Directed by: John Grissmer
Written by: Bruce Rubin
Starring: Louise Lasser, Mark Soper, Marianne Kanter, and Julie Gordon
Reviewed by: Wes R.
ďThat is not cranberry sauce, Artie.Ē
80s slashers come in all shapes and sizes. Some good, some bad. Some gory, some not. Though they often share many similarities with one another, there are no two alike. I bring your attention now to a film that is all but forgotten in the world of 80s slasher fandom, "Nightmare At Shadow Woods"...but you may remember seeing this film sometime in the 80s under its video title, Blood Rage. Released on video in 1987, it didnít really have a whole lot of strong competition among other slasher films, as this was arguably the weakest period that the sub-genre has ever known. Does it prove to be a stinker like many others of the time, or is it a pleasant surprise?
Itís 1974 and after sneaking away from the back of their station wagon during a drive-in movie (while mom and her boyfriend make out in the front seat), twins Todd and Terry run across another couple getting hot and heavy in the backseat of their own vehicle. Terry finds a hatchet and hacks the man to death right in front of Todd and the manís horrified girlfriend. In shock, Todd doesnít say a word and simply stands there frozen in disbelief. Terry then smears blood on him, and hands him the hatchet, pinning the whole thing on him. Fast forward ten years, to Thanksgiving Day (yes itís a holiday slasher!). Todd is locked away in an insane asylum for the murder that Terry committed while Terry is out living a fruitful life. That is, until he finds out his mother is getting married to her longtime beau. On the day of the big announcement, Terryís mother receives a phone call that her son Todd has escaped from the mental hospital. Soon, more and more mysterious murders begin occurring at the Shadow Woods apartment complex, where Terryís mother lives. Is Terry up to his old tricks again, or has Todd actually gone psycho during his time away from home?
This Jacksonville-shot effort is an oddity, but quite an enjoyable one. Its plot is straightforward and simple, but sometimes thatís more than welcome. The film is peppered with bizarre touches; for instance, a random scene lasting nearly a minute of Todd and Terryís mother squatting in the floor, eating Thanksgiving leftovers messily with her hands. Another random shot depicts a throwaway character washing herself full frontal in the shower. Of course, itís the death scenes that the viewer of these type of movies is interested in and Blood Rage manages to pull off a few beauties. The version I watched for review is the "Nightmare At Shadow Woods" DVD by Legacy Entertainment. There are reports that this version is the edited version and that the original Prism Pictures VHS is fully uncut. This DVD version, though, has plenty of blood on its own for the horror fan to enjoy. The death scenes arenít particularly creative, but they come fast and frequent. The film is never dull.
The film doesnít really present itself as a mystery. You see the full identity of who the killer is right from the first murder onward. The film also doesnít even attempt to rely on scares. This is your standard stalk and slash fare, only with more slash than stalk. You can almost predict the entire movie, as if you were writing it. The acting is a mixed bag. It ranges from good to passable to lousy. Nobody of note came out of this film, but there is a very brief cameo early on by Ted Raimi, wearing an outfit resembling Crazy Ralph in Friday the 13th and offering male drive-in customers a full selection of condoms for sale in the menís restroom. Iím not quite sure why the Terry and Toddís mother was played so off-kilter. There are hints at a possible incestuous relationship between her and Terry, but nothing is ever really made clear. Why the killer does what he does is never really made clear either, other than he has a hatred for people who drink/do drugs/have sex/etc.
Much like the acting, the musical score is all over the place when it comes to quality. There are a few good synth pieces, but just as many bad ones. The closing theme music is proof that nobody other than Goblin should ever attempt pop synth tracks for horror films. It comes off sounding like a bad exercise video, circa 1985. If youíre a fan of bad 80s hair and fashion, there is plenty enough popped collars and hairspray to more than quench your thirst. One thing that may aggravate some is the number of off-screen kills. Yes, there are several off-screen deaths (probably to save on the budget), but really, there are enough death scenes overall, that you really donít mind the few that you donít see. The pace slows a bit toward the end (making it feel as if the final chase goes on for a full half an hour or so). I think if the filmmakers had at least tried to go for a few scares, they might have been able to pull off a few. I really liked the apartment complex setting. The nearby woods give it a subtle, creepy feeling that is unfortunately never really utilized by the filmmakers to its full potential.
This was the second (and final) movie directed by John GrissmerÖthe first being the 1977 horror thriller Scalpel. Iíve not seen that one, but from Blood Rage, it's clear that he can put together a fun and enjoyable slasher film (if not one thatís technically sound). During a time when slasher films were starting to go the jokey route ala Freddy Krueger, the filmmakers instead decide to give audiences a taste of familiarity. At the time, Iím sure it was dismissed as yet more formulaic drivel, but honestly, this film really isnít all that bad. Iíve sat through far worse slashers, for sure. It may not be the best murder mystery of them all, but hey, sitting back and enjoying mindless kill after kill isnít so bad from time to time. For this movie, it works. I know this isnít saying a lot but itís moderately better than films like Slumber Party Massacre or Sorority House Massacre. Those films have their fans, so if you enjoyed those, Iím sure youíll find this one much better. Then again, you may not, but I think itís worth a shot.
Though this film was released fairly late in the 80s slasher cycle, it definitely appears to have been shot a couple of years before ("ten years later" from the opening scene's 1974 would've made it 1984, if set in present day). By the time of its release, most of the surprises that the sub-genre originally offered viewers had long since worn thin. Though itís not original by any means, itís watchable for its thick 80s ambience and the brisk pace of frequent sex and blood-soaked kills. If youíre into slashers, this is a rarity that you may want to check out. It doesnít offer the scares the films like Black Christmas and Halloween do, and it doesnít offer the quality of gore FX that The Burning or The Prowler do, but what it does right is deliver an entertaining series of murders in a well-paced manner. Again, it's not the greatest slasher ever made, but it does provide an evening's worth of watchable slasher fun. If I were going to the trouble to track it down, Iíd suggest finding the original Blood Rage VHS release by Prism, since itís allegedly fully uncut. Try to avoid the "Nightmare At Shadow Woods" version on DVD. This one certainly surprised me, so Iím going to suggest that you at least Rent it!
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