Nightmare at Shadow Woods

Synopsis: What do you get if you combine Thanksgiving, American TV star Louise Lasser (Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman), killer 80s synths and some of the most gruesome special effects in all of slasher history courtesy of Ed (Terminator 2) French. Why, it’s Nightmare at Shadow Woods of course!

Twins Todd and Terry seem like sweet boys that is, until one of them takes an axe to face of a fellow patron at the local drive-in. Todd is blamed for the bloody crime and institutionalised, whilst twin brother Terry goes free. Ten years later and, as the family gathers around the table for a Thanksgiving meal, the news comes in that Todd has escaped. But has the real killer in fact been in their midst all along? One thing’s for sure, there will be blood and rage!

Shot in 1983 as Blood Rage but re-cut and shown in theatres as Nightmare at Shadow Woods in 1987, this picture is a gloriously gruesome slice of 80s slasher heaven.

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Nightmare at Shadow Woods 6.0

eyelights: the score. its inadvertent laughs.
eyesores: Louise Lasser’s unreal performance. the stupidity of the script. its construction. its direction.

“Mom’s at it again.”

You just can’t keep a good slasher film down (and by “good”, I mean “so bad it’s good”). Though it was filmed in 1983, ‘Blood Rage‘ remained unreleased until 1987, when it hit cinemas under the title ‘Nightmare at Shadow Woods’.

Whether it was renamed in order to capitalize on the then-success of the ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street‘ franchise, is unconfirmed, but it seems likely. One thing for sure is that the name-change didn’t help: it nonetheless failed miserably.

To recap, the picture follows Terry and Todd, twin brothers, one thanksgiving night after Todd has escaped from the mental institution he’s been interned in for a decade – for a grisly murder that was in fact Terry’s doing.

Now that Todd’s on the loose, Terry uses the opportunity to go on another rampage, slaughtering all of his friends and neighbours and casting further shade on his sibling. Ironically, the only person who can stop him is Todd.

But will he?

When it was released on home video, becoming a cult classic under its proper name, there was another substantial difference: it was released in its originally intended edit – ‘Nightmare at Shadows Woods’ had been edited differently.

The changes were not insubstantial: the violence was toned down to such a degree that almost all of the gore effects, the picture’s only truly creative element, wound up on the editing room floor. The movie had essentially been neutered.

Its inadvertent humour remained, naturally (though part of the appeal was the over-the-top violence that defied all logic); the film was still constructed ineptly and the performances (especially Louise Lasser’s) were a total joke.

But it was less fun.

Firstly, the new cut takes a decidedly much more ’80s tone with its opening, starting right in the drive-in’s concession stand with the first victim instead of easing us in with a long shot of cars driving into the venue, as in ‘Blood Rage’.

The greatest change comes in the exclusion of the farcical visit at the mental institution, which found Todd and his mom reunited under the supervision of his doctor – a scene so inept that it was buried under ham-fisted narration.

The reason why this is significant is that it was so hilariously bad that it set the tone for the rest of the film, making its ineptitude a running gag. Without it, we start the movie merely thinking that it’s drab – not so bad it’s good.

Let’s face it: there’s nothing quite like the sight of Todd taking a handful of pumpkin pie, pouncing against the wall and chucking the pumpkin filling at it! Without such an over-the-top action, the movie loses its mojo.

Instead, the visit is replaced with a scene where Terry and all his friends go to the pool after having played football together. Watch the kids hang around the pool, gossip about the MILF, and then Andrea takes a shower.

Whoopteedoo.

We do get our first encounter with the hot mom, though, who’s lounging by the pool in a leopard-style bathing suit. She asks Andrea to come babysit and then, excited about her date, nearly forgets to take her baby with her.

Ouch.

It’s not just a redundant scene, but it’s marred by a truly horrible performance by Jayne Bentzen as the mom, who the kids claim is 48. Well, if she’s 48, then she’s pretty darned youthful (in reality, Bentzen was 28 at the time!).

Man, I loves me some older women.

There’s an insert of Brad and Andrea making out, looking like they’re wet from the pool. It must be an outtake from that scene at the end, much like the early insert of Andrea taking a shower at the pool looks lifted from elsewhere.

There’s extra footage of Andrea and Brad playing tennis (you know, because it moved the plot so nicely): Brad seeks a ball he knocked out of the court. Upon his return, he says he doesn’t feel good – why don’t they go to her place?

Cue the scene of them making out naked on a diving board at the pool. It’s not just alternate footage, but one wonders if Andrea lives at the pool. Or is it just that they went to her place and we never got to see that riveting footage?

After trimming the dialogue between Artie and Karen, we instead get more of Karen and Terry making out on the couch, with her complaining that he’s being too rough. Then he gets distracted and shouts at her to stay there. Yikes.

And that’s the bulk of the changes from ‘Blood Rage’ to “Nightmare at Shadow Woods’, reducing the runtime from 82 minutes to 79. Beyond that, only the violence has been censored, greatly taking away from its Grand Gignol appeal.

Even in its original form, the picture is hardly a masterpiece; if anything, it’s campy fun in the same vein as Ed Wood’s classic ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space’. It makes for the perfect counter-programming for Thanksgiving Day.

But remember: It’s not cranberry sauce!

Story: 3.0
Acting: 4.0
Production: 5.0

Chills: 2.0
Gore: 3.0
Violence: 4.0

Date of viewing: October 10, 2016

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