June 28, 2017


I used to play bass. Hell, I still can if I want to. It's not like I forgot how. I just don't play anymore. I got my first bass guitar back in 7th grade as a birthday present. My friends were all taking guitar lessons, dreaming of being front and center, standing like rock gods in a sea of wet panties. But me? I wanted to be different. So I got myself a bass, a slightly used Fender Precision. I remember my uncle watching me pluck away on the strings, desperately trying to learn how to play Hangar 18 by Megadeth, the first song I would ever learn to play on my newfangled parent annoyance device. “It makes sense”, he quipped. “He's a fat kid, after all”.

Since that time, I've owned four bass guitars and dropped a lot of weight. I sold that old Fender Precision and bought a shiny new Ibanez four stringer. It was more angular in design and a slightly bit heavier too. The neck was slick, much slicker than my old Fender, with frets closer to the wood, less abrasive to my fingertips. The third bass I would buy would be a Peavey. I don't remember the exact product line. It was the worst of the four basses, glossy and easily scratched up with a neck that felt as comfortable in my palm as an old baseball bat. A few weeks later, I would trade that Peavey in for the last bass I would ever own, a brand new Fender Precision. It felt like coming home after a long journey.

Honestly, I've never been able to figure out just what it was that I loved about the Fender Precision so much. They're nice looking, sure, and they feel great, but they didn't sound all that much better than any other bass guitar I played. They sure as shit cost a bit more though, mostly because of the brand name, I suppose. But again, YYZ on my Fender didn't sound noticeably better than it did when I played it on my Peavey. I remember when my mom and I went to the mall way back when on my birthday. I tried about 12 different bass guitars while my mom stood and grilled the guy behind the counter. What was the best bass for a learner? What is the best brand? What is the value? Etc. Etc. I remember distinctly, clear as day, what the guy behind the counter said to her. 

He said, “What matters most is how it feels”. And he was right. 

That Fender Precision was a bit like BLOOD RAGE, John Grissmer's 1987 (though filmed in 1983) Florida slasher movie. It's not much different from any other slasher movie. It has the same kind of wanton bloodletting and gratuitous T&A. It has the same kind of illogical narrative and amateurish production values as most other slasher films. But it also has this weird, almost intangible, quality to it, something that can't quite be quantified, like the way that Fender Precision neck felt sliding across my palm. Something about BLOOD RAGE just clicks with me, pushing all the right brain buttons in a way that other slasher films, no matter how similar, simply do not.

The story is rather simple. In 1974, Maddy, a single mom raising two identical twin boys, is out on a date at a local drive-in. She's a bit apprehensive about making out with her boyfriend, which is completely understandable as Todd and Terry, her boys, are currently sleeping in the wayback. But a woman has needs and all that jazz, so the couple gets on with their vigorous face sucking. All the lip smacking wakes the boys. They sneak out of the car, careful to not make a sound, and wander around the drive-in for a bit. Terry finds himself a nifty hatchet just lying in the back of a truck. He also finds something a bit more interesting than the cheapo horror flick playing on the screen. A young man is screwing his girlfriend in the backseat of his car, the perfect entertainment for a young boy. The young man catches Peeping Terry and tells him to get lost. Instead of running away, Terry buries his new toy right in the young man's face. Before help can arrive, Terry smears blood all over his brother, placing the hatchet in the shocked child's hands. And just like that, Todd becomes the fall guy.

10 years later, Maddy visits Todd in the nut house. His shrink, Dr. Berman, claims to have made a breakthrough with Todd. His memory is slowly coming back, including the memory of Terry framing him for murder. Berman believes Todd's story but Maddy… well, Maddy doesn't want to hear about that. While the years following the murder have not been easy on her, things are looking up for Maddy now. She's engaged to be married to her boyfriend Brad, the man who manages the housing complex she lives in. And Terry? Terry's doing great. He's a standout student at his school, good at sports and popular with the ladies. He's an ideal son. Or so everyone thinks.

Terry's son of the year facade is beginning to slip a bit. He's clearly not happy about his mother's engagement and even worse, Todd has recently escaped from the asylum, an event that ruins Maddy's perfectly planned Thanksgiving day dinner. With Todd on his way home, Terry goes into bloody action. But Terry isn't a lunatic of the raving variety. He's the cool under pressure kind of wacko and with a whole lot of self assurance and more than a little glee, Terry begins enacting a bloodbath, because if you're going to frame your brother a second time, you might as well do it in grand fashion.

BLOOD RAGE is not a scary movie, but it doesn't try to be. BLOOD RAGE is not a funny movie, but it doesn't try to be. There's a long list of things BLOOD RAGE is not, because it doesn't try to be. So what the hell is BLOOD RAGE? I honestly don't know how to answer that question. It defies easy categorization. Sure, there are some rather nasty murders in the film (including a bifurcation, some dismemberment, a decapitation and more than a few stabbings), but they're sandwiched between individual scenes of almost avant-garde weirdness. You can't shake the feeling that the film knows something it's not telling us, some great secret that would lift the haze from the narrative.

For example, look at the character of Maddy. She's clearly a broken woman, unlucky in love and life. Just before the drive-in massacre, Maddy is told point blank by her boyfriend that he doesn't see a future with a woman who has to take her kids everywhere. When Todd is institutionalized, it was probably more of a weight off Maddy's shoulders than it was a burden placed upon them. She dresses like a slightly sleazy baby doll, her hair in pigtails, cleavage exposed in a frilly pink dress, the kind you would see a child wearing to Easter mass. She reacts negatively to Dr. Berman's news yet quickly succumbs to guilt avoidance behaviors like obsessive cleaning and heavy drinking. She even sits in front of an open refrigerator shoving handfuls of corn and green beans into her mouth. Unaware that Brad has been killed by Terry, Maddy desperately tries (in a very long scene that extends over three or four edits) to get a telephone operator to connect her to her finance's office. Why doesn't she just walk down the street to his office? Is it because she knows full well that he's dead? Does she believe Dr. Berman or not? Does she suspect Terry? She clearly ladles on the love to him, treating him as if he were still just a boy. But is it because she really thinks he's innocent or is it because accepting the truth about Terry would cause her little house of cards to crumble down?

The film doesn't offer up an answer. Truth be told, the film isn't much interested in answering that question or any other question. The film gives us multiple instances of twins. The murderous sociopath Terry and the innocent Todd. Terry's sexually frigid blonde girlfriend Karen and the sexually promiscuous blonde neighbor Andrea. Maddy, a woman desperate for a man to love her, and her redheaded floozy neighbor, a woman desperate for a man to pay her bills. The film is full of twinning and mirror images and id/ego confrontations, but the film never really does anything with them. The most interesting bit of the film centers around Todd's eventual face-to-face with his murderer brother. You would expect such a key dramatic element of the narrative to be given a large amount of attention, but again, the film just doesn't even bother. Like I said, you can't shake the feeling that the film knows something it's not telling us. Because all of the twin elements, all of the hazy character motivations, all of the conversations that never get finished… that can't all be accidental, right? There has to be a reason for all of it.

But as the film doesn't want to give me anything more than a middle finger, the final piece of the puzzle eludes me, leaving me with nothing much to do except watch the rest of BLOOD RAGE unravel in glorious fashion. And this movie is glorious to watch.

You remember how much fun it was to watch Eric Freeman's parade of violence in SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 2? That's exactly the kind of experience you get here with BLOOD RAGE. Terry's massacre is equal parts sadistic and gleeful. You get the feeling that Terry isn't just doing this to frame his brother (again), he's doing it because it's so much damn fun. Wandering through the complex, killing random people for no damn reason at all, Terry is as joyful as a kid in a candy store. His cheerful demeanor clashes entirely with the rather disgusting acts of carnage he's carrying out, a juxtaposition that actually makes the violence on display here far more effective than it would have been otherwise. He's a loathsome, disgusting creature, for sure, but his devil may care attitude also makes him a surprisingly endearing sociopath.

On the flip side is Todd, a jumbled mess of hair and nerves. Both Todd and Terry are played by Mark Soper and while Soper's work doesn't come anywhere close to Jeremy Irons, his dual performances are actually quite remarkable. He resists the urge to go full ham with Terry, keeping him just enough in reality for the character to never descend into unintentional comedy. His portrayal of Todd is very quiet and understated, perhaps the most human character in the entire film. I would have loved to have seen more interaction between the two or maybe just a few more scenes with Todd and a few less with Terry, but that's a minor problem. 

And then there's Louise Lasser, TV star and all around good girl, whose performance as Maddy is easily the best performance this film offers up. She's a complex character, full of aspiration and warmth, but so deeply and completely flawed that she becomes borderline pathetic as the film goes on. There's something unsavory about her in the way she seems to be creeping back down the ladder to childhood, but there's also something in Lasser's performance that makes you feel profoundly sorry for her. BLOOD RAGE is, in the end, a tragedy (seriously, the ending is pretty damn dark) and that is where Maddy fits in. She's a victim of tragedy, shaped and defined by it, condemned and consumed by it.

There's a lot going on in BLOOD RAGE. There's the slasher angles, all well done, nasty and bloody. There's the family drama stuff. There's the psychoanalytical stuff. There's the darkly comedic stuff. There's the borderline sexploitation moments. All of this stuff, all of these bits and pieces that would, in lesser hands, combine to make an intolerable cacophony of tonal inconsistencies comes together here to make a film that is, despite it's unoriginality, quite idiosyncratic. For some reason, all of this shit just works.

I've ranted about films that commit the same sins as BLOOD RAGE. Some of the things I love most about this film (and I do really, truly love this film) are the things I hate most about other films. I don't really know what to say about that. I don't really have an explanation for it. All I know is that this film feels great to me. Every time I've watched this film, I have come away with a new appreciation for it. Because it's weird without being off-putting. It's corny without being stupid. It's nasty without being mean spirited. Every note of this film is perfectly tuned for me. Your mileage may vary, but I would highly recommend seeking this film out. It's an undeniable gem, a movie made during the heyday of the slasher film, but released when the slasher film was in its death throes. As such, it was denied an audience at the time when it would have been most appreciated. When it was finally released, there was no audience for it. People had moved on. 

I don't normally even mention DVD or Blu-ray releasing companies, but thanks to the fine folks at Arrow Films, BLOOD RAGE can be easily purchased in uncut form. So spend some goddamn money on something good for a change. BLOOD RAGE deserves to be seen, at least once, by every slasher film fan around. Maybe it will hit the same lovely high notes for you as it does for me.

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