Beast And Desist: An Appreciation Of WINTERBEAST

At last count, the Milky Way galaxy contained approximately one-hundred million black holes. The largest of these holes is known as Winterbeast.

Native American mythology has always been a source of pilfering for horror filmmakers. From Death Curse Of Tartu to Wendigo, from Scalps to Cementerio Del Terror, nothing good has ever come from people having sex on Native American burial grounds. Literally. That’s because all of these movies share an unfortunate characteristic — they’re boring. But they’re boring in the wrong way. Each movie feels like it originated on our planet. They never feel like the filmmakers were reaching up to the sky, ripping open a hole, and stepping into an undiscovered plane of existence. Winterbeast corrects these problems. It also feels like it was shot in an attic during a blizzard on Halloween night by no-budget superheroes the Polonia brothers after watching Equinox. If that description doesn’t make sense, don’t worry — it doesn’t have to.

There’s a problem at the Wild Goose Lodge involving mutilated bodies. How do we know? Well, Sergeant Whitman and Forest Ranger Stillman spend the first twelve minutes of the movie talking about it.

Let the investigation begin!

Stillman talks like a beatnik (“Dig those crazy threads!”) and gets drunk while Whitman interviews guests of the Wild Goose. Whitman is usually in close proximity to people’s faces while he talks. He’s a close talker. At the same time, outrageously cheap stop-motion beasties dismember people that we’ve never seen before. One monster looks like an owl with an ill-fitting toupee. Another resembles Grace Jones dressed as a mummy. The investigations bring Whitman and Stillman to a flamboyant man in a plaid suit. His name is Sheldon and he’s the proprietor of the Wild Goose Lodge. Sheldon spends a lot of time screaming at people. Two more rangers join the cause and we find out that someone has opened “the Indian gateway to hell!” Soon, the mighty Winterbeast appears. But it’s not clear if he is the true Winterbeast. Because it’s never explained who the other Winterbeasts were, or what happened to them. Regardless, none of that dilutes the power of one of the most bizarre show-stopping scenes in trash-horror history — one that makes Dean Stockwell’s lip-synching to “In Dreams” in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet seem like a Busby Berkley outtake.

Shot over six years on three different formats for $10,000 in Massachusetts, Winterbeast is a true no-fi miracle. And not just because it was completed and released. Straight-to-video regional horror movies with similar tones and budgets flooded video store shelves in the late 1980s. Most of them are worth seeing at some point in your life. You can watch stuff like The Dark Side Of Midnight or Curse Of The Blue Lights and feel good about your decision. But unlike Winterbeast, the majority of these movies don’t challenge our sense of mental balance. Winterbeast pushes further.

In this movie, reality is devoured, digested, and recreated for our benefit. It’s not clear how comedic elements — like the random appearance of a dildo next to an occult charm — should be interpreted by an audience. That speaks to a bigger aesthetic decision, one that supplies non-stop confusion in the best of ways. Epic lo-fi synth-pop accompanies people while they do mundane things for twenty seconds, like drive a car. The size and shape of Whitman’s mustache changes at random. People have conversations outdoors and then “outdoors” suddenly converts to a cramped set with a fake pine tree and no sunlight. Post-dubbed voices align with mouths. Then they don’t. All of this, in combination with the alternating Super 8 and 16mm film stocks, builds an immersive, collage-like mood. Even when nothing’s happening, something’s happening. The impressive attention to detail in the context of such deficient resources is impossible to ignore. Especially when the movie feels like it takes place inside of a shoebox.

Winterbeast is obviously a barometer of things that are good in the world. That said, it’s no surprise that some of the creature puppets in this movie were leftover from the video shoot for Dokken’s “Burning Like A Flame.”