When it comes to holiday themed horror movies, Thanksgiving really gets the short end of the stick. Of course, Halloween has all of the really good movies, and rightfully so, seeing as how John Carpenter’s Halloween essentially kickstarted the modern slasher genre. Christmas has a pretty long list of entertaining films about it as well, including classics like Silent Night, Deadly Night and Black Christmas. Even April Fool’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and New Year’s Eve have legendary slasher movies that revolve around them. Between Home Sweet Home and ThanksKilling, the few fright flicks about Thanksgiving have been, excuse the pun, turkeys. In 1987, director John Grissmer (False Face) came up with another attempt at Thanksgiving horror with a twisted tale of twins called Blood Rage.
Blood Rage begins at a drive-in theater with Terry and Todd, a pair of twin brothers, getting tired of watching their mom, Maddie (Louise Lasser from “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman”), make out with her date. The boys sneak out and wander the lot, peeking into other cars. Terry finds one in which a teenage couple is having sex and stabs the boy. Before the authorities can arrive, Terry hands the knife to Todd and smears blood on him, and Todd ends up in an insane asylum. Years later, during Thanksgiving dinner, Maddie receives a call from the hospital telling her that Todd has escaped. The authorities believe that Todd (Graveyard Shift II’s Mark Soper) is on his way to the family’s home. Terry (also played by Soper) uses this knowledge and the benefit of looking exactly like Todd to engage in psychopathic behavior, brutally murdering his family, friends, and the doctors from the asylum who have come to apprehend Todd. Everyone thinks that Todd is doing the killing, but how long can Terry keep them all fooled?
Coming along at the tail end of the golden age of slasher movies, what Blood Rage lacks in storyline is more than made up for with graphic violence. Written by Bruce Rubin (Zapped!), the script is heavy on setup, but turns into a bloodbath about a third of the way in. The film, which was re-titled as Nightmare at Shadows Woods for cable television, feels almost like a parody of slasher movies. It’s got the escaped lunatic, the over-sexed teenagers, and a ton of blood and guts. There’s even an appearance by Ted Raimi from Candyman and Shocker (and brother of The Evil Dead director Sam Raimi) as a restroom condom salesman in the film’s opening drive-in scene. The movie’s silly vibe is helped along by Louise Lasser’s almost-comedic overacting; once the bodies start piling up, she spends most of the film on the phone crying to her fiancé. Even with its campiness, Blood Rage is not quite a comedy; it just has a little more humor, whether intentional or unintentional, than the average horror film.
The use of twin brothers is a fun and unique aspect that Blood Rage brings to the slasher table. Although the doppelganger motif is a horror movie trope, the fact that the evil brother is the free one while the good brother is locked up is what makes Blood Rage a little more interesting. John Grissmer uses the typical photographic methods of depicting the twins. Although the drive-in scene uses a real set of brothers named Keith and Ross Hall, the grown up Terry and Todd are both portrayed by Mark Soper. Grissmer uses a clever combination of camera angles, split screens, and body doubles in order to make Soper appear as twins. It’s all primitive stuff, but in the context of Blood Rage, the cheap tricks work.
While the special effects in Blood Rage are not as slick as some of the film’s contemporaries, they are still a whole lot of fun. Like any good slasher movie from the eighties, the carnage is all created through practical means without the benefit of CG. Legendary makeup effects artist Ed French, who has done work in everything from Sleepaway Camp and C.H.U.D. to Terminator 2: Judgment Day and The Black Dahlia, has a field day with Blood Rage, creating a ton of memorable illusions including severed limbs, decapitations, even a woman cut completely in half. The effects are not overly realistic, but that’s part of the charm; the splatter adds to the tongue-in-cheek look and feel of the film. The over-the-top kill scenes make Blood Rage feel like it’s mocking its own genre – and doing it well.
Blood Rage also features a seriously horror-ific soundtrack by composer Richard Einhorn (The Prowler, Don’t Go in the House). The music is the very epitome of what a horror movie soundtrack should be; minimalistic and spooky with just enough humor to keep it from getting too depressing. The score is loaded with stingers and stabs at just the right moments, but is also chock full of haunting little piano melodies mixed together with heavy synthesizer lines. If Blood Rage is a parody of the slasher movie, then the score is in on the joke.
In all fairness, Thanksgiving is a tough holiday to sell as a horror movie theme, but Blood Rage manages to pull it off well. As underrepresented as Thanksgiving is in the horror world, it could be worse; Easter movies are even scarcer.