Color, 1987, 82m.
Directed by John Grissmer
Starring Louise Lasser, Mark Soper, Marianne Kanter, Julie Gordon, Jayne Bentzen, James Farrell, Chad Montgomery
Arrow (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC, UK R0 HD/PAL) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Legacy (DVD) (Canada R1 NTSC)
Shot near the end of the first big slasher wave in 1983, this very gory, very entertaining chunk of cheerful sleaze took four years to finally reach theaters in toned-down form as Nightmare at Shadow Woods, with a different, bloodier edit turning up soon after on VHS as Blood Rage. The two different cuts have caused some confusion over the years, especially when the beloved juicy VHS cut was replaced by the watered-down, R-rated variant in its first DVD release from Legacy Films. Fortunately you get the best of all possible worlds with the dual-format release from Arrow Films on Blu-ray and DVD, which offers both cuts along with a composite cobbling together the longest possible version... but more on that in a minute.
In the mid-'70s, a night at the drive-in for a screening of The House That Cried Murder turns into a bloodbath when Maddy (Lasser) is too busy making out to notice that her two twin boys have slipped out of the back of the car. One of them, Terry, whips out an axe and brutally hacks up a guy doing the nasty in a nearby car (severely traumatizing his date for the night in the process), then plants the weapon in the hands of his clueless brother, Todd. Flash forward a decade, and the brothers (both played by Mark Soper) now lead very different lives. Todd has been shut away in an institution under the care of Dr. Berman (Kanter, who also produced), who's helped him recently recover his full memory of what happened that night, while Terry is an all-American good boy with a wholesome girlfriend, Karen (Bentzen), and a nasty homicidal streak bound to ignite at any moment. Indeed, that's exactly what happens on Thanksgiving when Maddy announces her new engagement, which sets off mama's boy Terry while Todd manages to escape with plans to stop his psychopathic brother from wiping out the entire neighborhood one by one.
That synopsis really just covers the first half of the film, which is otherwise occupied with the incredibly high body count Terry racks up as he slices and dices his way through almost every adult and teenager he comes across. Soper is clearly having a lot of fun in both roles and does a fine job of clearly delineating the two while giving it all a certain level of overheated melodrama, and Lasser (a veteran of Woody Allen's early comedies and the classic series Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman) gives it her all as well with a performance well above what you'd expect from an indie slasher film around the time. Most interesting is the way the film paints all of its major characters as overgrown children: Maddy as a stunted little girl personality in denial, Todd as a confused innocent, Terry as a manipulative brat who wants to play in the most violent manner possible, and Karen as a frightened simpleton who can't even bother going to the police when she realizes the escaped Terry is nearby. The fast pace and full-throttle approach to the gore (not to mention the Florida locations) may put viewers in mind of the earlier Nightmare (which shared this film's excellent makeup artist, Ed French), but the tone here is a bit more self-aware and borders on parody at times with characters repeating the same lines over and over to the point of absurdity (most notably "This is a real emergency!" and the immortal "That isn't cranberry sauce, Artie"). Viewers unfamiliar with the aesthetics and conventions of slasher films may be baffled if they stumble into this one cold, but more seasoned horror fans should get a huge kick out of this one.
Arrow Films surprised a lot of people with this announcement for a film almost everyone assumed would never be released in a decent, complete version. An earlier fanedit had tried to cobble together the DVD and VHS cuts with erratic results, but you can easily chuck that one aside now with the release that comes in a limited three-disc edition, with the DVD and first Blu-ray housing identical contents (albeit with the latter in superior 1080p of course). This main disc features the original unrated cut of the film, sporting the title card Slasher, and it looks great with all that early '80s graininess and loud color scheme fully intact. It's a major upgrade over past versions without the harsh over brightening that made the earlier DVD even more worthless, even if this isn't the prettiest film ever shot. The DTS-HD MA mono audio sounds excellent (with optional English subtitles) and does a fine job of supporting the deliriously catchy electronic score by Richard Einhorn (Shock Waves, The Prowler), which deserves a separate soundtrack release someday. The film can also be played with an audio commentary featuring director John Grissmer, who made this after his debut feature Scalpel and never directed again. He goes into quite a bit of detail about how he got the gig, the locations, the film's gradual cult following (which he only found out about way after the fact), and the casting process, though it gets a little quiet at times.
On the video extras side, you get a hefty batch of solid new featurettes created by Red Shirt Pictures. The 11-minute "Double Jeopardy" features Soper offering warm recollections about his experience on the film, noting that his acting abilities were pretty green at the time and he had to take a crash course in slasher films to familiarize himself before shooting started. The 10-minute "Jeez, Louise!" is a great, much-needed chat with Lasser, spending quite a bit of time on the start of her career (including her stage and TV sitcom work) before moving on to this film, which was quite an acting challenge in itself. In the 10-minute "Both Sides of the Camera," Kanter talks about how she wound up pulling double duty as an actress and producer while referring to this as "a work of art, a work of drama" and discussing the on-set friction between Lasser and the director, which led to him temporarily stepping off the production. French appears next with the 13-minute "Man Behind the Mayhem," focusing on how he had to top himself with each murder while keeping suspense going with each sequence. He also touches on why he popped up for a brief role and even got to kill himself off on camera. The appropriate title of "Three Minutes with Ted Raimi" features the familiar actor (and brother of Sam) recounting how he turned up in a brief role as a condom dealer at the beginning of the film, a gig brought about by an unfortunate traffic accident and an ultimatum from his father. Jacksonville author Ed Tucker serves as your guide next for the 5-minute "Return to Shadow Woods," a fun and very thorough then-and-now look at the locations in the film such as the drive-in and the still-existing Shadow Woods apartment complex. The first rounds out with the original VHS opening titles as Blood Rage and a great gallery of Ed French's behind-the-scenes photos loaded with prosthetics and fake blood.
The second Blu-ray, an exclusive to the limited edition release, kicks off with the softer Nightmare at Shadow Woods theatrical edit, which runs 79 minutes and pulls the bulk of its footage from the restored HD master with some alternate and added bits of footage pulled from a 35mm print. The extra material isn't essential but very nice to have here for completists, including an extended version of the diving board scene, some bonus nudity, and added character development with Terry and his buddies in the opening half hour around the swimming pool. Definitely don't watch this first though if you're unfamiliar with the film as the reduced gore is definitely a drawback. Of more value is a composite cut running 85 minutes, essentially reinstating the extra footage from the Nightmare at Shadow Woods cut into the unrated version so you basically get the longest possible edition. The two cuts we've had before have a handful of exclusive alternate takes and shots so there's no way you can combine every frame without some redundancy, but this is about as good as possible if you want to see every scene shot for the film with all of the gore and nudity intact. That said, for the best pacing and the most impressive a/v experience, first time viewers should go with the cut on the first disc before progressing any further. Finally you get a whopping 26 minutes of silent outtakes (including slates with the original shooting title, Complex), with the highlights being the blood-spattered dead actors moving around and cracking up.