Butcher Block is a weekly series celebrating horror’s most extreme films and the minds behind them. Dedicated to graphic gore and splatter, each week will explore the dark, the disturbed, and the depraved in horror, and the blood and guts involved. For the films that use special effects of gore as an art form, and the fans that revel in the carnage, this series is for you.
When it comes to Thanksgiving set horror, slasher Blood Rage has emerged as the reigning holiday champion in recent years. To be fair, the pickings are slim, but this slasher is cut from the same charming cloth as the likes of Pieces and The Mutilator. In other words, it delivers on both wackiness and gore that makes it perfect for gatherings. Originally filmed in 1983, Blood Rage (also known as Slasher) didn’t get released until 1987, and it was a heavily edited version under the title Nightmare at Shadow Woods. It wasn’t until it hit VHS that the gore was restored, where it still remained a rather obscure title until Arrow Films’ limited edition Blu-ray release pushed the slasher into the spotlight a few years ago.
As kids, twins Todd and Terry get bored at a drive-in theater while mom Maddy Simmons (Louise Lasser) is getting frisky in the car with her date. Terry stumbles across another couple having sex in their car and takes a hatchet to the poor guy’s face. Before the crowd gathers, he puts the weapon in his brother’s hand and lets him take the fall. Poor Todd spends the next 10 years in an asylum, until he breaks free on Thanksgiving. It’s the perfect excuse for Terry to unleash his inner homicidal maniac, and Thanksgiving becomes one brutal bloodbath in the neighborhood of Shadow Woods.
Thanksgiving may not be quite as prominently featured during Todd’s murder spree, but it does nail the theme of family. Or family driving you nuts on the holidays, specifically. Both played by Mark Soper, Todd and Terry are understandably strange having been raised by Maddy. Lasser was a well-known television and soap opera actress, and imbues Maddy with an over-the-top eccentric naivety. Inexplicably, she’s all but shunned Todd, and wholeheartedly believes her angelic Terry could do no wrong. It results in a tragic but quite humorous ending. That the often-laughable dialogue is pretty silly only furthers the quirkiness of the Simmons family. Terry has a penchant for uttering, “It’s not cranberry sauce,” when regarding blood spills, and it’s so silly it works.
Of course, what really makes Blood Rage so fun is the gore. The special makeup effects were created and executed by Ed French (Creepshow 2, C.H.U.D., Terminator 2: Judgment Day), who also played the role of Bill. French injected a brutal sense of realism to the kills, catching you off guard from the opening scene’s hatchet to the face. When Terry decides to off mom’s new fiancé, it starts off with a not so plausible machete to the hand that ends in a gnarly splitting of the head, with oozing grey matter spilling out. Nearly all of the deaths are inventive and gory thanks to French’s work. It brings this weird balance of realistic carnage to over the top acting and dialogue that somehow works.
Though Terry’s affinity for cranberry sauce has become the tagline and mantra of Blood Rage, it can really be summed up with the cheesy, simple line, “The turkey was perfect!” This slasher is one big turkey, and I mean that as a compliment. Blood Rage is a Thanksgiving slasher that serves up a reminder to give thanks to boutique Blu-ray distributors like Arrow Films who unearth these forgotten gems. And thanks to artists like Ed French who deliver glorious gore that’s not cranberry sauce.