Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #502
Also known as Nightmare at Shadow Woods
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: June 1987
Sub-Genre: Eighties Slasher
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 84 minutes
Director: John Grissmer
Producer: Marianne Kanter
Screenplay: Bruce Rubin
Special Effects: Ed French
Cinematography: Timothy Philo
Score: Richard Einhorn
Editing: Christine Williams, Janet Wickenhaver
Studio: Film Limited Partnership
Distributors: Prism Entertainment Corporation, Arrow Video (Blu-ray/DVD)
Stars: Louise Lasser, Mark Soper, Marianne Kanter, Julie Gordon, Jayne Bentzen, Bill Cakmis, James Farrell, Ed French, William Fuller, Brad Leland, Gerry Lou, Chad Montgomery, Ted Raimi, Dana Drescher, Lisa Randall, Dylan Riggs, Rebecca Thorp, Douglas Weiser
Suggested Audio Candy
Richard Einhorn “Main Theme”
The eighties slasher has always been a favorite topic of mine. After the theatrical success of Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday The 13th, it wasn’t long before the floodgates opened and dozens of copycat killers flooded the marketplace. At first, the movement was in fine form, and the early part of the decade was rife with options. However, by the mid-eighties, things began to swan dive considerably and, by 1987, had all but dried up. Among those late to the party was John Grissmer’s Blood Rage. Completed in 1983, it was then shelved for four years before finally surfacing under the new title Nightmare At Shadow Woods. By the time it reached home video, the majority of its bloodletting had been trimmed away, leaving a sub-par effort hardly worthy of second glance. Thanks to Arrow Video’s recent restoration job, it is finally available in all its uncut glory and it appears that Grissmer’s oddity will find itself the captive audience it was never before granted.
Let’s be clear on one thing from the offset. Blood Rage is unlikely to ever win any awards for filmmaking. It’s decidedly low-rent, wholly unoriginal, often laughably inept, and almost entirely devoid of tension. In the grand scheme of things, it occupies the same shaky ground as Scott Spiegel’s Intruder and more recent efforts such as Justin Russell’s The Sleeper and Joseph Ariola’s Knock Knock. While, none of the aforementioned are exactly masterpieces, they’re all a whole cavalcade of fun and punch above their weight as a result of two simple ingredients: the ability not to take themselves too seriously and gallon upon gallon of gushing grue. In its newly restored format, Grissmer’s film ticks both of those boxes effortlessly and, as long as you are willing to forgive its numerous trespasses, then you’re guaranteed to be left smiling wide come the end credits. Just remember that pinch of salt and best be making it a big ‘un.
I guess it would be a good time to talk plot and, fret not, as this will not take long. Our story focuses on identical twins Terry and Todd (both played by Mark Soper), two young men with wildly varying lifestyles. Terry is the golden child, well liked by his peers and popular with the ladies, he’s happily living it up without a care in the world. Todd, on the other hand, has spent his entire adolescence in a padded cell with nothing more than safety scissors as company. After taking the heat for his brother’s mean streak as a child, Todd’s quality of life has taken something of a knock and even his own mother Maddy (Louise Lasser: Frankenhooker, Crimewave) seems content to let him take the rap for Terry’s unforeseen hatchet flurry.
It is Thanksgiving and Todd decides that enough is enough as, while brother dearest is busy carving the bird, he’s stuck with a slice of momma’s home-made pie which looks more like dog vomit. Despite any rough justice, he has no intention of causing mayhem as he makes his escape and returns home for the festivities. Meanwhile, Terry sees himself an opportunity for an extended spree, knowing full well that he can pin that shit on Todd. Grissmer decides against incorporating any element of mystery and, instead, lets his audience straight in on the gag. While this decision effectively saps any hope of sustainable tension from proceedings, Soper’s double-pronged assault ensures that our investment doesn’t waver. I’m not about to blow smoke into assholes and suggest that an Academy nod was on the cards but each of the twins have their own look, posturing, facial repertoire and overall feel. Iffy dialogue aside, it is a measured performance and Soper keeps the ship afloat almost single-handedly.
Almost. You see, any fans of the glorious Betsy Russell (mom if your name’s Jason Voorhees and Pam to her friends) then you will find Lasser’s barely hinged Maddy an absolute joy to behold. There are entire scenes dedicated to watching her furiously go at her oven with a scouring pad and long, drawn out phone conversations with the operator that need to be seen to be believed and Blood Rage would be all the poorer for not using Lasser for padding. As her screws gradually unfasten and she runs out of appliances to polish, we are treated to a plethora of riches and possibly one of the most demented characters to ever find it past the storyboarding process. God bless her for that.
The rest of the cast is fully aware that they are mere tokens and line up like lambs for the fleecing. However, in Julie Gordon’s Karen we have ourselves a fitting final girl and everyone else hams it up admirably. I have a particular fondness for James Farrell’s Artie, don’t ask why, he’s a whole bag of dicks but goddammit a lovable one. Even Ted Raimi puts in a shift as a restroom lurking condom salesman and we get the impression that Blood Rage was something of a hoot to shoot. Sure, Bruce Rubin’s screenplay is pure Camembert but, if they’re all having fun, then we can’t help but get involved in the shenanigans. Brain cells can replenish on their own time but, for 84 borderline goofy minutes, it’s time for those neurons to rest. Most critically, the wise decision is made to play things straight.
Where Blood Rage excels is its grue and, in Ed French it has itself one decidedly safe pair of hands. His extensive list of credits include C.H.U.D., Creepshow 2 and lo-and behold Terminator 2: Judgement Day, and his practical effects here are wonderfully schlocky and excessive. The budget restrictions are clear as a few dispatches occur off-screen but, even when that is the case, he can’t resist a quick peek at the aftermath. It may never quite scale the heights of Intruder but that isn’t through a lack of effort and Grissmer lays the splatter on thicker than most. Another winning factor is the perky synthesized score courtesy of Richard Einhorn (The Prowler, Eyes of a Stranger, Don’t Go in the House) which is almost enough to bust out the leg warmers for.
I’ve got a lot of love for Blood Rage and would advise any slasher enthusiast to track it down post-haste although it is better to enter with your expectations low and allow it to win you over. I’ve been desperate for Eli Roth to come good on his pledge to elaborate further on his Grindhouse trailer, Thanksgiving, and that sadly is no closer to happening but, while we’re waiting for it to come home for the holidays, Grissmer’s toothsome turkey will do more than nicely. There is something to be said for a movie that openly embraces its imperfection and, defects aside, it does precisely what it states on the tin. By the way, in case you are wondering, it is not cranberry sauce.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 6/10
Grue Factor: 5/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Well slap my thigh and call me Cleatus, we have ourselves a veritable banquet here. Machete is Terry’s weapon of choice and he happens to wield it decidedly well. Faces are gashed wide open, chests stabbed, hands lopped off, throats punctured, torsos chopped in two, and heads split down the middle like ripe honeydew melons. For additional side relish, we are treated to a little harmless full frontal nudity, and Grissmer certainly can’t be accused of laying on a stingy spread.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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