This is going to be a difficult week for a lot of families. No matter where you land on the political spectrum or how you choose to live your life, Thanksgiving with your family can often feel like a minefield, a multi-day obstacle course where you try to neatly sidestep awkward moments and uncomfortable silences. Given recent headlines, this Thanksgiving has been getting even more press than usual as a source of depression and anxiety. What better way to celebrate the holidays, then, than with John Grissmer‘s Thanksgiving horror classic Blood Rage, now streaming on Shudder? It may not be the holiday movie for every type of movie fan, but believe me when I say it’s the only Thanksgiving movie you’ll ever need.
For many individuals, stress and anxiety are as much a part of Thanksgiving dinner as turkey and pumpkin pie. In a 2014 piece on seasonal anxiety and depression, U.S. News highlighted the sense of displacement that can affect many people at Thanksgiving. Dr. John Oldham, chief of staff at The Menninger Clinic — a psychiatric hospital located in Houston, Texas — explained to U.S. News that many families don’t see these reunions as a happy occasion, but instead a “burden to toughen out.”
“Young people can feel like they’ve never been loved or have never been supported by their parents,” Oldham explained, noting that “old patterns can re-emerge, which can be stressful and discouraging to families.” In other words? Thanksgiving is a time where buried anger and fear can come bubbling to the surface: the perfect setting for a movie as delightfully fucked up as John Grissmer’s Blood Rage.
The family drama at the center of Blood Rage may be more ridiculous than your typical holiday gathering, but like the best horror, there’s a kernel of truth in the midst of all that madness. The film opens in 1974, as twin brothers Terry and Todd (Mark Soper x2) bear witness to their mother Maddy’s (Louise Lasser) sexual encounter at a drive-in movie theater. In a burst of Freudian violence, Terry kills a stranger in another car, quickly framing the catatonic Todd for the act and calling his mother’s attention to the crime scene. Fast forward a decade and Terry is now living with his mother in the Shadow Woods community in Florida.
Meanwhile, Todd — an inmate at a local psychiatric hospital — begins to remember the true events of that night at the drive-in theater. This all comes to a head-on Thanksgiving evening when Maddy’s announcement that she’s engaged to the property manager and Todd’s decision to escape from his facility send Terry spinning off into a violent mania. Enter well-meaning neighbors with a healthy libido; aaaaaand promptly exit well-meaning neighbors.
Blood Rage may not be the most overtly-themed Thanksgiving horror film — that honor probably goes to Nettie Peña’s 1981 slasher Home Sweet Home or Jordan Downey’s low-budget ThanksKilling movies — but like some of the best subversive holiday movies, it doesn’t let the presence of a major holiday eclipse some of its genre fun.
The film does feature one of the more delightfully stilted Thanksgiving dinners of all time — the look Maddy shoots to her son when he admits that Todd is on the loose may be one of my favorite moments in horror movie history — but the movie quickly segues off the holiday into more traditional horror movie scenarios: bedrooms, woods, and locker rooms. The Thanksgiving message that remains is owed entirely to the family dynamics and the odd interplay between Terry, Todd, and their damaged mother. It may not pull out all the stops as a Thanksgiving movie, but it still gets the family dynamics just right.
Like the best ’80s slashers, Blood Rage isn’t afraid to flaunt its dime-novel Freudian psychology. At one point in the film, Terry confesses that he’s planning to study psychology in college, a nice tongue-in-cheek reference to the sheer absurdity of the whole affair. But much like most Christmas movies find ways to play with the universal themes of the holiday — family, selflessness, and the possibility of miracles — Blood Rage pokes fun at Thanksgiving traditions in the midst of the madness.
Most of this is centered on Lasser’s Maddy, a grotesquely pathetic woman — think Julie Hagerty by way of The Grifters — who is completely unwilling to believe that Terry could’ve committed these murders all those years ago. As the aforementioned U.S. News piece notes, Thanksgiving can often cause people to feel burdened by their family’s inability to see them for who they are, and Blood Rage takes that idea and cranks it up to eleven. Think your Thanksgiving was bad because your parents wouldn’t address your sexuality or career choices? That’s nothing: Todd’s mom would literally rather shoot herself in the head than admit that she might’ve been wrong about which son is a murderer. Not exactly the sort of thing you’ll be joking about at Thanksgiving dinner a few years down the line.
Of course, all the Thanksgiving-themed horror sequences in the world (“That isn’t cranberry sauce, Artie. That is not cranberry sauce!”) wouldn’t matter if Blood Rage delivered only half-baked horror set pieces, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Guided by the steady hand of special makeup effects artist Ed French — the artist behind movies like Sleepaway Camp and C.H.U.D. — Blood Rage offers an iconic blend of both standalone and holiday-themed deaths. There are multiple dismemberments, impalements, machete-aided lobotomies, and even one iconic death with a carving fork that really drives the Hollywood theme home.
Throw in some of the movie’s twisted comedy regarding cadavers — Todd morosely tries to shove the various body parts of his dead counselor back together when he stumbles across her in the woods — and you’ve got the makings of a perfect adults-only horror movie after the kids go to bed (and the perfect companion piece to the ubiquitous A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving).
With exaggerated performances, memorable kill scenes, and an underrepresented holiday in the background, Blood Rage is an odd beast even among its peers. Birth.Movies.Death’s Brian Collins has admitted that he’s “never seen anything like” the film, while Shock Waves’s Rob Galluzzo calls it “its own thing that has to be seen to be believed,” and they’re both right, even if these descriptions still don’t do the film justice.
With the important caveat that Blood Rage is most definitely a movie for slasher fans first-and-foremost, this truly is the only Thanksgiving movie you and your family will ever need. Just remember: that isn’t cranberry sauce. That is not cranberry sauce!