Nightmare at Shadow Woods 1983 Review
Nightmare at Shadow Woods 1983
aka Blood Rage
Directed by: John Grissmer
Starring: Mark Soper, Louise Lasser, Marianne Kanter
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Firstly, before we get going, I must confess that this review is of the old US video version under the name of Blood Rage. The film played briefly in theaters as Nightmare at Shadow Woods and I also have Dutch and Argentinian copies that were released the same way. There was a budget disc that came out quite recently, but it cuts out all the good stuff, so if you are looking to track this down after reading, go for the VHS ONLY. Well, at least until it gets picked up and given the care and attention that it should have received long ago…
Although this overlooked little gem wasn’t marketed as an out and out gore flick, in its uncut form it certainly delivers on the red stuff. It was shot in 1982 and finished early the following year, but it didn’t get released until much later when the stalk and slash style of horror had seriously become old hat. There are many such examples that you can find here on a SLASH above, where features have been left on the shelf for whatever reason, but in the case of Woods, it is a real disappointment that such a fun little entry has become totally obscure.
There’s something uniquely satisfying about watching a gory film. It may be impossible to put it into words, but there’s a reason why an uncut version of a splatter fest will always favour that of a censored print. Humans have a morbid curiosity and it’s fun watching an actor getting his face cut in half with a bench saw when you know it’s just prosthetics…
We kick off at a drive in movie theater. A mother is far too busy making out with her lover to notice that her twin boys Terry and Todd have crept out of the car and headed out onto the forecourt. After a brief confrontation with a teenage viewer and his girlfriend, one of the twins hacks the unfortunate jock to death with a handy axe that he picked up on route. Clearly a quick thinker, Terry gives the hatchet to his dumb-founded brother and leaves him to face a life behind bars in an asylum for a crime that he did not commit.
Fast forward ten years and Todd, who has been in a catatonic state since that fateful night, begins to recollect the fact that it is actually his twin-brother that should be held accountable for the grisly murder and so armed with the truth, he escapes the hospital to clear his name and bring his sibling to justice. Meanwhile the news of Todd’s escape, coupled with the uncomfortable fact that his mother is about to get married, sends Terry back on a maniacal rampage.
What we have here is the slasher movie equivalent of a ’67 Pontiac Firebird. Nowadays it may look a bit clunky and rough around the edges, but that doesn’t diminish any of its coolness. John Grissmer obviously set out with the ambition to fill his feature with all the necessary ingredients for it to rival the hard-hitters of the horror market during that period and if it weren’t for a few post-production issues, he would have succeeded wholeheartedly. As I mentioned earlier, the gore is spread thick and fast throughout the runtime and there’s no space left for sentimentality as the killer stalks his victims with a mean-spirited air of arrogance. In most traditional slasher films, the antagonist is either an unknown entity with no other link to his victims than a lust for murder or more commonly it’s a psychopathic colleague that’s seeking revenge, but conceals his identity from those that he stalks. Grissmer’s psycho however kills indiscriminately and celebrates the fact that he is slashing those that look upon him as a friend. He taunts as would a playground bully and like the most fearsome schizophrenic, he has no apparent realization of the grotesque acts that he is committing.
Future Oscar nominee Ed French’s gore effects are heavily underrated and hold up well against some of the cycle’s more renowned bloody treasures. My favorite of the bunch would have to be when Maddy discovers the corpse of her boyfriend in the apartment complex and unaware that he has been murdered, she prods him to ascertain why he is failing to answer her questioning. As his body falls forward, the head splits completely in half through the middle and its a decent and credibly handled scare. This is one of many neat directorial flourishes on display and the final stalking scenes build some flashes of suspense and tension. The budget restrictions are obvious, but the film holds it’s own against its slasher siblings.
Mark Soper steals the show here playing both of the evil twins with an intelligent and well researched performance that defies his lack of experience. Instead of just going for the obvious and giving his separate characters distinctive vocal twangs, his body language, composure and stride are uniquely delivered and therefore look almost unrecognizable as the work of the same actor. He has a ball playing the maniacal killer and his ‘cranberry sauce’ lines are chillingly dark and brought to mind something that Jack Nicholson might ad lib. Louise Lasser, a good actress usually, is hit and miss here as the mother, but I guess that she did manage much more ‘hit’ and the role was a difficult one. I also quite liked the innocent (and heroic) final girl who was played well by an unknown who had very few previous screen credits. Bruce Rubin’s screenplay is conventional of the slasher genre, but smart with the majority of its twists and gimmicks and it does well to set up scenarios that develop the story and maintain the pace. Do you remember the scene in Halloween when Laurie Strode is screaming and in desperate need for help from her neighbours, but they dismiss her cries as drunken malarkey? Well, there’s something similar here when a kiddie is pre-warned not to open the door because there’s someone dangerous about. Later, when the heroine is fleeing and looking for a place to hide, guess which house that she runs to and begins frantically knocking?
What I did find disappointing though was that Rubin didn’t make the most of an ambitious plot by adding a possible element of mystery. We know from the start that Terry is the psychopathic sibling, but with a bit more adventurous scripting, we could have been left deciding which of the twins is the true killer until an archetypal revelation climax.
With that said, Woods still remains a top top splatter flick and would be a great sister companion for The Prowler or My Bloody Valentine from the same period. It is scary, well-written, fast moving, unique and on top of that mega gory. Ray Peterson was a rock and roll singer in the late fifties who had a four-octave voice. His songs were brilliant and he covered everything from doo-wop to up-tempo ballads, but only boasted a handful of minor hits. Woods in a way is similar to Peterson, because it has it all; and for reasons that only the immortal guardians can provide, it never got the respect that it deserves…..
Final Girl √√
Posted on March 16, 2013, in Pure Eighties Cheese, Slasher, Top 50 Slashers and tagged 1983, gore, Nightmare at Shadow Woods, Rare Slasher, suspense, Top 25 slashers. Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.