Bluray Review: BLOOD RAGE

arrowWhen I was a kid just starting high school in 1989, I’m sure everyone who ever got to spend time at the local video rental store during that time can relate to this: there were those videocassettes whose covers struck memorable impressions on us. Some of them were just graphic photos of a still from its corresponding movie with titles across the front (Color Me Blood Red), some of them had some great full-color artwork (The Mutilator)and some of them had laughable covers that made you think a sixth grader put it together (Curse of the Demon). Though the all-time, hands-down winner is the Video Gems VHS big box of House of Death, there are a few that stirred more than just a morbid curiosity whose images never left the mind of this receptive and budding horror aficionado. One of those boxes belonged to a rather obscure little film called Blood Rage. There was something about the way the cover’s shiny knife was drawn with blood trickling down the edge of its blade and a woman screaming reflected inside it; the way the moon hung ominously above, almost like an omen announcing that something bad would happen to me if I attempted to rent it. And for that reason, I wanted nothing more than to take the videocassette home and let it have its way with me and worry about the consequences later.

Sadly, with me being underage at the time, that wouldn’t happen for another five years when I stumbled upon a copy of the film one Saturday morning at a local supermarket and took it home without even thinking. I wasted no time in placing the cassette into my Hitachi VCR and unplugged the telephone as I was overcome with excitement that I was finally going to get to sit in front this in all its full Prism Video glory, a thrill that only us 80’s and 90’s kids who got the chance to live during the home video revolution know about.


 

BLOOD RAGE – THE FILM

From the moment the film opens in 1974 with the scene of a bustling drive-in theater (showing The House That Cried Murder, the title of a real 1973 film, by the way) on what I can only assume is a balmy summer’s night, the announcer’s voice in the background counting down the minutes to show time, I was BloodRagehooked. Not only did the cheesy synth-rock music get me going, but also the surprise – and very brief – appearance of Mr. Ted Raimi selling condoms to a horny teen on a mission to score. We then meet identical twins Todd and Terry who are asleep in the back seat of a station wagon while mom (played by television veteran Louise Lasser) makes out with her boyfriend. The boys make a quick getaway and come across drive-in guy in his car stark naked atop his date. After getting the “Scram, get away from here, kid!” speech and grabbing a random hatchet from the back of a nearby truck (!), Terry pummels it into drive-in boy’s face while his terrified girlfriend screams her head off in horror. Naked as a jaybird, she flees the car and darts off frantically into the night. Terry, now clutching the bloody hatchet and coming to realize the magnitude of what he’s done, quickly smears blood on Todd’s face and places the weapon in his brother’s innocent hands. The adults soon come and see what has happened and Todd is taken away to a mental institution to pay for the crime he didn’t commit while his brother lives a happy live with mother. But what we don’t realize is that the homicidal impulses Terry exhibited that fateful night still live dormant inside him so when he hears the new that his brother Todd has escaped, those feelings return. That news, along with his mother’s announcement at Thanksgiving that she’s getting married sends Terry into a terrible tizzy. In a diabolical attempt to keep his mother to himself and rid them forever of Todd and the threat of everyone finding out who was really responsible for the death at the drive-in ten years earlier, he goes on a killing spree graphically murdering his friends and residents of Shadow Woods Apartments in an attempt to make it seem like his brother is the culprit.

With fantastic special effects helmed by the legendary Ed French (Nightmare, The Guardian) and a great storyline, Blood Rage stands out from the cookie-cutter slashers of yesteryear. Though Todd and Terry are played by twin brothers at the start of the film, actor Mark Soper takes on the dual role of playing both characters and does it extraordinarily well. He gives Todd characteristics and nuances so particular to the character and so different from Terry that you would never know that it was the same person playing both parts. His performance is so good that it overshadows Louise Lasser’s at times and steals the show, especially with his constant use of the line, “It’s not cranberry sauce!” that’s now as infamous as Eric Freeman’s “Garbage Day!” line in Silent Night, Deadly Night part 2. Though the film’s pace is quite slow, we get to develop a relationship with both boys and wonder if Terry will ever get his come-uppance for knowingly destroying his brother’s life. With an unexpected “twist” climax that leaves you thinking and an ending that will invoke feelings of sadness within the viewer, the film is a great example of 80’s horror at its best. It’s no wonder so many 80’s kids like myself remember this film so fondly and I give praises to Arrow for finally giving this hidden gem of an 80’s slasher the royal treatment.

NIGHTMARE AT SHADOW WOODS – THE FILM

Legacy Entertainment released a budget DVD version of Nightmare at Shadow Woods back in 2004 which is now out of print. Up until Arrow’s recent release, this was the only official version that was available as Blood Rage was never given a proper DVD release and is very hard to find on VHS. I was able to Nightmareget my hands on a copy of this one but I was disappointed to find the picture and sound a little muddy so I was very happy when I placed the second disc of Arrow’s release into the BD player. They were able to find a very good 35MM print and it’s a superb improvement over Legacy’s release. With it being an edited version of the original 1983 film, this 1987 version was given a limited release into theaters by Film Concept Group. Though some can argue whether or not FCG renamed the film to cash in on the popularity of the Nightmare on Elm Street films, some of the advertisements went as far as to use the tagline “Not all the evil is on Elm Street” to try and get fans of Freddy Krueger to come to the theater, even though this film completely different from anything in the NOES series.

When released, the film received a major truncating by its distributor and deleted not only a great deal – if not all – of Ed French’s fantastic gore effects, but edited out some important scenes that are essential to the plot of the story. Not that this is a bad thing, but if you’re someone who has seen Blood Rage, you will be very disappointed when you sit in front of this one for the first time. Conversely, this particular version has a scene or two not found in the 1983 print that were possibly removed by the director or producers at that time of original editing and then placed back in when it was released in theatres.

Before taking a gander at this one, I researched online the differences between both Blood Rage and Nightmare at Shadow Woods and could not come across anyone who could provide an in-depth overview of what these changes and differences were. Because I love 80’s horror so much and because I have a special attachment to this film, I took it upon myself to lay out everything that makes Nightmare at Shadow Woods different from its Blood Rage counterpart in hopes to provide other fans of the film a guide. There are spoilers below, obviously, so if you haven’t seen the film and want to, I would avoid this section as it does go into detail.

** The Nightmare at Shadow Woods title card is the first thing we see before any credits and this version omits all the shots of the drive-in immediately cutting to the drive-in boy buying popcorn in the snack bar. Because of this, we don’t know that it’s 1974 or that the film it set in Jacksonville, Florida.

** Drive-in boy’s death is almost completely edited out, save for the first whack of the hatchet to the head and a quick shot of his bloody face after everyone finds him, taking from the impact of the scene.

** After cutting to ten years later (the film does establish that at this point), we see Maddie’s car pull in to the driveway of the mental institution where Todd has been staying, but then it completely skips the shot of the front of the building and the scene of her visit with Todd, removing her conversation with the psychiatrist and Todd’s (unintentionally hilarious) breakdown with the pumpkin pie.

** A scene at the pool just after Terry meets Andrea and after Artie suggests it is added where we get to enjoy the boys in Speedos and shorts (!) and the gang takes a dip. Andrea’s mother tells Julie about Todd and what happened that horrible night at the drive-in. Julie then asks Andrea to babysit as Bill has finally asked her out on a date. Here we learn about Julie’s situation from Andrea, that she’s 28, divorced and works at a grocery store. The group shares a laugh together and it then abruptly cuts to a scene of Andrea in the shower that appears very similar to the one that appears at the end of Blood Rage. The Thanksgiving scene at the house immediately follows.

** Terry’s first kill, Maddie’s fiancé Brad, is trimmed. We see Terry swing the machete to strike Brad’s wrist and watch his hand come off and hit the floor but all the amazing bloody effects are gone. Bummer, as this is a really great scene.

** The slaying of Jackie, Dr. Berman’s assistant, is slightly cut. Terry plunges the machete into his stomach and we see it briefly come out the back of his torso, but the blood gushing from the wound has been reduced.

** Dr. Berman’s demise, which is one of the best moments in Blood Rage is almost non-existent here, only being able to glimpse on two to three seconds of her severed body on the ground taking a great deal of dramatic effect away from this epic kill. It then cuts to Todd walking in front of the Shadow Woods Apartments sign followed by the shot of Terry licking his bloody finger in the mirror (another use of the famous “It’s not cranberry sauce” line).

** There’s an extra nude scene of Andrea and Gregg from what appears to be the pool scene that will take place later on sandwiched between Karen and Gregg playing video games and Julie and Bill on their date (with the tray of booze). I say it’s from the second pool scene – which hasn’t happened yet in the film – as it appears that they are in a dark room, in the same position that Terry finds them in when he walks in on them and both of them have wet hair. It appears very out of place here.

** The scene of Julie opening the front door to find Bill’s head dangling in front of her is removed. His death scene in which Terry has decapitated him and tied his head to an extension cord has been completely omitted in this version.

** We see another shot of Andrea in the shower when Terry spies on her just after having scared him and Karen – actually, the exact same shot of her in the shower we saw at the beginning of the film. The distributors must have added the previous one to get more nudity into the film without having to re-shoot.

** There is a second tennis court scene with Andrea and Gregg that comes after she tells him that she couldn’t find the tennis ball she hit over the fence and says to him “You must be soused” as they’d been taking tequila shots prior. In this scene, he hits a ball over the fence and offers to go retrieve it while Terry watches. She becomes worried when he doesn’t answer her calling out to him and then she’s spooked when someone turns out the court lights. They come back on and Gregg appears looking sickly, asking to go back to her place. The line, “I’ve got a better idea” – alluding to the nude pool scene that follows – from the original film, is missing.

** The pool scene where Terry finds Andrea and Gregg is longer in this print. There is an establishing shot that pans over to find him proceeding to lie nude on top of her on the diving board and some indistinct conversation between the two of them. She then giggles after a few seconds and he tells her that he’s feeling better and she responds “I knew you would”. There’s a quick shot of blood missing when Terry hits Gregg’s neck with the machete.

** Artie’s death on the bridge when he discovers Terry’s arsenal of weapons is missing all of the gore, including the moment where he jams the BBQ fork into his neck.

** The scene when Karen finds Julie dead in her apartment is trimmed by about a second and half, removing most of the gory visuals of Terry pulling the machete out of her.

** The best gore moment in Blood Rage, where Terry and Todd’s mother Maddie goes to find her dead fiancé Brad at his office, is severely edited. Though the blood splattered on the office walls and his body and his arm (missing its hand) can be seen, what follows, his head GRUSOMELY splitting open from its wound when it hits the desk exposing his brain, is gone completely.

** The scene of Karen finding Gregg and Andrea dead in the sauna has been trimmed by maybe half a second, the camera staying on their naked and cut up bodies longer in Blood Rage.

** The climax and ending remain the same in Nightmare at Shadow Woods.

Though many a gore hound would scoff at this version for the lack of blood, and those who have a lust for Blood Rage will be disappointed with how different this print is, the story still holds up very well without these missing elements. Though the very important – and establishing – scene of Maddie going to visit Todd at the institution is gone, the film’s story remains strong and a good example of horror films that thrive on a well-written plot.

THE BLU-RAY

From the looks of this special edition, Arrow went completely out of their way to bring us the authoritative version of Blood Rage to Blu Ray disc. First off, the original film looks so gorgeous that I have to give them props for taking the time to find the best 35MM they could get their hands on and clean it up. If you’veBloodrage3 ever seen the film on VHS, you will remember how some scenes are a bit dark and murky. This edition is so wonderfully preserved that I urge any fan of the film to run out and purchase this as its as beautiful as it’s ever looked. I’m curious as to where they found the print used for this release as it uses the title card “Slasher” and to which region of the world used this as the film’s title as IMDb doesn’t mention the “Slasher” title under the “AKA” section of Blood Rage. The only flaw we can visibly notice is during the Thanksgiving dinner scene at the start of the film where the camera is on Andrea. It looks like a bright light is flashing on and off her face for a few seconds but then stops. The films sounds fantastic through my sound system and that 80’s synth-rock is just absolutely amazing! The print of Nightmare at Shadow Woods looks and sounds great, as well.

In this two disc ultimate edition, Disc one contains the Blood Rage uncut print chock-full of absolutely wonderful extras. Disc two is the Nightmare at Shadow Woods version backed with the composite print of both films combined and has several special features, as well.

SPECIAL FEATURES – DISC ONE:

DOUBLE JEOPARDY – A fantastic eleven minute on-camera interview with star Mark Soper, who played both Terry and Todd, where he shares his memories of making the film and his reaction to finding out about the film’s cult status.

JEEZ, LOUISE! – Actress Louise Lasseter gives us a wonderful on-camera interview where she gives us a brief rundown of her career (including her roles on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show and her breakout role in Mary Hartman Mary Hartman) how it all began, and how she stumbled upon Blood Rage.

BOTH SIDES OF THE CAMERA – Producer Marianne Kanter gives us a short but very informative retrospective of how, as a female producer, she raised the money dollar-for-dollar to make Blood Rage and how she came out playing the role of psychiatrist Dr. Berman. She also waxes about how the film changed directors after principal photography began, how that affected everyone, and her wonderful surprise to find out the cult status of the film so many years later.

MAN BEHIND THE MAYHEM – Ed French! A 12-minute one-on-one with the effects director where he talks about his career, his work in the film with not only helming the great gore effects but also playing geeky Bill and how after Blood Rage, he never wants to act again.

THREE MINUTES WITH TED RAIMI – Yes! I’ve never admitted this before but I absolutely love Ted Raimi! Though he only appears in the film for about three minutes, he was nice enough to get in front of a camera to tell us how he got started as an actor, and how he came upon his very first movie role in Blood Rage selling condoms at a drive-in theater! This one is way too short, but it was great to see him on camera talking about this film.

REVISITING SHADOW WOODS – Jacksonville, Florida native and film historian Ed Tucker takes us to the exact locations where Blood Rage was shot, including the mental institution, the Pic N Save, the apartment complex, the nature bridge and the pool used for the climax, take place. I love it that many of these companies that are re-releasing classic slashers are taking the extra time to produce special features like this. It not only shows that these companies love the film to begin with but that they are doing as much as they can to appease fans whose youths revolved around films like this. This extra was also very short but well worth the watch.

VHS OPENING TITLES – Taken from the Prism Entertainment edition of Blood Rage, the original opening titles using the Blood Rage title card are presented here for all of us completists and those with fond memories of having rented this in the late 80’s/early 90’s.

BEHIND THE SCENES GALLERY – Four and half minutes of rare and fantastic stills taken from Blood Rage that include alternate takes, production photos, and photos of the cast in and out of make-up lovingly provided by Ed French himself from his personal collection.

AUDIO COMMENTARY – Director Ed Grismer and John Dalley, co-owner and producer of the hi-def version of the film sit down with Arrow films and discuss Blood Rage. A very interesting commentary!

SPECIAL FEATURES – DISC TWO

An alternate composite of the film, comprised with footage both from the uncut and theatrical versions are presented here as a third version of the film as a Bloodrage2special bonus feature.  Now, I have to admit that being a huge fan of this film and owning both a sub-par VHS rip of the original Prism release of Blood Rage and the now out of print Legacy Entertainment version of Nightmare at Shadow Woods, anyone who loves this film has had daydreams at one time or another about someone putting together one complete print of both films to create a definitive edition. Arrow has taken it upon themselves to finally do it and I was excited to finally see this! The re-mastered version of Blood Rage is used for this version and the first pool scene and second tennis court scene are added in from Nightmare at Shadow Woods. That’s pretty much all that is in the theatrical version that is absent from Blood Rage. But, those two scenes add more to the story so it’s great to see them here placed with footage from the original film. Thanks, Arrow!

OUTTAKES – A reel of alternate shots and other outtakes of the film presented without sound as it is on the source material. We get to see different angles and different presentations of certain scenes making this a must-see for anyone who loves this film.

I have to give Arrow five stars for this release. Though I’ve been a fan of theirs for several years now, their decision to market their legendary DVDs and Blu Rays to and for all regions shoots them to the top of my list of companies dedicating to preserving and releasing classic 80’s horror. They know exactly what they’re doing and they know exactly what us die-hard horror fans are looking for and desire in a Blu Ray release. This one is no exception. It’s obvious that they took a lot of time – and money – to lovingly restore this film and to bring it back to the conscience of horror fans everywhere who maybe had forgotten this film, horror fans who have never had the chance to watch it, or better yet, to those of us who have loved it since it sat on the shelf of our local video mom-and-pop. Exceptional job here, Arrow. Truly. Exceptional.

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