THANKSGIVING IN SHADOW WOODS: THE ANGER OF TERRY SIMMONS IN BLOOD RAGE

Any good slasher movie worth its salt gives us a villain that has some traumatic event that sets off their murderous frenzy – their “trigger,” if you will. Sometimes it’s horrifically tragic, sometimes it’s tragically hilarious. Sometimes, there’s no motivation at all. And sometimes, there’s too much motivation. With Triggered! we’re singling out one insane individual from some of the best and worst slasher films to see if we can make sense of the method behind their madness. For this installment, we’re focusing on the maniac behind the slayings in Blood Rage, Terry Simmons.

In 1983, the cast and crew of a little horror film called Complex (Blood Rage’s working title), descended on the Sunshine State of Florida to create a nasty cinematic holiday feast. Starring Louise Lasser (Stardust Memories, Crimewave, TV’s  Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman) as the Simmons family matriarch, and Mark Soper (The World According to Garp), as twins Todd and Terry Simmons, Blood Rage begins in 1974, when Terry and Todd are stuck at the drive-in watching a horror film, The House that Cried Murder, while their mother and her date paw at each other in the same vehicle. This public display of affection annoys Terry, so he and his brother leave the car and stumble on a couple of horny teens having sex in a nearby car; Terry kills the young man gruesomely in front of his date with a hatchet! He frames Todd for the crime, driving his brother into a catatonic state and languishing in a mental asylum for a decade. Flash-forward to the present day and Todd, still in the asylum, digs through his repressed memories, remembering Terry’s role in the homicide. As the Simmons family settles down to a delightful Thanksgiving dinner, Terry’s domestic bliss is shattered when his mother announces that she’s engaged to Brad (William Fuller), the fellow who owns Shadow Woods, the apartment complex in which they reside. When this is coupled with the news that Todd has escaped from the asylum, Terry decides to settle a few unresolved grievances.

For a homicidal maniac, Terry behaves like a prude, but it’s his disdain for sex that triggers his violent behavior. Everybody but Terry is getting laid: local couple Julie (Jayne Bentzen) and Bill (Ed French), have their night of blissful drinking and screwing cut short by a rampaging Terry, as do Julie’s daughter, Andrea (Lisa Randall) and her boyfriend Gregg (Chad Montgomery). Karen (Julie Gordon) and Artie (James Farrell), the only couple that doesn’t hook up (they’d rather play video games, an example of the “chaste couple” theme later revisited in films like Jim Wynorski’s Chopping Mall) remain unscathed. 

In her essay “Sexual Anger,” Dr. Gina Simmons, PhD. (what a coincidence!) states, “Some people were raised to feel ashamed of their sexual feelings. Sometimes this causes hostility towards those who arouse them.” Terry seems to enjoy watching the drive-in couple having sex until guilt takes over immediately, arousing not lust, but his homicidal tendencies. Simmons adds, “It works this way psychologically, ‘I’m not supposed to be attracted to you. You make me uncomfortable. You cause me anxiety. I hate you.’ Psychologists call this a reaction formation, an ego defense mechanism that allows us to avoid looking at parts of ourselves we don’t like.” When Terry’s girlfriend wants to have sex, he’s uninterested–subconsciously, he’s sparing her from his homicidal rage that will be triggered as a result of his shame and insecurities. When he encounters Andrea and Gregg having sex at the community pool, he yells “Stop that!” before killing them. Terry’s projects his inadequacies and guilt through his murderous actions, unable to confront his inner demons.

The murders that Terry commits are horrific, but it’s also his treatment of Todd that is equally loathsome. Terry doesn’t want to be blamed for the initial drive-in murder, but with a smear of blood and misdirection, it’s disturbing how quickly he frames his brother. Terry subjects his twin brother to both incarceration and catatonia to avoid accepting the consequences of his action. When the adult Todd escapes the asylum, Terry feels free to indulge his homicidal impulses again because he can blame his brother. Todd has lost a decade of his formative teen years because of a callous, calculating brother–while Terry squanders his freedom and ignores his sex drive, Todd has been imprisoned inside his own mind, unable to reconcile his brother’s murderous act, and even admits to never having kissed a girl. Blood Rage‘s emotional thrust is grounded in a way most other slashers avoid: it’s less about the carnage the villain commits, but the mental distress caused.

In January 2020, a man named Floyd Bledsoe shared his story of being framed for a murder he didn’t commit, an act perpetrated by his older brother, Tom. Floyd failed a polygraph test: “I was put in jail. I wasn’t allowed to call anyone and it was my first night away from my sons. For three days I was left in a cell. I was numb, walking around in confusion. I tried sleeping but it was so cold. I was given food but no one talked to me. I felt crazy.” His wife filed for divorce and his parents sided with Tom, testifying against Floyd. While he appealed his case, he lost fifteen years of his life to incarceration. Thankfully, DNA testing proved conclusively that his brother Tom had committed the murder, exonerating Floyd. His story, though besieged by tragedy, ends in a place of hope, as he replaced the rage he felt towards his parents with compassion. In Blood Rage, however, there is no happy denouement: Todd’s mother never believes in his innocence, and, after shooting Terry dead, she commits suicide, unable to handle the guilt that it was Todd she had intended to shoot to stop the killings.

Blood Rage‘s film set was fraught with tension– Lasser and director John Grissmer clashed frequently, leading Grissmer to quit the film at one point; he did return to complete the shoot. The behind-the-scenes quarreling didn’t compare to the nightmare of getting the completed film out to horror fans. Blood Rage was released theatrically, in a limited capacity, under the alternate title Nightmare at Shadow Woods, in 1987. Much of its practical gore effects, courtesy of Academy Award-nominated makeup artist Ed French, were cut out of the theatrical release, robbing gore fans of holiday viscera, likely the result of pushback from the MPAA towards slashers in the late ’80s. Home video company Prism released the film on VHS under its intended title, reinserting much of the missing gore, but it was missing a key scene near the end of the film. The complete cut of the film would finally be available decades later in 2015, when Arrow Video released the film on Blu-ray in a three-disc collectors’ set, featuring the multiple cuts of the film. Nearly 30 years later, Blood Rage fans could give thanks for its grisly Thanksgiving bounty to be enjoyed in high definition–just don’t ask for cranberry sauce!