Thursday, November 13, 2014

Blood Rage

BLOOD RAGE Directed by John Grissmer, Starring Louise Lasser (1987).

Review by Steve Fenton

Originally shot—or possibly shat—in 1983, according to reports this wasn’t actually released until ’87 (as NIGHTMARE AT SHADOW WOODS, whose title was evidently a vague cash-in on A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET). Speaking objectively, it’s pretty easy to see why it shat – I mean sat – on the shelf for so long after its completion. Hell, why anybody ever bothered releasing it at all is beyond my ken to grasp! But the damage is done, so let’s proceed, shall we? I’ve been promising Crankenstein I’d review this bugger for about six months now, so it’s now or never! So, for better or worse (accent on the latter), here goes nothin’…and there’s a whole lot of that going on here, but you takes what you can get where you can get it, as they say.

it's about time Steve!

The film’s supposed main draw, ‘offbeat’ actress Louise Lasser, is arguably best-known by most who know of her for playing the title character of the cult sitcom / soap satire Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman (1976-77), but she also co-wrote and dubbed the voice of a character on Woody Allen’s ‘reimagined’ Japanese crime flick WHAT’S UP, TIGER LILY? (1966), and is also well-remembered by countless gazillions for her roles in both Sam Raimi’s CRIMEWAVE (1985) and Frank Henenlotter’s FRANKENHOOKER (1990). BLOOD RAGE is another of her cult psychotronic offerings, albeit a (deservedly) lesser-known one, which was formerly available on VHS/Beta videocassette from the prolific Prism Entertainment, who were a dependable source of cult and/or trash flicks back in the ’80s and ’90s, even if they did release more than their fair share of über-turkeys, as in the case of our current half-heartedly Thanksgiving-themed gobbler, which might have taken place pretty much any old time of the year (‘holiday’ themes—then, as now—were all the rage in slasher flicks, you see).

Prism Video paid me in pocket lint and good intentions

The film opens in Jacksonville, Florida way back in 1974, at a drive-in showing of a (fictitious) horror movie called “THE HOUSE THAT CRIED MURDER” (sounds like it might be some Italo giallo retitled for import Stateside!). After witnessing two teenagers making it in the front seat of their car at the drive-in, one of a matching pair of preteen twin brothers takes an axe to the male make-out artist, killing him; this evidently because the boys had only just witnessed their ‘shockingly promiscuous’ mother Maddy Simmons (Lasser) necking with her boyfriend in the front seat of his van. Rather than resort to some good old-fashioned slut-shaming, the twin responsible for the foul deed evidently turned his latent hostility towards their mater elsewhere instead. After committing the murder, Terry the wacked-out if wily perpetrator smears Todd with blood so as to paint his brother—who has gone into deep, mute shock at the sight of it being committed—with the blame. Sure enough, the innocent one takes the rap, while his terrible twin gets off scot-free. I ask you, how’s that for a totally predictable plot ‘twist’?

Also predictably enough, as per yer typical slasher formula, action then flashes ahead a whole decade (even a slightly more inventive number like 13 years was beyond the scope of the screenwriter’s imagination, I fear). We learn that the wrongfully-blamed Todd has spent the entire time since in an institution for the criminally insane, under constant observation. Over the course of his stay there, Todd’s recollection of the fateful night of the awful axe murder which precipitated his descent into madness begins gradually creeping back, and Dr. Berman (Marianne Kanter), the psychiatrist who has been handling his case, believes him innocent of the crime for which he was (and still is) accused. On Thanksgiving night, Terry—having gone AWOL from the loony-bin—takes a machete to Momma Maddy’s fiancé after they ‘joyously’ announce their wedding plans over a really dull turkey dinner. Subsequently, Doc Berman—a kind of (very) poor woman’s distaff variation of Donald Pleasence’s Doc Loomis from the HALLOWEEN franchise—comes looking for the prodigal Terry. One by one thereafter, the bodies—and boredom—begin to pile up with clockwork regularity…

Who's in Charge now Charles?

Although played as juveniles by genuine twin bros (namely Keith Hall as Terry and Ross Hall as Todd), as young adults the twins are both portrayed by the same actor (Mark Soper, who does fairly well with the dual role, all things considered; which isn’t really saying much. For what it’s worth, he later played the male lead role in Jerry Ciccoritti’s low-level Canadian vampire flick THE UNDERSTUDY: GRAVEYARD SHIFT II [1988]). In scenes herein where the brothers interact together, Soper’s obvious ‘double’ was one Ed Brophy (no, not the Ed Brophy! He died in 1960. Plus, even if he was still living, he would have been pushing 90 at the time; hence, not a good match for a man roughly in his early-twenties).

I'm here for the Bill Maher look-a-like contest

Quite frankly, Lasser’s ‘central’ performance—in what is more of a tertiary than principal role—verges on broad parody, almost as though she still thinks she’s playing Mary Hartman, and some of her hysterically histrionic reactions are decidedly hammy (e.g., “My children are not guinea-pigs!” is one line that readily springs to mind). But given material like this to work with, who can blame her for trying to inject some intentional (?) humor into it by playing it for laughs! Some of her more convincing scenes come while she is interacting with a prop telephone, addressing a nonexistent (i.e., unseen and barely heard) person on the other end of the line. Ironically enough, these one-sided over-the-phone convos register a lot more believably than most of the actress’ one-on-one, eye-to-eye interactions with her fellow ‘actors’ (note quotes). Evidently of the opinion that his star’s performance on the blower carried much more conviction than her face-to-face dramatic scenes, director John Grissmer—whose slim filmography also includes another shocker called FALSE FACE / a.k.a. SCALPEL (1977), which I know I saw about 30 years ago, but honestly can’t remember a thing about it—repeatedly returns to more shots of Lasser emoting on (and at) the telling-bone.

OMG This disembowelment is doing wonders for my aching back

Usual makeup man and sometime actor Ed French—here at times looking a tad bit like a goofier, way-less-cool version of Nick Cave of The Bad Seeds, albeit with even less of a chin—appears as a nerdy, bashful if filthy rich milquetoast who gets all nervous while on a ‘stay-home-and-smooch’ date with his sexually aggressive, gold-digging GF, a single mother who is just trying to score herself a sugar daddy. French provided his own severed head for the scene when it is seen dangling just outside a doorway; which might be kind of ironic if it looked a hell of a lot more like him than it does. Appearing very boyish indeed, Sam’s kid bro Ted Raimi—listed in the cast as “Condom Salesman”—appears in just one short scene as a “black market” rubber-pusher whose jacket is lined with packets of assorted brands. Within the same period, the Raimi Bros. both appeared in Josh Becker’s actionful killer thriller THOU SHALT NOT KILL… EXCEPT / a.k.a. STRYKER’S WAR (1985), which is by far preferable to the title currently under discussion.

I contracted syphilis while auditioning with the Raimi Bros for Evil Dead 2!

Richard Einhorn’s mostly earitatin’ by-the-numbers, color-within-the-lines synth score accents cheesy instrumental dance-pop with inevitable rips from both John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN theme and Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” (which was famously sampled for use in THE EXORCIST). The Einhorn compositions here do improve somewhat later into the runtime—there’s even at least one quite solid Tangerine Dream / Giorgio Moroder-type pummeling rhythm piece that actually generates some tension, and even a bit of actual excitement—but the decent parts are greatly outweighed by all the derivative dreck our earholes have been subjected to up till then. Another audio track lowlight comes when a short-lived minor character tunelessly sings a famous lyric line from FLASHDANCE, albeit replacing the word “maniac” with “lunatic” instead (evidently so as to avoid a potential copyright infringement lawsuit against the producers of the present flick, one would imagine).
"We're Maniacs, Maniacs on the Flooor"

But in low-grade fare such as this, it’s the splatter that matters most, right? Such scenes here include a hand—still possessively clutching a can of beer!—being severed, followed by shots of the victim’s gore-gouting amputated wrist, from which about a half-pint of the red, red groovy is squirted forth with each gout. Elsewhere a machete is shoved clear through another victim (and if it happened to you, you’d scream as much as he does too!). Although her severed trunk is only seen after-the-fact rather than during commission of her murder, a woman in the woods gets chopped in half at the waist; whereupon the actress playing her screams and waves her arms around a lot, buried up to her chest in the ground while reacting to the exceedingly phony gore FX appliance to which she is tenuously attached, which only happens to resemble what it’s supposed to simply because it’s all red and ragged at the severed end; but other than that, any and all similarity to the equivalent part of the actual human anatomy is purely coincidental. Tying in limply with the Thanksgiving ‘festivities’ (yawn), following this murder, Soper as Terry licks his blood-smeared fingers, saying as much to we the audience as to himself, “It’s not cranberry sauce!” He makes virtually the same exact ‘in-joke’ later during yet another half-hearted attempt to stay on the loosely-defined ‘festive’ theme, this time just prior to sticking one of those big two-tined forks used in the carving of turkey (get the “Thanksgiving” connection?!) into the throat of some sucker who is dumb enough to turn his back on him. Then, just in case we didn’t laugh at that howler about cranberry sauce hard enough the first two times, Soper obligingly proceeds to repeat it again for us twice more while muttering to his freshly-bloodied jugular-jabber. Much of the grue is shown after the foul deed has been done, as in the case of a split skull with visible brain matter within which goes for the grosseries without actually succeeding in making us woof our cookies.

That's not a Turducken!

On the nudity front, skin initially limits itself to a single jiggly shot of a (female) bare ass running away from the camera at the scene of a homicide. Some almost full-frontal nudity is later seen while one of the film’s numerous interchangeable big-haired bimbos takes a shower. Still more chaste T&A comes when Terry discovers a couple having sex atop the diving-board beside a swimming pool; a sight which prompts yet another of his random homicidal rages. This two-stroke “chop/chop” sequence is so poorly-directed and badly-framed (and don’t try blaming it on pan-and-scan!) that the double murder registers as little more than an afterthought on the part of both the onscreen killer and the behind-camera personnel. It’s almost as if they thought up the idea of this scene on the spot, much in the same way that the murderer apparently felt the sudden spontaneous impulse to kill the poolside lovers, and merely trotted the scene out ASAP while giving nary a second thought to its conception or composition.

Ouch, hey wait my watch fell off with the wrist!

Unusually inept even for a formulary ’80s slice’n’dicer, BLOOD RAGE’s seemingly made-up-on-the-fly narrative largely unrolls like toilet paper, but is a lot less useful. About as razor-honed as a dull cheese-grater, the script, direction, editing (etc.) all have about as much imagination invested in them as…I dunno what. Hell, from what I can remember of it—not much; I haven’t seen it since about 1989—even the execrable amateur-league stalk’n’slash (“S&S”) entry SATAN’S BLADE (1984) had more going for it than this paltry poultry does. If nothing else, BLOOD RAGE makes me remember why I largely despised slasher flicks the first time ’round (i.e., back in their ’80s ‘heydays’); which isn’t to say I hate all of them, just those without a single thing new to bring to the table…and this doesn’t, I’m sorry to say. If I’m gonna subject myself to one, at least let it come with a memorable psycho, rather than a totally bland boy-next-door-gone-wrong who not only can’t be bothered to at least wear a cool-looking mask while committing his killings, but whose most ‘inventive’ weapon of choice is a forkin’ fork, for fork’s sake!

A memorable psycho like me, there's always room for Cropsey!

I must confess I was relieved when Lasser’s shrill shrike of a character at last blew her brains out with a snub-nose .38 in the 77th minute (Yippee! Only a few more left to go, then I am outta here!). Not so much because she’d put herself out of her own misery—okay, I admit it; not at all for that reason, really—but simply because she’d put herself out of mine, simple as that. Call me selfish, but hearing her chant the meaningless phrase “I’m Todd!” at close to the top of her lungs approximately 20 times in rapid succession was more than enough to make me want her dead, just to shut her up. Thankfully much of the time remaining in this 82+-minute snoozefest of a movie were taken up by credits, which meant I could split right after the final freeze-frame/fade-out partway into minute #78. Bonus! Catch ya later, BLOOD RAGE…then again, maybe not (ever).

I’m assuming that some sort of vague ‘identity transfer’ took place for the final twisteroo…only I honestly can’t be bothered to pontificate on it further. My brain hurts!

Note: BLOOD RAGE is up for view on YouTube, as is a (needless to say!) completely unrelated 2011 Nollywood SOV movie of the same title, which is evidently some kind of action drama and not a horror flick. Come to think of it, you might wanna try your chances with that flick instead, as I doubt it could be much worse than this one is. (Editor's note, there's also the 1979 Joseph Zito Blood Rage coming soon).

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