Blood Rage. 1987. Directed by John Grissmer. Screenplay by Richard Lamden.
Starring Louise Lasser, Mark Soper, Julie Gordon, Jayne Bentzen, Marianne Kanter, James Farrell, Chad Montgomery, Lisa Randall, William Fuller, Gerry Lou, & Ed French.
Film Limited Partnership
Rated R. 82 minutes.
It’s not hard to find 20 different types of slashers, like picking fresh berries at the beginning of a ripe season. There are so many it’s a feat unto itself to see them all. In that quest there’s many duds, also plenty of fantastic ones, too. Point being, to stand out a slasher flick has to be really funny, really brutal, or set itself apart visually in order for anybody to take notice.
Blood Rage is a darkly funny, gory, and thematically disturbing slasher. This was shot in 1983 and unreleased until 1987 as a heavily edited cut eliminating many of the bloody practical effects. It was released as Nightmare at Shadow Woods and also as the plainly titled Slasher, before eventually being given its current title. Somewhere along the way the movie suffered due to all this nonsense.
That’s a shame because this 1987 shocker is better than its reputation. Father Gore didn’t see it until very recently, when Arrow Films put out a fantastic Blu-ray. Not only does the transfer look good, the story’s deeply unsettling. The plot concerns twin brothers, one of whom ends up in a psychiatric hospital after the other pins a vicious murder on him. Years later the institutionalised brother returns home and a series of murders begins at his mother’s apartment building. There’s a terrible sense of Freud’s Unheimlich (the Uncanny) present in the use of twins as a plot device. It’s creepier once other Freudian themes emerge, as explored by the relationship of the twins to their mother. All of this collides culminating in a shocking finale that’s genuinely unforgettable.
Although this is an ’80s slasher and sex is never far from the decade’s many horror movies, sex is especially prevalent in the beginning of Blood Rage. A cameo appearance from 19-year-old Ted Raimi – his movie debut – starts things out in the bathroom, where he opens his jacket to reveal a condom black market. From there, everybody’s getting laid/in the process of trying to get laid at the drive-in. In one car is Maddy (Louise Lasser) with her latest man, and in the back are her twin sons, Terry and Todd. While Todd’s not overly concerned with what’s going on his brother Terry moans: “Mom‘s at it again.” So, they go have some fun. Only Terry’s idea of fun is using a small axe to butcher the guy who bought a condom earlier. Wrapped up in all this blood is the sex and the proximity of the boys to their mother on the verge of getting it on with a dude.
After grown up Todd’s (Mark Soper) escaped the hospital years later, Maddy lies in bed while everybody’s out looking for her supposedly crazy son. Todd actually returns to his mother’s room, but she thinks it’s Terry (Mark Soper). He leans in and they kiss on the lips before Todd leaves again. This, coupled with young Terry jealous of seeing a man with his mother, leads the viewer to contemplate whether there’s an inappropriate relationship between him and his mother. Young kids kiss their parents on the lips, however it’s strange for a grown man and his mother to kiss that way, even if only brief. The more the movie wears on the further a Freudian nightmare between mother and son develops. We see Terry again become extremely jealous once his mother announces she’ll be getting married. His killing spree’s most surely due to his mother being stolen by another man.
The finale’s where mother-son madness peaks. Once Terry and Todd come face to face, they have a violent confrontation ending with Maddy having to gun Terry down. Afterwards, she goes to her remaining son sobbing: “It‘s just us, Terry.” This devastates Todd. A grim realisation sets in, then Maddy flies into hysterics. As the both of them reel in their pain – Todd because his mother clearly thought he was a murderer despite his pleas, and Maddy because she’s lost the son she clearly cared more for – they each wail “I‘m Todd” perpetually. Not only is the whole thing terrifying, the knowledge Todd will get pinned with the entire massacre is awful, as well as the fact Maddy’s basically confirmed she and Terry were in a borderline, if not full-on incestuous relationship. One of the eeriest ends to a slasher film, ever.
“You’re such a good boy”
Freud’s concept of Unheimlich or the Uncanny is essentially boiled down to an uneasy feeling brought on by the familiarity of something unfamiliar. There’s a sense of having known something then it being lost, such as the feeling of seeing someone you think you know only to realise it’s someone altogether different. Like when Karen (Julie Gordon) runs into who she thinks is Terry, talking to him as she would regularly. When Todd lets her know he’s not his brother, she’s thrust into unfamiliar terror, all the while knowing he’s escaped from a psychiatric hospital and is presumed dangerous. She goes from having known who he was, to the unfamiliar, to knowing his real identity in a full circle.
As a slasher trope, the twins are inherently Uncanny because they can switch interchangeably. For the viewer, we always know who’s who and what their intentions are – like when we see Terry acting nicely while wielding a machete behind his back – but for the characters of Blood Rage, the spookiness of identical twins produces an Uncanny sensation. Because it’s a slasher, the Uncanny results in bloody death. In the scene where Terry murders his mom’s fiancee Brad (William Fuller), the man assumes Terry’s harmless because of the confusion the twin’s already heaped on everybody by accusing his brother of his heinous childhood killing. The Uncanny’s unveiled to Brad only seconds before he dies, as Terry lops off his beer drinking hand, and later he winds up as a gruesome murderer’s tableaux. The use of Freud’s Uncanny is perfect throughout, giving us a taste of the unsettling from both Terry’s and Todd’s side respectively.
Absolutely shameful Father Gore took decades to see this slasher. Blood Rage is one of the purest ’80s horror movies. From its look and feel, to the blood red colour of the credits/title, to the cheesy but awesome gore effects, to the Freudian plot, there’s an undeniably old school feeling to the whole thing. John Grissmer should’ve done more in his career. Perhaps this was, and still is to a degree, too underappreciated. So great Arrow Films has pumped this back into the world in all its trashy glory.
You can do far worse than this 1987 slasher for your October/Halloween season. This will now forever be on my yearly watchlist. It’s simply too damn good to pass up. Okay, it’s no masterpiece! That’s not to say it isn’t excellent, neither does it mean those juicy Freudian themes aren’t rattling around and provoking all kinds of lurid, disturbing thoughts. A slasher’s always a great time when it goes for broke. And let me tell you, Blood Rage swings for the fences— all 82 minutes. R-rated’s never been so damn sweet!