Winterbeast has become something of a low-budget cult classic to knowledgeable audiences thanks to its hilariously bad, but also charming, cinematic experience. Clearly it falls right into Vinegar Syndrome’s wheelhouse as part of the Home Grown Horrors series; with an insanely small budget, a cast of assembled unknowns, and a mix of 8mm and 16mm film due to a pause in its production, the movie’s development had all sorts of obstacles impeding its progress. But director Christopher Thies’ ambition to make the film shows in its final product – it may be poorly edited, confusingly written, and full of random monsters both masked and animated, but it definitely earns its “so bad it’s good” reputation.
The film takes place on a mountain – a fucking windy mountain at that, since the repetitive wind sound effects probably wore out someone’s cassette player – that is unfortunately experiencing a bit of a problem with rangers and hikers disappearing. There’s a lodge at the top of the hill run by Dave Sheldon (Bob Harlow) and despite the mysterious disappearances, he’s still bent on having his autumn foliage festival. Sergeant Bill, part of the ranger troupe, eventually unearths a few disconcerting things about the mountain: there’s a weird Native American totem the occasionally comes to life, Sheldon has some weird mask fetishes with corpses, and there’s also a devilish-looking Winterbeast running around. There’s a whole lot of madness happening on this mountaintop!
To put it bluntly, Winterbeast‘s story is nearly nonsensical. None of the monsters parading around the mountain seem to fit with each other besides the fact that the Winterbeast and his totem pole have mystical properties. These elements are all worked in haphazardly without much thought about petty things like logic or reasoning; in fact, the film’s final act is a hodgepodge of lucid absurdity, with claymation dinosaurs, an elongated sequence watching Sheldon pet skeletons and dance around to a children’s nursery tune in a mask, and a 15 minute Winterbeast attack in (almost) slow motion. After watching the film, the viewer will not be any closer to figuring out how the pieces fit together, but at least you’ll have fun during these ludicrous moments.
There are quite a few slow moments throughout the film, but Thies has a tendency to fill them out – with montages! Extended scenes of searching and hiking over the mountain are layered with the synth-laden score, and I’d be lying if I said the main theme wasn’t damn catchy. Perhaps that’s simply because I had to listen to it for over 5 minutes while the main characters searched dilapidated houses; either way, it’s stuck in my brain now.
Winterbeast is not good, in some circumstances some might say awful. But surprisingly it is also an appealing little film because of its missteps and unconventional moments. Its tone is both extremely serious and also implausible during its obvious claymation moments. Simply put, Winterbeast a movie bad film lovers must see at least once, and it will probably implant itself in your memories, forcing you to return to it again and again to experience its windy ambience and plucky score.
Full uncompressed screenshots from this Blu-ray.
Vinegar Syndrome has cleaned up Winterbeast for a Blu-ray release as part of the Home Grown Horrors set (see also Beyond Dream’s Door and Fatal Exam), giving it a 2K scan from 16mm and Super 8mm film elements. An opening card explains that because Winterbeast was shot during two different periods, there are the occasional 8mm inserts that have an obvious quality downgrade. These scenes are very brief, and while noticeable, they don’t detract at all from the main event – in fact, they add to the off-kilter appeal. The rest of the 2K scan from the 16mm element looks very good, with about as much detail as can be expected from the source. Color timing is well-maintained and damage is surprisingly minimal – just a few lines and blemishes later in the running time.
The audio is a different story. Vinegar Syndrome notes in that same opening card that there are some audio issues due to the poor recording conditions, and this does manifest in a variety of ways in the final product. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 track has occasional dips in audio volume along with quite a bit of reverb and distortion, leading to an inconsistent audio experience. However, English subtitles are provided to help you through the rougher patches.
This Blu-ray amasses a huge number of extras. A new commentary track with producer Mark Frizzell adds some much-needed context to the film’s creation, as does as an additional archival commentary with director Christopher Thies, Frizzell, and cinematographer Craig Mathieson. Along with the new commentary, there are six new interviews with cast and crew, some performed over virtual meeting and they range in quality from great to poor. Overall, there is about an hour and a half of new interview content that goes into great depth about the production.
Additionally, Vinegar Syndrome offers a rough workprint of Winterbeast that is effectively very similar to the final product, albeit missing some audio elements. An archival making-of featurette adds an additional 20 minutes of content about the production. Deleted scenes, soap opera footage, and an audio interview with composer Michael Peristein round out the archival extras previously available on another release. This Blu-ray also gets new reversible cover artwork.
Region Free Blu-ray
NEW scanned & restored in 2k from its original 16mm and Super 8mm film elements
NEW Commentary track with producer Mark Frizzell
Archival commentary track with director Christopher Thies, producer Mark Frizzell and cinematographer Craig Mathieson
“It Came from Lone Peak” – an unfinished early workprint version of Winterbeast (HD; 1:13:22)
NEW “Sweat & Persistence” – an interview with producer Mark Frizzell (HD; 27:39)
NEW “I Saw it in a Dream” – an interview with actor Charles Majka (HD-ish; 10:35)
NEW “My First Career” – an interview with actor David Majka (HD-ish; 13:26)
NEW “So Bad, It’s Good” – an interview with actress Dori May Kelly (HD-ish; 10:19)
NEW “He Wears Sunglasses at Night” – an interview with actor Mike Magri (HD-ish; 14:15)
NEW “A Movie For Filmmakers” – an interview with filmmaker Simon Barrett (HD; 18:44)
“Oh, Dear, What can the Matter Be?” – an archival making-of documentary (SD; 19:36)
Archival deleted scenes (SD; 13:00)
Archival audio interview with composer Michael Perilstein (3:44)
Archival ‘soap opera’ footage (SD; 11:49)
NEW Reversible cover artwork
English SDH subtitles
Don’t go into Winterbeast expecting a master class in filmmaking. However, with the right expectations and the right mind-altering substances, viewers can certainly enjoy the film’s different merits. Vinegar Syndrome has done a great job restoring the film and providing a large list of extras that will extend your enjoyment of this Blu-ray immensely.
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