(By Matt Konopka) One week from today, Thanksgiving will be upon us. If you’re like me, that day will likely consist of shoving your face full of mashed potatoes, football, and some horror movies to cap off the night. Every week, I dig up a horror flick I’ve never seen before and let you know whether it is sweet pumpkin pie, or a turkey on fire in the oven. This week, I decided to catch up on the Thanksgiving themed film, Blood Rage (1987)…
…Originally titled Slasher, Blood Rage is directed by John Grissmer (Scalpel) and written by Bruce Rubin (Zapped). Years ago, Todd (Mark Soper) was institutionalized for a murder which his twin brother, Terry (also Soper), committed. Terry used Todd as his get out of jail free card, framing him by wiping blood on his twin and saying “he did it”, which apparently was enough of an investigation for the police. Now, ten years later, Todd escapes on Thanksgiving night and returns home, leading to a mass murder spree in the neighborhood.
Following the same trend as most slasher villains, it seems Grissmer was like one of them, returning once every ten years to gift us with an obscure and ultra-absurd horror flick, having made Scalpel ten years before Blood Rage, his only two films. And what an odd piece of schlock-horror it is. Blood Rage is one of the few horror films to take place on Thanksgiving, cutting into the slasher craze made popular by films like Halloween and Friday the 13th, which had horror filmmakers all wanting their own holiday themed terror. In retrospect, Grissmer and Rubin may have been better off using Thanksgiving in the title to cash in on the holiday every year the way others do, but to be fair, the word itself doesn’t really have the horror vibe that something like Halloween does.
Blood Rage does, however, follow a very similar structure to John Carpenter’s classic. We open in 1974, Jacksonville, Florida, where young Todd and Terry witness their parents making out while at a drive-in theater and, as you do, immediately decide to go kill a couple screwing in a nearby car. I know what you’re thinking, this is just another typical Friday night in Jacksonville, but it also resembles the opening of Halloween, which features a young Michael Myers killing his sister. You also have an escaped mental patient in Todd, returning home on the night of a holiday, pursued by Dr. Berman (Marianne Kanter), the Dr. Loomis to Todd’s Michael. The resemblance is striking, but this is also where the similarities end.
Where Halloween is a carefully paced, intelligent piece of terrifying cinema, Blood Rage is like the crazy alcoholic uncle at the Thanksgiving dinner table shouting about UFO’s and gas prices. In fact, if Gary Busey were a slasher film, he would probably be Blood Rage. Grissmer’s film is without rhyme or reason, with little to no focus on substance or character. All of the attention here is placed on wild gore, gratuitous nudity, and an emphasis on insanity, all set over a rad 80’s synth score from composer Richard Einhorn.
See, unlike Michael and various other slashers, legends or not, Todd and Terry’s backstory is about as tantalizing as green beans not served in Thanksgiving casserole form. I’ll admit, any kid with parents like theirs who decided to get it on while they sleep in the backseat of the car at the movies, is probably leading a pretty fucked up childhood with some awkward family dinners. But Rubin’s characters often lack motivation. Terry just sees a couple knocking bottoms and decides to go knife-happy. No suspense. No hints towards Terry’s troubles. Seconds before that, he seems like every other little boy: horny and curious. What is interesting about this though is the way in which Terry acts as sort of a literal form of abstinence. Yes, a popular idea to surface in the 80s was that slasher villains often punished teenagers for having sex and doing drugs, just as Terry does in Blood Rage. What’s different though is how Terry seems to actually hate sex, sometimes referring to it as “bad”. It isn’t just coincidence that Terry is coming across a bunch of sexy teens and murdering them, as he eventually does. Sex and his hatred of it is what drives Terry to kill. And if you really want to read into Terry, one could theorize that he is actually the physical incarnation of his mother, Karen’s (Julie Gordon), anger. I mean this woman can’t catch a break when it comes to the men in her life, be it the deadbeat dad who wants to bang in front of their kids, or her boyfriend Brad (William Fuller) trying to get in her pants while she’s sobbing over Todd’s escape. I mean yeesh, have some decency, man!
Terry may be a prude cock-blocker who could never be cool or scary enough to hold Jason Voorhees’ beer, but there is one other interesting element with him outside of his ability to ruin everyone’s good time. Blood Rage has little to nothing to actually do with the holiday it’s set during-a huge missed opportunity for nostalgic revisits-but there is one theme around the Thanksgiving celebration which Rubin’s script plays into with an interesting view: the stress of hosting family. Remember, it’s been ten years since Terry killed those teenagers at a drive-in theater. Somehow, he’s managed to keep his life together and not go all Norman Bates on his mother. It’s only when he gets the news that Todd has escaped and is headed home that Terry drops everything and starts murdering everyone in sight. I would hope none of you would react THAT drastically to not wanting to see family on Thanksgiving, but it’s a fascinating trigger which unfortunately is never explored much. The potential is there for Blood Rage to make an important statement on themes of families and the secrets held between them, but instead we get Terry hopping around and giggling like he’s at Disneyland while he drenches himself in blood, which is an okay alternative. We do get one reference to the holiday though, with Terry telling a friend confused by all the red on a machete he’s holding, “that is not cranberry sauce”. No shit Terry, who eats cranberry sauce with a freaking machete!?
Blood Rage hardly ever makes sense and is filled with characters so boring they will make you yearn for that horrible seat at the kid’s table on Thanksgiving night. What makes the film stand out as one worth checking out is a heaping feast of over-the-top and often hilarious gore. There are so many heads and limbs sliced and diced in this film that I can only imagine how awesome it would’ve been to get a scene in which Terry collected all of the parts for a nice dinner with the family at the end, but I digress. Fans of slashers will get a thrill out of all of the cheesy, senseless bloodshed, even if we never truly understand what the hell is going on.
Verdict: Gem (but you might want to load up on a heaping dose of some turkey tryptophan to get you nice and sleepy and in the right, brainless mood).
Blood Rage is now streaming on Amazon Prime.
By Matt Konopka