Blood Rage At Shadow Woods, Arrow's Awesome New Release

Oh boy, I've been waiting for this one! That's partially because this is a formative horror movie I first taped off of cable as a kid and watched many times since, and I've been waiting for a high quality, special edition of it. And it's also because this has had it's release date pushed back about half a dozen times. But since they turned this into an incredibly impressive 2-disc blu-ray set (technically 3-disc set, but disc 3 is just a DVD copy of disc 1), with multiple cuts including an all new composite cut of the film, plus heaps of extras, I'd say every delay was worthwhile.
Blood Rage a.k.a. Nightmare At Shadow Woods is a cheesy but quite entertaining little slasher film from the 80s. Woody Allen's first muse, Louise Lasser, stars as the mother of two twin boys, one of whom commits a gruesome murder at a drive-in during the 1970s. The bad one blames it on the good one, and we return to our characters ten years later, on Thanksgiving no less, when the good brother escapes from his mental institution and returns home. The bad brother sees this as a great opportunity to go on a homicidal rampage, as he can blame all the killings on his brother again. And so ultimately everyone's running around this apartment complex late at night, looking for or hiding from each other.
Lasser is delightfully delirious as the mother who immediately spins completely out of control when she receives word of her son's escape, and the relatively unknown Mark Soper is surprisingly effective playing both brothers. And everyone else delivers at least competent, slasher movie-level performances. In its uncut form (which yes, is on this release), the film is surprisingly gory, with some great special effects; and it's all set to this really catchy synth soundtrack. And while this movie always had the feel of a shot-on-video cheapie back in the day, seeing it restored to its original widescreen presentation, you can appreciate that it's actually rather well-lit and professional. When I first heard news that Arrow was resurrecting this film, I was excited, but I sort of felt like I might be the only person on Earth who'd be into it. But watching the restored version, I think this film is ready to be discovered by a new audience.
Up 'till now, this film has only been available on a low budget (and not strictly legally licensed) DVD from Legacy.  But if you've got one, you can chuck it in the bin, because Arrow has just released the ultimate, definitive edition. on blu-ray and DVD. They've got the uncut Blood Rage version (with the on-screen title Slasher). They've got the censored Nightmare At Shadow Woods version, which is still worth having because it features a bunch of scenes and alterations not in the Blood Rage cut. And they've made a terrific new composite cut which brings in all the footage of both versions! In fact, let's not just glide over this, let me get into exactly what's different about each version.
Blood Rage is best known for having all the complete gore scenes. When Terry kills Lasser's boyfriend, there's a particularly gruesome shot where his head is split wide open. That's only in Blood Rage. But that's not the only difference. You know the big scene near the beginning with the goofy narration where Lasser goes to visit Todd at the institution? That's only in Blood Rage. Nightmare makes the perhaps wise decision to cut out that whole silly bit, as its the only point in the only film where there's any narration, since it's very heavy-handed and amateurish (albeit also effectively comic).
On the other hand, Nightmare does more than just cut the gore and narrated scene. For one thing, it has a whole segment where most of the film's characters meet and hang out at the swimming pool. It's not just a quick scene, it's three whole minutes with characters coming and going. And Nightmare has some extra nudity. Yeah, they trimmed it for blood, but whoever was making the edit was more than fine with the sex. In Blood Rage, there's a scene where two of the kids play a prank on two of the others by putting bloody make-up on and pretending to be dead. That's cut from Nightmare. So it cuts right from the kids in the den to one of the couples having sex on the diving board. And there's a whole, long tracking shot of their naked bodies seen on in Nightmare. This makes for a weird bit of continuity, since you have to believe the couple left the den to have sex on the diving board, then went to play tennis, and then went back to have sex on the diving board a second time. Also, since those kids never put on the make-up, they don't need the shower scene of the girl washing it off. But since Nightmare's not going to waste any nudity, they move that scene to after the pool stuff, like she's showering after having been in the pool, which kinda works.

The composite cut, of course, includes everything, from the head split to the institution to the pool scene. But they made the decision to not break the continuity of having the diving board sex scene happen two times in the film. So consequently, that one bit is only in the Nightmare At Shadow Woods cut and not in the composite. I believe the film plays better that way, but you know, if you're the "Mr. Skin" type, you should know that the Shadow Woods print does contain an extra little piece of nudity for you.
Arrow's 2015 blu-ray on top; Arrow's 2015 DVD below.
Arrow has made Blood Rage look amazing. Like, I cannot believe someone put in the expense and care to make this film look this good. It's an all new 2k scan of the original camera negative, and it's beautiful. The framing's left open to 1.78:1 16x9.  It's clear just from looking at it, though, that they only had a 35mm print for Nightmare At Shadow Woods. Look at the swimming pool shot I posted earlier; it's more contrasty, with maybe slightly crushed blacks and some damage... But most of Nightmare and the composite cut look just as good as Blood Rage because they use the negative footage everywhere they can, which is like 90+% of the film. It only switches to the slightly less impressive print footage when it's all they have. And honestly, even that's fine. You can easily spot the difference, but it's not distractingly inferior.

I'm not even bothering to take screengrabs of each cut of the film, because again, they're using the exact same transfer of the footage each time, except for the exclusive shots, which of course don't have matches. And I've included such a shot and we've look at that anyway. But I did throw in a match of the DVD version, for anyone concerned about that. Naturally it's just a more compressed, standard definition version of the same transfer. It holds up pretty well for a DVD.

The audio has been taken from the original elements, too, and turned into a nice English LPCM 2.0 stereo track. But there is a healthy taste of old school background hiss throughout the whole thing. Arrow has also included optional English HOH subtitles.
And extras, oh yes, Arrow delivers once again! The director (and one of the film's new owners) provide an audio commentary, which uh, I'll come back to. They managed to get Louise Lasser for an on-camera interview. And I was worried at first that she was just going to talk about her more mainstream career and be like "I don't really remember" when it came to Blood Rage, but no, she remembered it quite well and had a lot of interesting things to say about it. Special effects artist Ed French has an in-depth interview, Mark Soper has an enthusiastic one, producer Marianne Kanter has a funny one... even Ted Raimi has one for his brief, silent cameo in the film's opening credits. What else? Let's see, there's a featurette visiting all of the film's old Florida locations. There's like a half hour's worth of outtakes, though they don't have audio, so you might just want to casually fast forward through those... Still, it's cool that they're here. There's also a run of the opening credits taken from the VHS tape (though they actually aren't any different except for the title card) and a photo gallery. There's also a nice booklet with notes by Joseph A. Ziemba, and the packaging includes reversible artwork and a cool, slightly embossed slip cover. It's a terrific package.
So okay, about that commentary. I've read a couple of reviews saying it's quite good, which makes me wonder if they actually listened to it before writing the review or if they just "needle dropped" it. I won't point to any specific links, but this commentary is a bit of a train wreck. The entire time, I couldn't decide if the director was being deliberately antagonistic - like maybe he was contractually obligated to be there and was doing it under protest or something. Because he volunteers nothing. The moderator asks him if he remembers working with Lasser and he says "yes." And that's it. Most of the commentary is complete silence. And the moderator deserves some blame for that, too, because he never follows up or presses him. He just accepts single word non-answers and then lapses into long periods of complete silence himself.

And when the director does talk, it's clearly been edited in. Like he did a separate interview, and the Arrow people dropped in clips from that whenever they were silent for too long. The producer wasn't there for the filming, so he has very little to add, though there is an interesting portion where he talks about how they had to sue the people releasing Blood Rage illegally on DVD before Arrow came along. Overall, it's worth listening to for that and the little snatches of talking... the additional interview talk is probably about 10-15 minutes worth, and the director does manage to say a few short things with the moderator prompting him. Ultimately, I'm glad the commentary is included; it's better to have it than not. But come, on fellow reviewers, it's not good at all, it's a huge mess Arrow had to really struggle to salvage. And even after all of that, it's an awful lot of awkward, dead air that's uncomfortable to sit through.
But don't let my criticisms fool you, I am in love with this release. Arrow has gone above and beyond expectations, giving a very minor film absolutely top tier treatment. I think the new composite cut they created is the best way to watch this film, it's the new definitive cut in my book. Some of the extras are great, and I even enjoyed the troubled ones. And the visual and audio presentation has even upped my appreciate for this film, which was already probably higher than almost anybody else's. Collector's will love Arrow's consistently strong packaging... I believe this version is a limited edition, and it will later be released without the second disc and alternate versions of the film. Most of the extras are on disc 1, so casual viewers will get that and the Blood Rage edit. But if you're going to get this film, I sincerely suggest getting this set now for the composite cut. I mean, the film ain't exactly Shakespeare, so "not for everybody" strongly applies here; but if you dig this kind of movie, then this release gets my highest recommendation.

1 comment:

  1. The pool scene in the NIGHTMARE cut is actually essential to the film's continuity; it sets up the babysitting scene that makes absolutely no sense in the BLOOD RAGE cut.