie fans, that means the film is a feast of intriguing acting choices, excellently dated sets and outfits, a totally ‘80s synth soundtrack, and all manner of glorious gore.
The premise takes the ol’ good twin/bad twin dichotomy and twists it with glee, giving us identical preppy kids Terry and Todd. Stuck in the backseat at a drive-in — the movie is subtly entitled The House That Cried Murder — while their mum, Maddy (Louise Lasser), makes out in front with her date, the boys sneak out and commit a horrific axe murder. To be specific, it’s Terry who actually swings the blade — it’s implied he was set off by the sight of his mum getting some action — but he promptly frames Todd for the crime by pressing the weapon into his hand, smearing some blood on his face, and shrieking his head off. Todd’s apparently too shell-shocked to protest and is locked away for 10 years, which is when Blood Rage really gets going.
You know from the opening scene that there’s going to be an eventual showdown between Todd and Terry (played as an adult by Mark Soper), but first, there’s a wrinkle: Mum’s engaged! The lucky guy is Brad (William Fuller), the manager of the shag carpet-bedecked Florida apartment complex where almost the entire movie takes place. The announcement is made just as the happy couple, along with Terry (who’s been seemingly “normal” for the past decade) and assorted friends, are about to dig into their Thanksgiving meal. Oh yes, and then there’s another wrinkle: according to his doctor, Todd has finally started to remember what really happened that night at the drive-in and gets so worked up about being the fall guy that he manages to escape. Two twins, two triggers. Who wants turkey?
Though the implication that Todd could also flip out looms over the whole movie, Blood Rage doesn’t make you wait to see who the real threat is. It’s Terry, of course, who covers his tracks in advance by cheerfully announcing “My psychotic brother just escaped!” (That’s the movie’s second most quotable line — nothing beats Terry’s equally cheerful and oft-repeated declaration that the blood oozing down his machete is “not cranberry sauce.”) We basically get what amounts to two different storylines: Terry stalking and killing various disposable characters, including several who were his friends earlier that same day; and Maddy getting increasingly booze-soaked while she obsessively cleans her apartment and becomes increasingly frantic while trying to reach a mysteriously unresponsive Brad on the phone.
As directed by John Grissmer (who has one other directing credit: 1977 surgical horror Scalpel), it’s all rather straightforward, and the script (writer Bruce Rubin’s other credits include teen sex comedy Zapped!) doesn’t do much in terms of delivering suspense, scares, or characterization beyond the surface level, though as mentioned it does slip some howlers into the dialogue. The special effects, at least, are decently memorable; a person gets cut in half Black Dahlia-style, a hand that’s grasping a beer can gets detached from its arm (and continues to twitch thereafter), and there’s all manner of slicing and stabbing. What sets Blood Rage apart, though, is its tone — unhinged from the beginning, and inching ever closer to full-blown hysteria as it progresses.
Soper’s performance isn’t exactly deft, but he does manage to differentiate between the twins, particularly in his body language; there’s also an argument to be made that he plays Terry so broadly and so stilted because the character is actually a monster merely pretending to be human. But the real standout in Blood Rage is Lasser, whose best-known credit at the time was starring in soap opera satire Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. Here, she brings an incredible amount of pathos to her scenes. Obsessed with having everything appear happy and harmonious, to the point of ignoring reality, Maddy’s presented as being almost childlike in her denial, though there’s an odd disconnect between her frilly clothes and girlish, pulled-back hairstyle and her deep smoker’s voice. That disconnect begins to crumble along with her carefully constructed world; admitting that the wrong twin was locked up is far too much for her, and even when she’s faced with an awful lot of bloody evidence to the contrary, she’s still insistent that she can make everything all right again.
Blood Rage ends on a tragic note that would almost feel Shakespearean if the context wasn’t… a raunchy slasher movie filled with random scenes celebrating things like spontaneous late-night tennis matches, the curiously exotic appeal of coconut liqueur, and ill-timed pranks involving horror make-up. It’s also a movie that features a young Ted Raimi as a sleazy condom salesman, and a bad-girl type who declares that “partying” is her major at college. It’s never not entertaining, even in scenes where you’re feeling alarmed for all the wrong reasons — like when Maddy, teetering on the edge of a complete breakdown, plops down on her kitchen floor to sloppily devour leftovers from her ruined Thanksgiving party. Very few low-budget 1980s slashers can evoke such a range of emotions from a viewer (pity, revulsion, delight… holiday cheer?), making Blood Rage something every cult horror fan can be thankful for. To quote Maddy: “The turkey was perfect.”
Blood Rage is now streaming on Shudder.
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