Collins’ Crypt: At Long Last, Everyone Can See BLOOD RAGE

In this era of streaming, an obscure/awesome '80s slasher gets the deluxe Blu-ray treatment.

I went to a Best Buy store last week, probably for the first time in months, and was kind of dismayed to see how small the Blu-ray/DVD section had become. What used to get a sizable chunk of the floor is now, I think, three aisles (and not very long ones), most of which is devoted to kids' movies and TV series (HBO pretty much has an aisle to themselves). The horror section was particularly pitiful - it was basically just all the Blumhouse movies released in the past couple years and a few oldies like The Shining or The Ring for good measure. This is the same store I bought my beloved budget pack with Cathy's Curse on it - now you have to special order such things from their website and it takes two weeks to arrive (as opposed to 2-3 days like their regular stuff).

It's too early to call the death of physical releases of movies just yet, but it's clear that the format is increasingly less important to consumers at large. There will always be a need for the latest Pixar or Marvel movie (until every car on the road has built-in wi-fi, that is), but duds like Mortdecai and the Point Break remake, and maybe even middle of the road stuff like The Intern, will probably be impossible to find in the big name stores in a few years. The shelf space given to the format will continue to decrease, same as CDs, and will be populated only by big movies the average customer is likely to buy - things like the Poltergeist remake won't make the cut. It's sad, especially as a horror fan - they're already niche films, and the best way to have them is on what is now becoming a niche format.

Luckily, not everyone thinks like the big box stores, and still sees the value in not only putting titles out on disc, but packing them to the gills with bonus features. How else to explain that, in a time when Best Buy and Target offer more shelf space to coffeemakers than movies, I have a brand new three disc set* of the obscure 1987 slasher Blood Rage sitting right here on my desk? This is a movie that had never been really released on DVD (only a cut version of dubious quality, and is long out of print anyway), so clearly the relatively few people who'd be interested in it would probably be happy with the movie alone on a remastered DVD if Blu-ray wasn't financially viable for the distributor. But Arrow did far more than that, offering up a set that will take you hours to go through in its entirety - for a movie that could have very easily never hit the format at all even in its heyday.

If you've never heard of Blood Rage, don't feel too bad - I myself never did until 2012, when a friend told me about it and lent me his VHS copy. At the time I figured it was gonna be one of those "So bad it's good" things that I really have to be in the right mood to enjoy, but I quickly realized that while certainly imperfect, it's a far more interesting slasher entry than my friend had led me to believe. Filmed during the twilight of the slasher boom (1983) and unfortunately not released until the sub-genre had been dormant for a while (1987), the film sets itself apart from its peers in many ways, and I can tell you as an avowed fan of slashers I've never seen anything else quite like it. For starters, it takes place not at a summer camp or even suburban neighborhood, but a condo complex where all of the characters' homes look the same, adding some (inadvertent?) tension to later scenes when you're unsure if someone is poking around in the same location as the killer. But it probably works best on die-hard fans of the sub-genre, as it takes a bunch of the standard tropes and uses them in unexpected ways, giving it the vague FEELING of a generic slasher but never really coming close to being one. For example, the plot concerns a man named Todd who escapes from an institution - but he's the hero. His twin brother Terry actually committed the murder that got him locked up, and when Terry hears of his brother's escape he takes the opportunity to kill everyone in sight, knowing that he doesn't even have to put in the effort to frame his brother this time - "obviously" it's the escaped lunatic doing the killing! Kind of genius on Terry's part, really.

Because of this setup, the killer is able to hide in plain sight among the group of friends that will all be dead by the time the end credits roll. Terry has no need for a costume or anything, and thus you get a rare slasher that doesn't falter for a lack of stalking/chasing scenes (though it offers a few in the last reel). It's actually kind of creepy to see one of the would-be victims stroll up to Terry and start chatting (or even making romantic advances on him), knowing he's seconds away from slicing their throat or whatever, offset by his casual demeanor as he goes about his killing spree. It's almost comical how easygoing he is as he lops off a man's hand, or interrupts sex on a diving board (?) to behead the male (even though he doesn't have as iconic a look as Jason Voorhees, he shares his hatred for premarital sex, offing a number of the victims mid-coitus). He even stops to take a piss while chasing the Final Girl, machete still in (the other) hand - I've never seen Michael Myers do that and the series is the poorer for it. On top of that, the innocent brother Todd is messed up from being institutionalized, so his scenes of finding bodies or trying to warn people (all of whom think he's the killer) offer their own unique flavor, like when he comes across a victim that's been cut in half and takes a moment to place their legs back under the torso where they belong (it's akin to someone shutting the eyelids of someone who died with their eyes open).

I keep mentioning the kills, and for good reason - they're pretty great. The movie was retitled Nightmare at Shadow Woods for its small theatrical release (Shadow Woods is the name of the condo complex), and if you find it you should instantly remove the disc/tape from the player and toss it in the trash, because that version omits most of the blood and makeup FX that were created by Ed French. Yep, the same Ed French who would work on T2 and get an Oscar nomination for Star Trek VI cut his teeth on this super low budget slasher; in fact it was one of his first gigs, though you'd hardly know it from the work, which is just as good/better as any number of Hollywood produced slasher films during the golden period. I was impressed on VHS, but most of the money shots even hold up with the scrutiny forced upon a viewer when watching on a pristine blu-ray (something that's hurt a few FX by masters like Savini). I have yet to sit down with the entire Shadow Woods version, but I cued up a couple of my favorite kills and was aghast at how far they were cut down. Granted, the movie is probably still entertaining without the gore, but it's a shame such solid work was so unceremoniously excised for a theatrical release no one can remember anyway.

To be fair, the MPAA wasn't as vicious with it as they were with the later Friday the 13th sequels - there's still some gore and dismemberment on display, and no kills were entirely removed. The opening murder, for example, offers one or two slashes with the axe instead of six or seven (more?) in the full version, and gives you some classic blood splatter on the faces of killer and victim alike. But it also excised a couple of non-violent scenes, including the lengthy bit where the mother (Louise Lasser) visits Todd in the institution. It still shows her driving up to the building (referred to as a "school" for some reason throughout the movie) but then cuts to Terry and his friends back at home. This renders the movie somewhat confusing for a bit (we never meet his shrink until she shows up at the house later, without a real introduction), and also denies us our first look at the adult Todd. Actor Mark Soper plays both roles, and does a fine job of creating two very distinct characters (a different hairstyle and clothing helps distinguish them as well), but in the Shadow Woods version you can't see one of his biggest scenes that helps differentiate the two. However, this version contains some (non-kill) scenes that were not included in the uncut Blood Rage release (which, best as I can tell, debuted on VHS), not to mention not one but two bizarre flash-forwards of Jayne Bentzen's character during her nude scenes, so it's not entirely without merit.

But luckily you are still free to skip it - the Arrow release offers a composite version that takes the Shadow Woods version but includes all of the gore from Blood Rage, making the best of both worlds in theory. The added scenes aren't overly essential, but the early one at the pool is definitely one that should have been left in, if only to set up the character of the single mom who hires one of the girls to babysit so she can go on a date. I wish the scenes were available on their own on the set instead of having to dig through the movie to see them, but hey, better than nothing. And one can't really argue that the set lacks for features - along with three cuts of the movie, you get a commentary, a half hour of outtakes (without sound), several interviews, a look at the shooting locations then and now, and behind the scenes stills - plus a booklet featuring an essay by Alamo's own Joseph A. Ziemba. And since the best version actually has one of its many alternate titles attached (Slasher), it even offers the "Blood Rage" version of the titles as a standalone option.

This is what you might call "above and beyond" the amount of effort that would have satisfied us Blood Rage fans, and as a champion of physical media it gives me hope. Maybe the format will eventually be a collectors' market, like vinyl, but that's fine - as long as outfits like Arrow, Criterion, Scream Factory, etc. are out there offering definitive versions of movies big and small, I don't personally care if I have to order them from a website as opposed to walking into a store and buying one. However, I have to know about a movie/its release to look for it, which is fine for an older proven classic getting a 50th anniversary special edition, but not so much for smaller movies like this. I find it very sad that few people will get the opportunity to "find" a movie like Blood Rage sitting on a shelf alongside mega popular horror movies, and it's frankly kind of scary that it's up to schmucks like me to inform horror fans that stuff like this is out there. This article isn't about Star Wars so it's possible the only people reading it are fellow Blood Rage fans - hopefully I'm wrong. I want to know that at least one horror fan learned about their new favorite movie today.

*Disc 1 is Blood Rage (with the Slasher title) and most of the extras, Disc 2 has the Shadow Woods and composite version. Disc 3 is a DVD of Disc 1, but as of right now the disc is locked to region 2, which means you if you're here in region 1 you'll need a region-free player to watch it. This was a manufacturing error that Arrow is in the process of correcting; keep an eye on their Twitter (@ArrowFilmsVideo) for updates.