Saturday, October 9, 2010

Halloween Havoc: WINTERBEAST (1991)

Last time I blasted LUNCH MEAT all over the place for being low budget and not trying worth a damn.  Now I’m going to write up the equally bad and low budget WINTERBEAST and say that I actually enjoyed this terrible movie.  Why the double standard you ask?  Because the makers of WINTERBEAST tried, damn it!  They may not have made a good movie, but at least they had the brains to fill it with weird stop-motion monsters, some nudity, zombies and one totally bizarre bit involving a clown mask. Most importantly, they didn’t make a boring movie a la LUNCH MEAT.  It might not make a lick of sense, but I was never bored stiff during its 76 minutes.  Ah, beast of winter, how I love thee.  Let me count the ways.

Filmed in the wilds of Massachusetts, WINTERBEAST is set in a small town besieged by unexplained disappearances on the local trails, including a mountain ranger. Obviously this troubles the local law enforcement and ranger Bill Whitman (Tim Morgan) corrals a search posse of three other folks. In the mountains the team discovers an ancient looking totem pole altar set up with human skeletons attached to it. That’s it, we’re closing the beaches…er, trails, we’re closing the trails. Dave Sheldon (Bob Harlow), owner of the Wild Goose Lodge and plaid jacket enthusiast, objects as this would mean cancelling the upcoming fall festival, the town’s biggest source of income from really bored tourists.

Of course, the creepy Mr. Sheldon might just have some ulterior motives for wanting the folks wandering into town and somehow this all might involve some ancient Indian curse.  Helping explain things to Whitman (and the audience) is Charlie Perkins (Charlie Majka), the local town Indian legend historian (too cheap to cast a real Native American, eh?). Perkins has all the right books and even possesses an ancient demon tooth that he apparently houses in a box alongside a dildo.  Seriously, look at that shot.  The characters never mention that other object in the box, but I knows me a fake penis when I see one.  Hey, that sounds kinda weird. Anyway, Whitman irks Sheldon once again by putting flyers all over town saying the trails are closed (the nerve!).  From this point on shit gets wild as random folks are killed by claymation monsters, all the peripheral characters are offed, Sheldon reveals himself to be the bad guy and Whitman and Perkins fight off Winterbeast with a flaregun and Indian skull.  

Sounds about normal for a horror flick, right?  Playing basically like “JAWS in a mountain town,” WINTERBEAST doesn’t offer any surprises in the plot department. It is the stuff that comes out of left field that really drops your jaw. I’m talking about stuff like the bit where Whitman and his assistant Stillman (Mike Magri) go to check out some empty houses and are attacked by a bizarre stop-motion mutant dinosaur.  Or the scene where Perkins is attacked by some bizarre 20-ft chicken that looks like BLOOD FREAK’s brother on steroids. What the hell are these things?  No one in the cast mentions them.  I guess we can just chuck it into the “must be some kinda Injun monster” category like the film does with everything else in it.

And that is just the intentional absurdity.  One can also get their kicks from watching for continuity errors like the ever changing evolution of Whitman’s mustache.  Seriously, the length and style of his whiskers change all the time, even sometimes in the same scene! My favorite is the obviously fake one that looks like a ratty paintbrush and is, oddly, bright orange.  I’ve made this handy visual guide for all to see:

One of the biggest problems with LUNCH MEAT was the lack of any kind of exploitation outside of the premise. Well, the makers of WINTERBEAST certainly got the memo.  The first five minutes have a stop motion skeleton thingy, a guy tearing off his skin and a demon skull bursting from a guy’s chest. You also have to love how they work nudity into the film.  The first 20 minutes has Stillman looking at nudie books over and over and they damn well make sure to get a shot of the centerfold. They’re not joking around.  They make sure he holds it right in front of the camera.  Later, you get this amazing stop-motion scene with some of the funniest gratuitous nudity from a Rita Rudner look-a-like:

The real showstopper in the film, however, is the scene where (not surprising) it is revealed Mr. Sheldon is the bad guy whose ancestors have some pact with the evil Indian demons. Sheldon sneaks down to a secret room in the lodge where he has some mummified bodies.  He then throws a Shirley Temple-esque version of “Oh dear! What Can the Matter Be?” on the old record player and proceeds to lip synch to it.  Then things get really weird as Sheldon grins manically, puts on a clown mask and dances around while touching the corpses. Whitman and Perkins confront him and Sheldon gives the standard “bad guy tells all” speech before his head explodes in a ball of flames.  What?  Adding to the bizarreness of it all is actor Harlow as Sheldon, convincingly creepy and looking like a cross between Malcolm McDowell and Roddy McDowall.

WINTERBEAST was originally released on VHS in the early 90s by Tempe Video. If you get a hankering to see it though, definitely pick up the special edition DVD release.  Yes, director Christopher Thies rolled this one into the digital world with a presentation befitting CITIZEN KANE. You get deleted scenes, a commentary track, a “making of” segment and more.  By far the most fascinating extra is the “Soap Opera Version” of the film, which consists of footage of the movie shot on high end video.  Eventually they thought it looked too much like a soap opera, scrapping it and heading back to film. It is quite a package that you should definitely pick up if you are a bad movie aficionado.  I guarantee that by the time the film is done, you will be singing “Oh dear! What Can the Matter Be?”  Or you’ll at least be saying it.

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