As Dangerous Minds readers surely know, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez incorporated fake movie trailers into their brilliant 2007 collaboration, Grindhouse. These previews for exploitation films that didn’t exist were made to resemble the type seen at grindhouse cinemas in the 1960s-1980s. One of the trailers was made by actor/director Eli Roth, most famous for the violent and controversial Hostel films, which have been labeled by some critics as “torture porn.” For his Grindhouse trailer, Roth came up with the delightfully deranged, Thanksgiving, which both celebrated and poked fun at the crop of holiday-themed slasher films that arrived after the major success of John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978).
My friend Jeff, who plays the killer pilgrim [in Thanksgiving]—we grew up in Massachusetts, we were huge slasher movie fans and every November we were waiting for the Thanksgiving slasher movie. We had the whole movie worked out: A kid who’s in love with a turkey and then his father killed it and then he killed his family and went away to a mental institution and came back and took revenge on the town.
As it turns out, there were at least two ‘80s horror films based around Thanksgiving, 1981’s Home Sweet Home, and 1987’s Nightmare at Shadow Woods (a/k/a Blood Rage). The latter has been given the deluxe, Blu-ray treatment, and will be released by Arrow Films on December 15th.
The film opens at a drive-in in 1974. Eight-year-old twin boys, Terry and Todd, witness a teenage couple having sex in a car. While Todd is content to leer at the teens, Terry pushes his brother aside so he can bludgeon the two with an ax.
Ouch! The carnage in ‘Blood Rage’ is just beginning.
Terry blames it all on Todd, who’s understandably in shock and can’t defend himself. Fast forward ten years, and we are informed via an awkward voice-over (I initially thought the commentary track had accidentally been engaged) that Todd has been institutionalized. Terry, on the other hand, has been going about a normal life.
Louise Lasser, star of iconic ‘70s TV series, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, plays Maddy, Todd and Terry’s loving mother. As the family is sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner, Maddy is informed that Todd has escaped from the mental institution. From this point on, it’s both alarming and amusing to watch Lasser’s character go progressively bonkers, as Maddy hits the bottle and becomes increasingly unglued.
Need a hand? Maddy loses her shit.
As for Terry, Todd’s escape has stirred the wild beast in him, and he goes on a joyous killing spree, mutilating friends and neighbors in the process.
“It’s not cranberry sauce.”
Naturally, everyone thinks Todd is responsible. Meanwhile, man child Todd has indeed returned home, and the two brothers face off in a totally disturbing (yet still kinda funny) finale, which also involves Lasser’s Maddy and her shattered mental state.
Little-known actress Julie Gordon plays Terry’s girlfriend, Karen. Gordon’s only appeared in a handful of films, so it was a cool surprise to see her onscreen here (she’s the female lead in one of my all-time favorite ‘80s movies, Super Fuzz). In Blood Rage, she has the coveted role of “Final Girl.”
The production wrapped in 1983, but the film didn’t see wide release until 1987 when it came out under the title, Nightmare at Shadow Woods. The violence was toned-down for the theatrical release, with some additional footage added. For the Blu-ray, Arrow Video has included three versions of the film: the restored, uncensored cut of Blood Rage, which was released on VHS; a restored Nightmare at Shadow Woods; plus a new composite edit.
In addition to the holiday theme, like many horror flicks from the period, it borrows liberally from Halloween. But even John Carpenter had his influences, and was surely swayed by the groundbreaking holiday slasher that preceded Halloween, Bob Clark’s Black Christmas (1974).
Though Blood Rage is low on fright (we know who the killer is early on and almost always see him coming), the film more than makes up for it with heavy doses of gleeful butchery.
If you like your ‘80s horror movies goofy and able to induce flashbacks from the era—the hair, the fashion, the video games—you’ll dig Blood Rage.
It’s really too bad Eli Roth didn’t see this one back in the day. He surely would’ve enjoyed this silly slice of slasher cinema.
Of course it’s never too late for Roth or anyone else to check out film—and there’s no time like the present. You can pre-order the Blood Rage Blu-ray/DVD combo, which includes tons of extras, on MVD or Amazon. In the meantime, check out the NSFW preview below.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Slasher sweaters: The perfect gift for the psychopath in your life