Here’s to the new family.
Shot in 1983 but released in 1987 under a different name (Nightmare at Shadow Woods) and without most of its gore, the uncensored version of Blood Rage doesn’t even have its title intact. The word Slasher takes its place during a drive-in theater prologue instead—an apt name in its own right considering the murder weapon of choice is a machete wielded with a swing of the arm to inflict gashes into the faces of its victims. It ultimately doesn’t matter what you want to call director John Grissmer and writer Bruce Rubin‘s (credited as Richard Lamden) film since the final product is little more than a killing spree at a campground-like apartment complex amongst the trees. The more non-descript the better so your expectations don’t unjustly rise.
So uninterested in creating a compelling story beyond the theatricality of shallow psychosis and violent carnage, the filmmakers actually reveal their twist as an expository plot point. Rather than attempt to have us believe one young twin (Todd) hacked an unsuspecting theatergoer to death after being triggered to homicide by his mother’s (Louise Lasser‘s Maddy) latest excursion towards sexualized activity with someone other than his father (who’s out of the picture and never mentioned), Grissmer makes a point to show the other twin (Terry) frame his brother for what he did. For ten years the innocent child therefore languished in a mental institution—traumatized into a state of speechless catatonia—while the guilty party enjoyed adolescence with freedom. Well Todd (Mark Soper) is finally setting the record straight.
Who will believe him, though? It’s a he said/he said scenario devoid of any reason to rewrite history considering Terry (also Soper) hasn’t done anything since to make someone think he was the real crazy one. Maddy sure doesn’t believe it and all of the people in hers and Terry’s lives have been conditioned to accept the fact Todd is someone to be feared. If not for the latter’s new psychiatrist’s (Marianne Kanter‘s Dr. Berman) confusion as to how her sweet patient could ever have done what the rest have said, his admission would have been dismissed as soon as it was uttered. Because she chooses to foster Todd’s awakening, however, he becomes compelled to escape so that he may return home and confront his brother’s lie.
The bulk of the movie takes place the evening of Todd’s breakout: Thanksgiving. We’ll never know if the excuse of having his fall guy back in play was enough to reignite Terry’s bloodlust, though, because this day is full of psychosexual triggers to shake his manufactured façade. First is the uncertainty of his own urges when it comes to the girlfriend (Julie Gordon‘s Karen) he hasn’t seen in months due to their attending different colleges. Second is a new neighbor (Lisa Randall‘s Andrea) who’s unafraid to make her desires for him secret. And third is the announcement that Maddy and her latest boyfriend (William Fuller‘s Brad) are getting married. Terry’s bargain basement Oedipal complex therefore has him seeing red regardless. Todd providing a scapegoat was simply a bonus.
Terry only has to murder one tragic soul in the wrong place at the wrong time to open the floodgates with increased relish. As a result, Blood Rage has no underlining mystery. Either Terry will be revealed as the brutal maniac he is or Todd will get blamed yet again. Intrigue is thus faked by the introduction of new characters to be targets that we care nothing about since everyone is fair game minus the Simmons family and their gradually unraveling psyches. Terry becomes bolder as he knocks on doors to slash throats; Todd becomes more frightened as he discovers he’s walking into a trap for which he doesn’t have the stomach to prevent; and Maddy loses all stability as her idyllic world is transformed into a nightmare.
Like most low budget horror fare of the 1980s, the real appeal here comes in the form of grotesque attacks. It’s not merely about sexual deviants either since Terry has no qualms taking out whoever is isolated from witnesses that might finger him as the real culprit. That doesn’t mean sex isn’t still the night’s main goal with Andrea desperately finding a willing partner, Brad ready to ignore Maddy’s pain so he can get her in bed, and a neighbor (Gerry Lou) seducing her date (Ed French) to ensnare a “rich daddy” for her infant. Just because it’s the initial trigger for Terry’s tendencies, however, doesn’t mean Grissmer and Rubin have thoughtfully wielded it as anything more than popcorn entertainment. By the end he’s simply having fun.
But the film itself isn’t that fun. On the contrary, it’s shot with such severity that you almost believe the filmmakers thought they had something of dramatic worth. I ultimately felt sad for Lasser because she’s giving her all as a distraught mother who probably blames herself for everything despite the rest of the cast waiting for their close-up to die. Grissmer tries to give Maddy meaning by the end, but it’s too little too late considering those cut scenes of her traumatic breakdown become exceptions to the otherwise rote machinations of pointless genre conventions. Sure some of the kills are memorable, but none match the unfulfilled potential of Maddy and Todd’s psychological struggles. Sadly this weightier content is perpetually overshadowed by hollow violence that only postpones the inevitable.
Watched in conjunction with Season Five of Buffalo, NY-based horror series Thursday Night Terrors, curated by Peter Vullo. Logo by Josh Flanigan.