BLOOD RAGE: A Thanksgiving Slasher Classic

It’s not cranberry sauce!

There were some horror films released in the decadent 1980s that were so quintessential of their era they can’t be replicated in any shape, way, or form. John Grissmer’s 1987 splatter classic, Blood Rage, is one of those movies, a slasher flick that’s dripping in early ’80’s fashions, sensibilities, and outrageousness.

The movie opens in 1974, Jacksonville, Florida, at a drive-in showing a movie called The House That Cried Murder. Parked in a station wagon is single mom Maddy (Louise Lasser) on a date with what looks like a much younger man. Packed in the back (or along for the ride) are her twin boys, Todd and Terry (Russell and Keith Hall). While Maddy makes out with her date, Todd and Terry sneak out of the car and before you can say foreshadowing, psychopathic Terry steals a hatchet out of the back of a pick-up, kills a poor schmuck in his car, and frames Todd for the murder.

Flash forward ten years later and poor, innocent Todd (Mark Soper) is living in a mental health facility while Terry (also Soper), a college student, is spending Thanksgiving with Maddy and her fiancé (James Farrell) at the Shadow Woods apartment complex. As the family sits down for turkey dinner, they’re informed that Todd has escaped from the hospital. This news causes Terry to malfunction and go on a killing spree, once again framing Todd for his horrific crimes

Filmed as Slasher (and released in some territories as Nightmare at Shadow Woods) in and around Jacksonville, FL, in late 1983, Blood Rage is a no-holds-barred, unashamed gorefest. It’s a movie that doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is: a fun, spirited splatter epic, overloaded with hammy acting, feathered hair, a pumping synthesizer score, and some terrifically gruesome murder set pieces created by Ed French (Sleepaway Camp).

One of the reasons Blood Rage works so splendidly is because it doesn’t go the mystery-killer route like 90% of the slashers of the ’80s. Instead it tells us who the killer is (young Terry) within the first five minutes, because the movie isn’t about figuring out who is doing the slashing. It’s about the slashing. In one way, Blood Rage is an unconscious satire on slashers in general, and in another, it has the look and feel of an H.G. Lewis flick

Blood Rage has within recently years been certified a cult classic. From Arrow Video‘s wonderful Blu-ray release, to multiple Terry-inspired t-shirts and pins, Blood Rage has successfully, and deservedly, branded itself into the 80’s horror zeitgeist.

From its synth-pop-pounding opening, to Terry’s memorable one-liners (“That’s not cranberry sauce, Artie!”), to the surprise, downbeat ending, Blood Rage is in a class of its own, and one of the few horror movies that take place at Thanksgiving. Unabashedly zany and cheerfully sadistic, it’s a classic of its time period, and despite having been filmed in the early part of the decade is an example of OTT late ’80s excess.

Russell Crowe goes ballistic in Unhinged

Road rage is one of those universal events that plague people every day, and while we’ve seen it portrayed in movies before (Duel, Joy Ride) it’s offered up as a straight-forward, unapologetic thrill ride in Unhinged. Directed by German filmmaker Derrick Borte, Unhinged is a high-octane psycho-thriller that moves at a fast pace and, although overloaded with plot conveniences and one of the biggest foreshadowings I’ve ever seen, it’s a film that understands the mechanics of a good race-against-the-clock chiller and how to keep you on the edge of your seat.

Caren Pistorius plays a harried single mother whose busy morning gets even more chaotic when she pisses off a mentally unbalanced killer (Russell Crowe, who gives amazing rage face). Crowe passive-aggressively asks for an apology, but instead gets a face full of dust as Pistorius drives off, leaving him stewing in his own crazy juices and plotting deadly revenge on her and her family.

Essentially a slasher flick with cars, Unhinged is slow to start as we listen to the vapid conversations of cut-and-paste characters. But, when the action kicks in (with a literal slam), the movie becomes a nonstop cat-and-mouse ride that manages to keep you engaged, surprised, and, a few times, shocked. What I liked most about the screenplay (by Carl Ellsworth, writer of Red Eye and Disturbia) is that it wasn’t afraid to get down and dirty.

Crowe is perfectly cast as the madman of the title. Nearly unrecognizable, the Australian actor brakes for no one and goes all out bananas. Just his side-eye glare is enough to send shivers down your spine in what is one of the better, more authentic psycho roles since Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight.

Will Unhinged win any awards for originality? Not likely. But if you want a fun, easy way to spend 90 minutes I highly recommend it.

To rent or purchase Unhinged please go the the website for details.

Paranormal Farm: The Meta Found Footage Series

This post contains some spoilers. I recommend watching the films and then come back and read/watch.

If you’re a fan of found footage horror you’ll most likely have heard of the Paranormal Farm series, one of the more inventive in the Paranormal Activity sweepstakes. The first Paranormal Farm, released in 2017 and directed by British filmmaker Carl Medland, has paranormal investigator and psychic, Carl (Medland), traveling to a remote country farm to meet Lucy and Darren, who believe their home and surrounding land are haunted. 

Upon meeting Lucy and Darren at their sprawling farm, Carl is informed that Lucy’s and Darren’s daughter, Jessica, disappeared in the nearby woods five years earlier. Carl suggests the supernatural activity happening in their home could be the spirit of Jessica, and uses the idea as the basis for his investigation. Lucy also mentions the presence of a “beast” that roams the land but Carl seems to dismiss that as unimportant. Carl also takes note of the strange collection of scarecrow-like mannequins that are scattered throughout the property – great material for any horror film.

Carl is left to spend the night at the farm by himself and experiences several creepy incidents, including objects moving by themselves, body possession, and someone stalking the grounds in a clown mask. It all comes to a chaotic conclusion with a relatively satisfying, if weird, ending, but if you’re expecting anything resembling normality in this film you’ll be sorely disappointed.

Paranormal Farm is not your typical FF movie: it sits in a higher, surreal level of both campy self-parody and imaginative storytelling. This is a film that knows what it is and knows how to navigate through the template of the FF arena, at the same time offering up some impressive visuals and original characters.

This is also a movie that throws a lot of information at you at a fast pace, and if you’re not paying attention, you’ll feel like you’re in a maze. But that’s one of the charms of PF, its ability to disorient and confuse you, which just adds to the intriguing mystery of the story; often you have no clue what you’re actually looking at. It’s like the David Lynch of found footage movies.

Paranormal Farm II: Closer to the Truth (2018) is the ultimate meta sequel as it doesn’t continue the story from PF but is more of a spin-off. Picking up a few months after the events of the first movie, Carl is back on the farm interviewing Lucy and Darren, not as a paranormal investigator, but as a filmmaker. Carl is making a behind-the-scenes feature for the DVD release of PF, which we’re told was Carl’s fictionalized account of the real supernatural events Lucy and Darren have experienced over the years. Got it? OK, let’s move on!

With his friend and editor, Taz (Mumtaz Yildrimlar), along for the ride, Carl gets more of the real story from Lucy, Darren, and their neighbors about what inspired him to make PF. We also find out the disappearance of a local girl, Sarah, was the basis for Jessica in the first film. There’s also talk of nearby cults, and, of course, the infamous beast that roams the area. While investigating the story, Carl discovers a nearby house where the father (Robert Gray) of Sarah lives and who some of the neighbors think is actually the beast.

The deeper Carl digs into the local “cult,” a group of people who meet in the woods around a fire (not unlike the climax of PF), the stranger Darren and Lucy act; and a makeshift séance performed by Carl contacts the supposed ghost of Sarah, upsetting Lucy, who says, “Nothing has been done incorrectly. It was all done ages ago. Why is it being brought up again?” Are Lucy and Darren hiding the truth about what happened to Sarah?

PFII transcends the found footage subgenre: it doesn’t play by the rules and it doesn’t care if you don’t like that.

How can Carl and the gang take the premise any further? That’s answered with Paranormal Farm III: Halloween (2019), which sees Carl and Taz back on the haunted farm a month after their visit in PFII. They need Lucy and Darren to sign their contracts in order to get the footage included on the DVD release of the film, but once Carl and Taz arrive they find both Lucy and Darren being attacked by two of the mannequins that dress their property.

But the supernatural occurrences don’t stop there. Later on, Carl seemingly moves an object with his mind and is attacked by something that covers him in blood. But, in PF fashion, Carl and the gang move passed the incident to uncover even more oddities, including a mysterious box with a petrified rat, and Darren’s increasing anger and annoyance with what he thinks are Carl’s fake movie antics.

We’re also introduced to a local blind woman who, like Carl, has psychic abilities and who may be able to help Carl uncover the truth about the paranormal activities plaguing Lucy and Darren.

All of the information from the three films sounds scattered and random, but everything eventually comes together, including revelations about the beast and the truth of Lucy and Darren’s haunting.

One of the clever things about PFIII is that we’re actually told what happens in the very last frame of PFII while Taz is editing the scene on his computer. You can’t get much more meta than that.

If you want a bit of crazy, creepy, and sharply funny entertainment you can’t do any wrong with the Paranormal Farms. As of this writing, Paranormal Farm II and III are currently streaming on Amazon Prime. You can purchase all three Blu-ray discs through Amazon.

For more information and updates on the films check out director Carl Medland’s Instagram!