F*CK, SCARE, KILL: An Autopsy of Teen Horror BLOOD RAGE

F*CK, SCARE, KILL: An Autopsy of Teen Horror BLOOD RAGE

Horrorific content by Jessica Gomez on November 25th, 2020 | Culture | Slasher, College, Thanksgiving, Teen

A monthly column dissecting teen horror films.

Every November, lovers of the horror genre come together to bitch about the lack of Thanksgiving-themed horror movies. The holiday seems like the perfect setting: familial issues, holiday stress, and access to a carving knife are the perfect recipe for disaster. But the oft-forgotten 1987 slasher Blood Rage did use that recipe, with mixed results.

You may have heard of this film as Nightmare at Shadow Woods (as its heavily edited version), or as simply Slasher (as it appears on the original VHS) - all three versions are available from Arrow Films with cast and crew commentary - or, like most, maybe this is the first you’re hearing of it at all. However you know it, the story is as follows: adolescent twins Terry and Todd are in the backseat of their mom’s car at the Drive-In, where she’s trying to get it on with her boyfriend in the front seat (ew). The twins ditch the car and happen upon another vehicle where a teenage couple are fully nude having sex. Terry absolutely loses his marbles and hacks up the couple, but by the time anyone notices what’s happened, he’s already slipped the weapon into the hands of Todd, who ultimately takes the fall for the crime. Years later, on Thanksgiving day, Todd escapes the mental institution where he’s been held to go to the apartment complex where his mother and brother are living to tell his mother that he’s been wrongly accused all these years. Todd’s escape reignites some blood rage in Terry, and no one in the complex is safe.

It’s easy to forget that Blood Rage is a teen horror movie since all of the “teens” look like they’re about 40, but the premise follows a bunch of horned-up college kids - and even a few older people, because why not - who are offed because of their sexual promiscuity. It took me a minute to put it together as they don’t explicitly say it, but Terry and Todd’s creepy alcoholic mother has some kind of sexual relationship with Terry - she’s the real reason that all of these murders ever happened, because Terry is unable to view sex in a positive light or engage in a healthy sexual relationship with his girlfriend.

The layers to the screenplay, between the mother, mental health, and the twin angle, are quite dark. A dynamic performance from Mark Soper, who took his role seriously while still having fun, and played Todd and Terry much differently from each other, and notable Hollywood star Louise Lasser (while weirdly overacting and clearly out of her comfort zone) as the codependent and mentally unstable mother, could have made this a noteworthy psychological horror. But as you can expect from an 80s slasher, this movie can be intentionally and unintentionally campy, and director John Grissmer (who never directed another movie) put less emphasis on the complexities of the story and more on the superfluous gore, using Evil Dead as obvious inspiration. 

The low budget in Jacksonville, Florida spelled trouble on set: the original actor who was supposed to play Todd’s psychiatrist never showed up, so producer Marianne Kanter had to step into a pretty important role - both for story’s sake, and to show off the nastiest effects of the film, where her body is literally cut into two. Lasser was difficult to film, and notoriously did not get along with director Grissmer, who had to be talked into finishing the movie at all by Kanter. And though filmed in 1983, the film wasn’t given a limited theatrical release until 1987, under its Nightmare at Shadow Woods title, with much of the gore and special effects left off the screen. What few reviews it’s received have been mostly negative, but in recent years, the film has gained a small cult following in the horror community, giving it its due for its place in slasher history and its unyielding gruesome effects.
This movie is wholly enjoyable, but its lack of committal to true horror or horror comedy pays it a disservice. Had there been more memorable one-liners - not to say that “It’s not cranberry sauce!” isn’t a true gem - this would have been up there with Friday the 13th as an 80s favorite. I’d love to see a reboot of this one.

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