By BETHANY LAKE
Twisted mother-son relationships have long been a staple of the horror genre. Famous examples range from Norman Bates and his mother in Psycho to Jason and Mrs. Voorhees in the Friday the 13th franchise. Rarely has this kind of dysfunctional relationship been depicted with more style, flair and (yes) blood than in John Grissmer’s 1987 film BLOOD RAGE.
BLOOD RAGE is a multilayered slasher that undeservedly fell under the radar for years. However, thanks in large part to streaming services Shudder and Tubi, BLOOD RAGE has been placed back in front of viewers, where it can be discovered by a new generation and rediscovered by those who recall seeing it on video store shelves.
Identical twin brothers Todd and Terry (both roles played by Mark Soper) live with their single mother, Maddy (Louise Lasser of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman). When young Terry commits a brutal murder during one of their mother’s dates at a drive-in theater, he frames Todd for the crime, who is then institutionalized. Ten years later, Todd escapes and heads home. But Terry has had his mother all to himself for years, and he is not about to share her attention now.
Terry and Maddy share a world all their own. Trouble only begins when interlopers (whether in the form of Maddy’s new fiancé or Todd’s re-entry into their lives) threaten their shared space. It’s clear that Terry gets his psychosis from his mother – only he takes it much, much further. Even from his earliest scenes, grown-up Terry seems to be about ten years and one motel purchase away from becoming Norman Bates.
BLOOD RAGE, also known as Slasher and Nightmare at Shadow Woods, was shot in 1983 (or as our eagle-eyed head writer, Michael Gingold, has noted more likely in March of 1984) but not released until 1987. The film has the distinction of being one of few horror movies set on Thanksgiving, which leads to the film’s iconic line, “It’s not cranberry sauce!”
RUE MORGUE had the opportunity to speak with actor-playwright Mark Soper about the making of BLOOD RAGE, its resurgence in popularity and his career in the years since the film’s release.
What was your overall experience like working on BLOOD RAGE?
Loved working on BLOOD RAGE. You get to take chances and make choices in this genre you just don’t get to make a lot of times in other work. Also, everyone pulls together on this type of project because it’s so intense and intimate to get it done with the number of people, in the time allotted, with the money you have.
How did you get into acting?
I didn’t know what to do with myself and was getting into trouble. My sister said, “Go see Mr. Fulmer. He’s the head of the theater [at the high school]. He’s an ex-Marine and no bullshit. It’ll take everything you have to give.” Which is what I needed. So I did and it did. I got cast in the school play. [I] was so nervous I got sick – high temperature. I went on with the first performance, made my first entrance and slid off the stage into the orchestra pit, and everyone laughed – and I was hooked. A lot of steps from there to New York City, but that’s how it got started.
You portrayed Todd as a genuinely sympathetic person. On the other hand, your portrayal of Terry is beautifully unhinged. Congratulations to you on doing double duty and playing both twins so well! When you first read the script, what was your process like in terms of trying to get inside Terry’s psyche?
I loved playing the twins, that aspect of it. I got that off the script from the first read. The good guy who’s bad and the bad guy who’s good. I did a lot of straight dramatic training, Stanislavsky, the classics – Shakespeare, Chekov, Williams, what have you – so I approached it like that. I made a list of physical characteristics of each so I could keep them straight, switching back and forth during the same day’s shoot numerous times. Different postures and head positions. I made very specific choices about who they were, and I really, really enjoyed it – switching back and forth.
One thing that sets Terry apart from a typical ’80s slasher killer is that he’s having way too much fun wreaking havoc. He plays around with a lot of objects while he’s on his bloody rampage: tossing a tennis ball, jumping up and down on a diving board, and at one point, even playing with a corpse as though it were a puppet! Were those (or any other) moments improvised, or did you pretty much stick to the script?
Yeah, it’s hard to remember now, but there just weren’t a lot of that kind of psychotic killer characters then, who enjoyed it or were so pathological that they had zero guilt. That was fun. How far could we push this good guy doing this really sick stuff, you know? A lot of that stuff you referred to was improvised. Again, it has to do with the environment on the set, and that’s the director and producer and such, but we played around a fair amount. I loved it.
Louise Lasser’s performance as Terry and Todd’s mother is such a tour de force. What was it like working with her?
Louise Lasser was a total trip. She is definitely one of a kind here. She provides the real backbone of the world of the piece, the demented mom character. She got a “stop-everything-applause” on the set after one take, and let me tell you, I’ve only seen that twice in my life. It just doesn’t happen on film sets. She was something.
In addition to being an actor, you’re also a prolific playwright. Tell me a bit about that. When did you get into playwriting? When did you discover that you wanted to write, or was it something that had always interested you?
I was given a writing assignment, as was everyone else, in my 7th grade English class, and I wrote. I got inspired and wrote this long-assed short story about this kid who runs away from home and meets this grasshopper that can talk – at least to him. “Leroy the Long-legged Grasshopper.” I kind of suspected something was up. My English teacher said, “You have a special assignment or I won’t pass you. You have to write one paper a week for me on any topic you want because you are a writer.” That’s true, but I really had no idea what she was talking about particularly – then. But I did write the papers. And I did keep writing. I focused on acting completely for a few years early in my 20s in New York but then mixed the two, and as years went, I wrote more and more.
You have a long list of playwriting credits under your belt, including An Age of Angels, Change: The Upcoming War with Iran and I Miss Communism, which won multiple awards, including the 2005 Freedom of Expression Award and the 2007 Fringe Report Award. Do you ever go back and remount shows from your past, or do you focus primarily on performing only your newest material?
Well, I keep pushing forward. I got to revisit a play [Communion], but really it was only a couple of years later and only that one time. An Age of Angels had a long development process and years between first performance in L.A. and then in New York on its way to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival final version. I did like revisiting that material with a different context of time. I even did a reading of it just pre-COVID, and that was weird. You change, and that can be a plus, but then the times change, and that can get tricky, especially to the extent the material is “of the moment.” As an example of how much times can change the perception of material, one character from the earlier performances of Communion [the Paperman] was hysterical on the way to Edinburgh, funny in Edinburgh [cultural differences in humor] and enraged the audience at the latest reading.
Are you surprised by all the attention that BLOOD RAGE has been getting over the past few years?
Yes. Completely. Completely out of the blue, wtf? Surprised! Yes. I started getting peculiar requests from odd places like Italy and cities splattered – if you will – across the U.S. and then more and a few more, and over the last years now, quite a few. I, of course, just love it!
Are you working on any new projects right now?
I am pretty much always working on something. Over the past three years, I finished two long poems/one-person shows: The Last James Bond And the Final Mission: 1 – 6 and Gasoline. They are the most recent babies, and so I just love them.
If the opportunity presented itself, would you consider doing another horror film? Blood Rage 2 perhaps?
Yes! What a great idea! Let’s do it! When do we start?
BLOOD RAGE is available on Tubi and on Blu-Ray from Arrow Video.