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Blood Rage

Arrow Video // Unrated // December 15, 2015 // Region 0
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted December 23, 2015 | E-mail the Author
Oh, we're doing that thing where we go around the table and say what we're thankful for this year? ::awkwardly clears throat:: I'm thankful for Arrow Video, I'm thankful for gloriously ridiculous '80s slashers, and I'm extra thankful that I can probably sell anyone reading this on Blood Rage without writing a word:

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You guys, the hand's still twitching. So, yeah, this isn't going to be one of those excruciatingly long reviews that drones on about mise en scene or sociopolitical whatchamadoozits.

Rolling the clock back to 1974, Blood Rage opens at the drive-in with a couple of lovers necking. Sounds like a familiar story, right? Well, one of the young lovers is Maddy (Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman's Louise Lasser) who can't bring herself to leave her twin sons with a sitter. They wake up to see their mom getting pawed by the latest in a neverending parade of boyfriends, so they sneak out of the station wagon to raise a little cain. ...aaaaaaand they do:

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Well, Terry does, anyway. Todd's kind of shellshocked by the sight of his brother splitting some douchebag's head open, to the point where Terry's able to smear some grue on the kid's face and plop the the hatchet in his hands. Todd's dragged off to a mental institution, while Terry washes all that blood off his hands and gets to live the good life with Mom. If you ignore the clunky voiceover at the nuthouse, anyway, the idea is that no one knows the actual murderer is running around scot-free while a perfectly innocent kid is rotting away under lock and key. But hey, it's a Thanksgiving miracle! Todd (Mark Soper), whose hairline demands a whole lotta disbelief be suspended to buy him as an eighteen year old, is finally coming home! Everyone thinks that Terry's psychotic twin brother is going to butcher everyone in sight, but little do they know that yadda yadda yadda. You get the idea. Good twin, evil twin, shit goes south.

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Blood Rage -- at least in its original, unrated cut -- is friggin' nuts. You have the cigarette-ravaged star of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman having her tits practically pop out at Thanksgiving dinner, later sitting spreadeagle on the kitchen floor stuffing her face full of leftovers, and then misdialing frantic calls for help on the phone for, like, half the movie. There's an intensely dramatic scene with a slice of pumpkin pie being mushed into a ball and thrown at a nuthouse wall. Ted Raimi has a bit part selling condoms at the drive-in. The staggering volume of sex, nudity, and tightly-bound cleavage would give Joe Bob Briggs an aneurysm trying to tally up those drive-in totals. ...and the splatter is just...there aren't words.

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Blood Rage hails from the class of 1983, sharing the stage with such storied alumni as Curtains, Sleepaway Camp, and The House on Sorority Row. For whatever reason, this one didn't make it, remaining largely unseen until a heavily cut version limped into theaters under its seventeenth different title or whatever. (It was filmed as Complex, the onscreen title for this presentation is Slasher, the original video release had Blood Rage tacked onto it, the theatrical reissue and certain TV airings went by Nightmare at Shadow Woods, and that's probably not even a complete list.) If you're wondering which version Arrow Video has unearthed for this Blu-ray release, the answer is "all of them".

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If you're aching for some unnervingly intense stalk-and-slash that'll keep you perched on the edge of your couch, keep on looking. Blood Rage doesn't aim for that so much, but it's a hell of a lot of fun. It's the right kind of batshit insane, with its relentless strangeness never coming across as force-fed, heavy-handed camp. If you were weaned on '80s slashers the way I was, you'll never stop laughing, and occasionally that's even by design! Its dementedly imaginative splatter has to rank somewhere in the all-time top five for any '80s body count flick. Extra credit for being the first full-length Thanksgiving-themed slasher I've ever come across too! (Sorry, Home Sweet Home; score a Blu-ray release and maybe we'll talk.) Kind of a drag that this mid-December release overshot Turkey Day, but at least this almost absurdly lavish special edition of Blood Rage is hitting store shelves just in time for Christmas. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus! Highly Recommended.

Hey, someone finally did it! Newly remastered from the original camera negative, Blood Rage has unseated the original Nightmare on Elm St. as the most gore-geous '80s slasher flick on Blu-ray. Especially whenever it has plenty of light to play with, Blood Rage looks as if its cameras could've been rolling the Wednesday before last, dated only by the garish hair styles and boat-sized sedans. The image is as gleamingly sharp as the machete that Terry is waving around, its colors are a total knockout, and the level of fine detail on display here is borderline-surreal. Things don't always hold up quite so well when the lights are dialed down, though that's not as much of an issue as you'd probably expect. The liner notes mention that some shots are saddled with strobing colors, although I really only noticed that in one moment very early on, and the effect is so mild that it's really not worth sweating at all. The AVC encode isn't Arrow's best work but leaves little room for disappointment just the same, and the original film elements have been cleaned up masterfully and respectfully. I'd write more, but being awestruck does that to you.

"It's not cranberry sauce!"

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Blood Rage shares this dual-layer Blu-ray disc with a gaggle of other extras. The second disc in the set -- also a BD-50 -- includes two other cuts of the film in pristine 1080p. An anamorphic widescreen DVD rounds out this combo pack, although strangely enough, the BDs are all-region while the DVD is locked to region 2. I assume this is something Arrow is going to have to issue replacement discs or something for down the road.

Not only is Blood Rage the best looking '80s slasher on Blu-ray, but its 24-bit PCM stereo soundtrack puts it in the running as the best sounding too. Aside from the agonizingly wretched narration in the nuthouse, Blood House sounds pretty much perfect to these ears. Its dialogue is clear and distinct, the synth-bass and kick drums in the score pack a hell of a wallop, and there are really only a couple of lightly crackly stretches to speak of. Outstanding, and when I use bold and italics like that, you know I mean it.

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Blood Rage also has a set of optional English (SDH) subtitles riding shotgun. The story and specs alike are the same for the censored theatrical cut as well as the new composite version.

  • Alternate Cuts (164 min.; HD): The second disc in this limited edition piles on two additional cuts of Blood Rage. First up is Nightmare at Shadow Woods, the heavily censored version that made the rounds in theaters in 1987. This version ditches Maddy's visit to the mental institution altogether, and pretty much all of the gore has been snipped out at well. To pad out the runtime, a deleted sequence with the gang hanging out around the swimming pool has been spliced back in, Terry proves to not be all that tender a lover, and there's a hair more sex and nudity as well. This additional footage has been transferred from a 35mm print, and it looks terrific, though obviously not in the same league as the meat of the film which continues to be culled from the original negative. Nightmare at Shadow Woods clocks in at 79 minutes all told.

    A new composite cut takes the 'hard' version of Blood Rage and reinserts the pool sequence, though I didn't spot any of the other bits and bobs from Nightmare at Shadow Woods in here. The stuff around the pool isn't half-bad, setting the stage for some of what's to come (such as the whole babysitter thing) and foreshadowing one character's grisly demise. This version runs 85 minutes, by the way.

  • Outtakes (27 min.; HD): This silent reel of outtakes -- presented full-frame, complete with slates! -- includes a look at another nutjob at the mental institution, lounging around the pool (and then some!) and the tennis court, and a peek at some cuddlin' corpses and breathing bodies. This footage is also on the second disc, which looks like it will only be a part of this limited edition. Everything from here on out is on the first disc that will hopefully be around forever and ever, amen.

  • Interviews (46 min.; HD): Five interviews! Count 'em. Five, four, baby, three, two, one, gimme Soper: Mark Soper, who chats about ensuring that twins Terry and Todd read as two very different characters, how much of a blast he had making Blood Rage even if the constantly changing titles made it tough to highlight on his résumé, and how well the film continues to endure in cult cinema circles all these years later. The highlight of this eleven minute interview doesn't directly involve him, but let's just say that maybe you should put up the 'Do Not Disturb' sign if your hotel room is packed to the gills with severed heads and dismembered bodies.

    Louise Lasser's memories of making Blood Rage are somewhat fuzzy, but she still speaks briefly in this ten minute conversation about what an oddball Maddy is and the character's skewed perception of the world around her. Lasser's fans will surely appreciate the actress charting the early years of her career, from acting alongside Woody Allen all the way to landing TV superstardom.

    If everything had gone according to plan, this ten minute interview with producer Marianne Kanter wouldn't have been called "Both Sides of the Camera". The actress originally hired to play the psychiatrist never showed up, Kanter was no stranger being in front of the camera, so...yeah. Kanter also speaks about lining up the financing for Blood Rage in an era when female producers were unheard of, the allure of filming in Jacksonville, and what a tumultuous production this was. Lasser and director John Grissmer clashed to the point that he quit, and the replacement was such a poor fit that Grismmer had to be wooed back to return to the helm. Lasser apparently wasn't ready for the shoot to end, either...I mean, violently so. Why didn't anyone else in the other interviews talk about this stuff?

    The title "Both Sides of the Camera" would also have applied to Ed French, pulling double duty in Blood Rage as both an actor and as a special makeup effects artist. I think we can all agree that "Man Behind the Mayhem" (13 min.) is a better fit, though. French runs through a bunch of the most memorable splatter effects from concept to completion, including a pair of severed legs that were meant to keep running for a bit but wound up on the cutting room floor instead.

    Finally, "Three Minutes with Ted Raimi" is...well, just that, as Raimi tells the story about how his first role in a feature film can be traced back to rear-ending a police cruiser in Detroit.
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  • Return to Shadow Woods (6 min.; HD-ish): Longtime fan Ed Tucker gives Blood Rage the Horror's Hallowed Grounds treatment, revisiting the many locations throughout Jacksonville where the film's cameras were rolling thirty-plus years ago. ...and, hey, there are still bloodstains from the shoot by the indoor pool!

  • VHS Opening Titles (5 min.; SD): Ooooh, a version of the flick that actually says "Blood Rage" on-screen! As you could probably guess by the way it's labeled on the menu, this 4x3 title sequence has been sourced from video, and it's the only thing in this sprawling set that's not in high-def.

  • Audio Commentary: I was on a good run for a while there, but I guess sooner or later I had to wind up suffering through a pretty lousy commentary track. Arrow's Ewan Cant moderates this commentary with director John Grissmer and co-rights-holder John A. Dalley, but the track never settles into any sort of comfortable rhythm. Conversation feels strained, bridged by lengthy expanses of nothing. Grissmer often needs to be prompted with a question to say anything, and his responses are generally terse and less than descriptive. Grissmer's comments are also at odds with some of the extras elsewhere in this collection, saying only glowing things about Louise Lasser, claiming that Marianne Kanter had always been intended to play the psychiatrist, and skipping over the whole thing about quitting the production and having to be convinced to take the reins again. There are a few scattered highlights -- Halloween's influence on the drive-in carnage, brief comments about the various different cuts of Blood Rage, and Dalley helping Kanter to stamp out all the bootlegs of the film floating around -- but as a whole, this is one of the most disappointing commentaries I've suffered through in a long, long while.

  • Behind the Scenes Gallery (5 min.; HD): This four and a half minute slideshow focuses on high-res stills of the gruesome makeup effects work coming together.

This three-disc release boasts reversible cover art and a ridiculously fun set of liner notes by Alamo Drafthouse's Joseph A. Ziemba. The whole thing comes packaged in a cardboard sleeve with glossy, bloody accents.

The Final Word
I just can't get over how exceptional Arrow Video's release slate has been throughout their first year on this side of the pond, and with three (!) cuts of Blood Rage and a slew of interviews, their blood-slathered Valentine to this gonzo, largely unseen '80s slasher is the perfect way to cap it all off. Highly Recommended.
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