Monday, November 30, 2015

BLOOD RAGE (1987) (Arrow Video Blu-ray Review)

BLOOD RAGE (1983) 
Label: Arrow Video
Rating: Certificate 18
Duration: 82 Minutes
Region: Region Free
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1)
Audio: Uncompressed PCM 2.0 Stereo with Optional English Subtitles 

Director: John Grissmer 
Cast: Louise Lasser, Mark Soper, Marianne Kanter, Julie Gordon, Jayne Bentzen 

Synopsis: Twins Todd and Terry seem like sweet boys that is, until one of them takes an axe to face of a fellow patron at the local drive-in. Todd is blamed for the bloody crime and institutionalised, whilst twin brother Terry goes free. Ten years later and, as the family gathers around the table for a Thanksgiving meal, the news comes in that Todd has escaped. But has the real killer in fact been in their midst all along? One thing’s for sure, there will be blood and rage!

Now I fancy myself something of a slasher movie connoisseur but this is one movie that had evaded me until it was announced by Arrow Video for release, so there's some amount of obscurity to it. Shot in 1983 but not released until 1987, Blood Rage is a gruesome and fun slasher movie, with an offbeat tone and a wicked vein of mean spiritedness. It begins innocently enough at a drive-in movie theater in the year 1974 during a presentation of the b-movie chiller The House that Cried Murder. Horny single mother Maddy (Louise Lasser - Frankenhooker) is on a date with her boyfriend, her adolescent twin boys Terry and Todd are asleep in the back of the car> When Maddy and her boyfriend start groping each other the boys awaken and leave the car through the back without the notice of their irresponsible mother. They wander the drive-in and along the way Terry finds a hatchet in the back of a pick-up truck. When the boys come upon a car with a pair of young lovers screwing in the backseat Terry murders the teen with an ax to the face, it's a wonderfully gruesome scene. As the young woman runs away from car nude, screaming for help, Terry smears blood on Todd's face and paces the murder weapon in his hand, blaming him for the murder. In the aftermath Todd is sent away to an asylum in a catatonic state, unable to speak the truth about his innocence.

Now ten years later Todd is beginning to speak to his doctor Dr. Berman (Marianne Kanter) at the asylum, and he now says that it was his twin Terry who committed the heinous ax murder a decade ago at the drive-in. When Todd's mother comes for a Thanksgiving visit to the asylum to see her son the doc informs her of what Todd has said, but Maddy refuses to accept any of it. That night Todd escapes the asylum and returns home to the Shadow Woods apartments, followed by a string of bloody murders. 

I love the set-up of this movie, it's not original in that it apes John Carpenter's Halloween to a certain degree with a child-murderer sent away to the asylum, only to escape on a holiday and return home years later. This time around it's Thanksgiving, even though turkey day is give short shrift with only a few nods to the day of feasting, though we do get a memorable turkey carving scene. The addition of a twin-thread is a nice move but is wasted, we know that Todd is innocent and Terry is the demented killer from the very start, so there is never a chance to build any sort of suspense or intrigue around the whodunit. It seems to me they could have milked that for a bit more than they did, which is a bit of a waste.

As for the cast we have the raspy voiced Louise Lasser from Frankenhooker as yet another slightly demented mom, she plays it straight and over dramatic to great effect. Actor Mark Soper plays the dual-role of the twins, you might remember him as the teen who gets his cock bitten off in The World According to Garp. He plays Terry as outgoing and cocky, his murder-spree at time reminded me of eric Freeman from Silent Night, Deadly Night Pt. 2, very bizarre. Soper's version of "it's Garbage Day!" comes by way of "It's NOT cranberry sauce". Terry's virginal girlfriend Karen (Jayne Bentzen) proves to be the final girl and looks a bit like Amy Steele from Friday the 13th Pt. 2, which doesn't hurt. 

Most of the fun happens in and around the Shadow Woods apartment complex, or the nature walk in the woods nearby, it's a cheap setting and the sets are rather dull honestly. The wooded area nearby proves more atmospheric but for some reason is over lit and not that scary a place, the movie seems too bright in general for a slasher. Where the movie excels is in the gore gag department, courtesy of special make-up effects creator Ed French who cut his teeth on early '80s horror movies like Sleepaway Camp, Breeders, C.H.U.D. and The Stuff. He creates some fun, creative gore, though some of the seams do shows through with this new HD presentation. The torso cut in half, a head split in two exposing a halved brain, the ax to the face, a decapitation, slashed throats and deep knife wounds will keep the gore hounds happy. There's also multiple scenes of nudity from Andrea (Lisa Randall) and others that will keep the pervs properly aroused, nothing too sleazy, a few shots of horny lovers and a prerequisite shower scene. 

The movie has some issues that might dampen your fun,as stated before the apartment is a dull setting, the pace lags from time to time, and the cast ranges from bad to just offbeat, but Mark Soper and Louise Lasser do offbeat to great effect. Particularly Lasser who plays the loony mom to the hilt, stuffing her face with Thanksgiving leftovers while slumped on the floor in a fit of hysterics, some good stuff from her throughout as she takes it over-the-top. 

Blood Rage is certainly not a top-tier '80s slasher and that's okay by me, it's still a gruesome and mean-spirited slice of slasher cinema that I would put alongside the holiday themed slasher New Year's Evil, not truly awful but entertaining for not quite the right reasons. 

Audio/Video: Slasher obscurity Blood Rage arrives on Blu-ray from Arrow Video in a rather deluxe 3-disc presentation featuring three cuts of the movie. The main course is a brand-new 2K restoration of the “hard” home video version featuring all the gore bits you slasher nuts are gonna want. Framed in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) the HD image looks surprisingly nice, with an over abundance of grain the image can be a bit thick and scrappy at times, if you know anything about me you know I don't mind a some film grain in my movies. I prefer it to the excessive digital scrubbing that wipes away fine detail and tone. Colors are nicely saturated and the black levels and shadow detail are good, though I will say that the brightness level seems a tad high, this might be the brightest slasher since Dario Argento's Tenebre, the woodland nature walk scenes look like they were shot on a football field at night with the lighting cranked-up to max. it certainly takes away from the tone and atmosphere of the movie. 

Audio chores are capably handled by an uncompressed English PCM Stereo 2.0 with some good oomph to it, everything comes through well balanced with good fidelity. I love the synth score from composer Richard Einhorn (Shock Waves, The Prowler) with the perfect amount of synth tinged menace and '80s cheese, the recurring main title theme is a knock-out in my opinion. Optional English subtitles are provided for hard of hearing and hearing impaired, or if you just live with loud kids who make it near impossible to watch a movie ...not that I am speaking from experience.  

Onto the extras this is where Arrow Video have gone above and beyond. Let start with the fact that we have three-versions of the movie beginning with the aforementioned 2K restoration of the “hard” home video version, transferred from the camera negative and featuring the original "Slasher" title card, which is my preferred version. We have all that great gore from special make-up effects creator Ed French. Then we have the Nightmare at Shadow Woods version, a shorter theatrical re-cut featuring footage not seen in the Blood Rage home video version, but minus a lot of the great gore, which has either been omitted or cut down significantly.  The third and final version is the longer alternate Composite Cut of the movie combining footage from the home video and theatrical versions, sourced from various elements the quality fluctuates a bit from scene to scene, but it is an interesting watch, though at the end of the day the "hard" restored home video version is the one to go with in my opinion. 

There's also an audio commentary from director John Grissmer and movie rights-holder John Daly moderated by Ewan Cant from Arrow Video. I have not had a chance to pour through the commentary just yet given I watched all three versions of the movie, I anticipate a commentary viewing in the coming days. 

Arrow Video have teamed-up with Red Short Pictures to bring us a series of brand-new interviews with actors Mark Soper and Louise Lasser, plus Ted Raimi who made his first onscreen appearance with Blood Rage as a condom-selling dweeb at a drive-in. There's also a great interview with producer/actress Marianne Kanter who speaks about the challenges raising money or and the making the movie, plus special make-up effects creator Ed French speaks about his time on the movie creating the gruesome special effects. 

There's also featurette revisiting the original locations in Jacksonville, Florida with film historian Ed Tucker, an alternate VHS opening titles sequence featuring the "Blood Rage" title card, plus an image gallery featuring some cool behind-the-scenes shots of the make-up effects being created and applied, courtesy of Ed French. 

This release also includes a collector's booklet with writing on the movie by Joseph A. Ziemba, author of BLEEDING SKULL! A 1980s Trash-Horror Odyssey, plus a sleeve of reversible artwork. Arrow Video have truly gone above and beyond for this release, they are deserving of the Criterion of Horror honor that is so often thrown their way. Maybe Criterion should be called the Arrow of non-horror...

Special Features:
- Brand new 2K restoration of the “hard” home video version, transferred from the camera negative and featuring the original title card Slasher
- Audio commentary with director John Grissmer
- Both Sides of the Camera – an interview with producer/actress Marianne Kanter (10 Mins) HD
- Double Jeopardy – an interview with actor Mark Soper (11 Mins) HD
- Jeez, Louise! – an interview with actress Louise Lasser(10 Mins) HD
- Man Behind the Mayhem – an interview with special make-up effects creator Ed French (13 Mins) HD
- Three Minutes with Ted Raimi – an interview with actor Ted Raimi (3 Mins) HD
- Return to Shadow Woods – featurette revisiting the original locations in Jacksonville, Florida with film historian Ed Tucker (6 Mins) HD
- Alternate VHS Opening Titles with the "Blood Rage" Title Card (5 Mins)
- Motion still gallery featuring rare behind-the-scenes make-up photos (5 Mins) HD 
- Nightmare at Shadow Woods – the re-edited 1987 theatrical re-cut featuring footage not seen in the Blood Rage home video version (79 Mins) HD
- Alternate composite cut of the feature combining footage from the home video and theatrical versions (82 Mins) HD
- Never-before-seen outtakes (27 Mins) HD 

- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Marc Schoenbach

- Fully-illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Joseph A. Ziemba, author of BLEEDING SKULL! A 1980s Trash-Horror Odyssey

Blood Rage is a cheesy eighties slasher, there's not a lot of originality about it, the acting is offbeat to say the least, but it does manage to pass the time nicely.  For me it's the loony performances of Louise Lasser as the loving mother and the dual-role from Mark Soper, plus the creative gore from Ed French that will keep me coming back to this one. On top of that we have a solid A/V presentation with loads of awesome extras, this anemic '80s slasher had received one mighty fine release from Arrow Video.