Not that long ago the video store was a mundane and sometimes obnoxious part of life; driving over to some lonesome strip mall with your friends or family to comb through the all-too-often disorganized shelves of your local shop, argue over a selection, and then be stuck with it, for good or ill. Yet, it was also sublime. And for those who lived during the true video boom, video stores also equate to another bygone commodity: VHS. When JVC’s Video Home System won the early-80’s format war, the motion picture market changed forever. The genre and B-movies that had previously filled drive-ins across the country now often went straight to VHS. Then DVD took the world by storm in the late-90’s. It was a brave new world, and sadly, many films never made the leap, trapped now on a dead format. These often aren’t “good” films, but goddammit, they were what made video stores great. For we here at CHUD are the kind of people who tended to skip over the main stream titles, our eyes settling on some bizarre, tantalizing cover for a film we’d never even heard of, entranced. These films are what VHS was all about. Some people are still keeping the VHS flame burning. People like me, whose Facebook page Collecting VHS is a showcase for the lost charms of VHS box artwork. With this column it is my intention to highlight these “lost” films and the only rule I have for myself is that they cannot be available on DVD.
Title: Home Sweet Home (aka Slasher in the House)
Tagline: The Bradley’s won’t be leaving home… ever.
Released by: Media Home Entertainment
Director: Nettie Pena
Plot: As the Bradley family and friends gather for their traditional Thanksgiving day feast they soon discover they have an uninvited guest in the form of a muscle-bound, PCP-fueled escaped mental patient who’s about to make them all feel a lot less thankful!
Thoughts: Did you think that Eli Roth’s Grindhouse faux trailer Thanksgiving was the only time that anyone ever thought of making a slasher film set on said holiday? It wasn’t. There were not just one, but two Thanksgiving-themed slashers made in the eighties, but neither one of these films did as much to actually incorporate the holiday and make it as iconic the way Roth’s few minutes of footage did (what with his killer dressed in pilgrim garb and such), which is probably why they’re both so obscure. Thanksgiving is merely the setting for these two features and it has absolutely nothing to do with either’s plot, with the exception that both films deal with the horrors of family get-togethers.
Home Sweet Home tells the tale of a deranged, extremely violent drug addict who’s escaped from a mental institution on Turkey Day and just so happens to be built like an SUV. The nameless killer is portrayed by none other than fitness guru Jake Steinfeld, who some of you may recall was the celebrity trainer that had a series of workout videos in the 80’s called Body by Jake. In the opening pre-credits sequence he chokes a motorist to death, steals his station wagon, shoots a needle full of PCP under his tongue, and proceeds to run a poor old lady with her arms full of groceries down, laughing like a lunatic the whole time. Dead bodies by Jake!
WITNESS THE CARNAGE FOR YOURSELVES:
We are then introduced to the dysfunctional Bradley family and the horny, narcissist friends they invited to celebrate the holiday with. The patriarch is a middle-aged, mustachioed creepazoid who can’t keep his hands off his gold-digging trophy girlfriend, but is always being cockblocked by his insanely annoying son (aptly named Mistake) who wears white mime makeup, constantly plays the electric guitar, and occasionally performs a magic trick or two. He’s quite a character. The whole clan and their guests are like an alcoholic, valium-obsessed group of nymphomaniacs and the performances range from bad to really bad. There’s also a spicy hot Latina maid thrown into the pot for extra flavor. It’s like The Brady Bunch on acid.
The killer stumbles across the secluded homestead and starts picking them all off one-by-one. That’s basically it in terms of plot. There is never any mystery made of who the killer is. No mask bullshit. Not even really any agenda at all, other than that he’s extremely crazy, has incredible strength and loves to kill people. Boom.
The film is entertaining strictly on a so-bad-it’s good level. The body count is fairly high, the kills are average in terms of gore, and there’s one inventive death in which Jake terminates Mistake by electrocuting him with his own guitar. The pacing is bizarrely slow and it’s constantly, unintentionally hilarious. Pass the stuffing, ’cause this one’s a real turkey.
Title: Blood Rage (aka Nightmare at Shadow Woods)
Tagline: Not all the evil is on Elm Street…
Released by: Prism Entertainment
Director: John Grissmer
Plot: In 1974 two young twin brothers accompany their mother and her boyfriend to the drive-in. One of the boys commits a bloody murder and blames it on his identical sibling, whom takes the fall. Ten years later on Thanksgiving Day the innocent young man escapes from the mental institution he was sentenced to, returning home desperate to confront his evil brother who has decided to pick up his old habit of killing people in violent manners.
Thoughts: I decided to save the best Thanksgiving-slasher for dessert! I first discovered Blood Rage several years ago while I was searching through a dust-caked box of old tapes at a Korean video store that was going out of business and selling their VHS stock off for peanuts. I had never seen nor heard of this particular slasher before, but the box art looked great and I’m a sucker for the genre and the era, so imagine how delighted I was when I discovered that it not only was truly AWESOME, but it was also yet another entry in the Turkey Day hackers. As a matter of fact, Blood Rage is exactly the type of tone and style that Roth’s faux trailer was parodying.
This is also another baggage-less slasher that doesn’t feel the need to be weighted down with the mystery of who the killer could be. It’s apparent from the first scene set at the drive-in that our deranged psycho is little Terry (Mark Soper) who brutally butchers a young man with a hatchet while his girlfriend watches and then proceeds to frame his poor twin Todd (Mark Soper), who is sent off to a mental institution for ten years. In the meantime Terry has grown into a very popular young man who is suffocated with love from his overbearingly affectionate mother (portrayed by Louise Lasser in a typically tweaked-out performance). Todd escapes from the nuthouse on Thanksgiving and heads towards the apartment complex in Shadow Woods where his mother and brother currently reside.
Unfortunately, Terry has major Oedipal issues and upon receiving the news that his mom’s going to be tying the knot with her new beau during their turkey dinner, he goes into a homicidal rage and begins murdering off all of his friends who have gathered for the holiday. To make matters worse for Todd, everyone thinks he’s the one doing the killing!
This movie has all the staples you’re looking for: 80’s synth score, bad acting, brazen nudity, awesomely over-the-top kills, great low-budget gore effects, and Ted Raimi appears briefly in an opening credits cameo as a bathroom condom salesman. There’s one particular sequence where the killer chops off a guy’s arm with a machete while he’s holding a can of Old Style beer that’s genius. It cuts to the severed hand on the floor crushing the can as it twitches and yes, it’s sublime. Another amazing scene that I’m convinced Eli Roth must’ve seen, involves a decapitated head that is utilized to trick a new victim into opening the door to her apartment because the killer holds it in front of the peephole.
The other thing that makes Blood Rage very special is that there are as many moments that are played for laughs, as there are those that aren’t. I believe the movie’s only about eighty percent sincere, because there are some hilarious cutaways involving Louise Lasser’s mother character bingeing out on turkey leftovers while sitting in front of the fridge and epic OCD cleaning frenzies while she’s wasted on booze, that simply had to be added for comedy’s sake. Regardless, the results are one ridiculously overlooked, fun, insanely violent little Reagan-era slasher that just so happens to take place on Thanksgiving. Gobble gobble.
Note: It appears that there are two so-called “companies” who are each selling bootleg DVD’s of these two films on Amazon. I am told that they are both bad VHS dubs and in the case of BLOOD RAGE some of the violence is even missing. Don’t get ripped off!