Serve up this bizarre, oddly funny 80s slasher as part of your holiday entertainment feast this year.
Though Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s retro horror double feature Grindhouse met with audience indifference, the collection of fake movie trailers during its “intermission” became amusing pop culture ephemera. Of the four featured, Eli Roth’s “Thanksgiving” is probably the most fun to revisit, mostly because of its loving dedication to capturing the unique seediness of an 80s slasher film. There’s something so familiar about the murky film quality, the low budget special effects, the incoherent plot (it appears to be a trailer for two different, unfinished movies stuck together, as was the case for many 80s horror movies), the glimpses of T&A, and of course, that hilarious voiceover and excellent tagline, that it seems unbelievable that it hadn’t actually already been made.
Though it took over 15 years, Thanksgiving is finally a full-length feature, released to largely positive reviews just last weekend. It is not, however, as has been claimed elsewhere, the first Thanksgiving slasher film. Before that, there was 1987’s Blood Rage, a movie that leans into all the best and worst tropes of its genre, while also being deeply strange and often undeniably funny.
Like all the best slasher movies, Blood Rage wasn’t released until more than four years after it was filmed, and has existed at various times under three different titles. Languishing in obscurity for years, it was rediscovered by horror fans thanks to an Arrow Films DVD release in 2015. It’s since become a fandom favorite, thanks to its gory practical effects, bugnuts plot, and Louise Lasser serving up some glistening ham with that Thanksgiving turkey.
Blood Rage opens with Ted Raimi selling loose condoms to horny drive-in theater customers, so you know you’re about to watch a genuine goddamn motion picture. Doing her part to support small business owners is Maddy Simmons (Louise Lasser), who’s passionately tussling with her date, unconcerned that her young twin sons, Todd and Terry, are in the backseat of the car. Suggesting that this is not the first time they’ve been subjected to such a thing, the boys get out and wander around the drive-in. Though Terry just seems annoyed about the whole thing, he’s actually in a murderous rage (a blood rage, you might call it), and takes it out on a random couple also, ahem, enjoying each other’s company in their car, axing the male half of the couple to death. Terry then smears blood on a too-stunned-to-speak Todd and shoves the ax into his hand, framing him for the murder.
Todd, who is so traumatized from the event that he’s never been able to speak up in his own defense, is sentenced to a psychiatric hospital, and ten years later a now-adult Terry (Mark Soper) has been able to enjoy their mother’s attention all to himself. By all appearances an average college-age guy, Terry has friends, and several girls interested in him, but he only has eyes for one gal, and that’s dear old mom. His peaceful existence comes to an end, however, when Maddy announces in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner that she plans to marry Brad, the owner of their apartment complex. You can practically see a switch turn in Terry’s brain from “act normal” to “time to kill.”
Conveniently, Todd, still locked up at the psychiatric hospital, picks that very same day to realize that his sentence has been a huge miscarriage of justice and escapes, heading towards home. Upon hearing the news, Terry takes it as a golden opportunity to go on a murder spree, and plans to once again pin his misdeeds on the hapless Todd. With both Brad and Todd out of the way, Terry won’t ever again have to compete with anyone for Maddy’s affection, and the rest of the people he kills are just for the heck of it.
As a slasher movie, Blood Rage is perfectly fine, with some gnarly kills and a nice diversion from the formula, as we know the killer’s identity from the very beginning. It’s impossible not to like any movie in which said killer licks blood off his fingers and remarks “That’s not cranberry sauce.” As a totally off-the-wall psychodrama, however, it absolutely shines, and that’s thanks largely to Louise Lasser, who acts as though she’s in a 1950s Douglas Sirk production, fretting and fussing over everything, and bringing Todd a single piece of pumpkin pie (not a whole pie, just a slice) for a holiday visit at the hospital, which he throws at a wall.
Wearing sausage curls and a frilly, cleavage-baring dress, Lasser makes a feast of even the smallest moments, like offering a basket of hot bread to her Thanksgiving dinner guests. The more things escalate, the further away she drifts from Earth, culminating in a scene in which, to soothe her nerves over Todd’s escape, Maddy sits on the kitchen floor and eats cold holiday leftovers with her bare hands. She’s going to need that nourishment for the mind-blowing climax, which places mother and sons in the same room together for the first time in over a decade to results that must be seen to be believed, then seen again to make sure you weren’t hallucinating the first time.
Thanksgiving might have the polish of a big budget slasher film, but Blood Rage is a true gem from the VHS era, back when on-screen “twins” were depicted with one of them always turned away from the camera, rather than a CGI trick. Featuring a villain who’s really enjoying his kill-life balance, consider queuing it up when your holiday guests are in that after dinner tryptophan daze. By the end of the night, you’ll know who your return guests will be, and who will be making different plans for next year.