There is no Amazon link for this movie. Not unless you want to buy a $300 VHS cassette.
Yeah, but where’s the Sasquatch?
I was probably 13. I was accompanying my best friend to a local church “lock-in”. (We’ll ignore the existential paradox created by that sentence for now.) For those not in the know, a “lock-in” was basically a large slumber party, usually co-ed, and with a lot of adult supervision. At least, there should have been. I don’t remember seeing the adults very often that night. And that’s quite odd when you consider that most kids of that age are naturally loud. And stupid. Especially when members of the opposite sex are around.
As the midnight hour approached, a small group of us gathered in a separate room to tell ghost stories and urban legends. While I do not recall what time of year this was, I do remember it being quite windy outside. This helped set the mood that we weren’t even aware that we were looking for. Well, that and turning out the lights. That was a conscious decision. Honestly, it could have been about 9:30, but that doesn’t set this story off on the right foot, now does it? That’s the whole point of a good story, right? To draw in the audience as quickly as possible?
And Screams of a Winter Night does just that. Opening credits slowly unfurl over a pitch black screen. The voice of (presumably) a family can be heard. Just from their tones, it’s easily inferred that they are in some state of distress. They sound as if they are preparing to defend themselves against something that has invaded their home. A loud howling can be heard, starting in the distance, but growing ever closer. Is it some daemonic creature or just the distortions of the wind as it whips through the boughs of the surrounding woods? Gunshots ring out, followed by screams and the sound of something crashing into the house. Finally, silence.
The film then (truly) opens on a van twisting its way down a desolate forest road. Inside is a group of college kids on their way to a wilderness vacation. I say “college kids” when, in fact, most of them look old enough to have kids in college.
As is ordinance in any horror movie set in some backwoods location, there are the prerequisite yokels awaiting them at the only gas station built in this area of nowhere. They are your usual bunch. The guy who just stares into the car windows. The 2 older fellows doing their best Bartles & Jaymes impressions on the gas station porch. The 2 kids that look like they might actually be the product of inbreeding, usually torturing some poor animal. In this case, a trapped pig.
They inform the attendant (played by a VERY young William Ragsdale – Fright Night, Mannequin 2) that they are heading to a Lake Durant. He seems surprised by this and warns them against going further. Naturally, they ignore him. Now, I could be wrong here, but when the creepy-looking guy says that even he’s too scared to go somewhere, you might want to consider listening to his advice.
They arrive at the cabin in which they will be staying. The place is a little run-down, but sturdy and comes fully furnished. There is no electricity, however, so they are forced to use lanterns and flashlights, as well as needing to use the fireplace for warmth. The ringleader of the group, John, takes another of the guys with him in the search for firewood. John reveals to him that he chose to visit this place after the death of the family from the opening. Oh, yeah. They died. Spoiler alert. He talks about their heads being severed and bodies ripped to shreds. John says that the local authorities attributed the incident to a natural gas explosion. Either way, the place sounds cozy. (Despite the grizzly aspect of this story, the film is rated PG and is quite tame.)
Rumors persist that the howling can still be heard in those woods today. Not today “today”, but the “today” of whenever this is supposed to be taking place. An old Indian living in the area said that the deaths were the work of an angry wind spirit that wanted no man on the land. Thus, the legend spread and the Indian went back to crying over some trash or something.
It’s worth noting that this entire back story is being laid out while these 2 guys are looking for firewood. In this time, these guys appear to have wandered off what could easily be a mile from the cabin. Did they forget that they were in the middle of the friggin’ forest? The whole damn thing is one big piece of kindling. Just ask Smokey.
The evening creeps in and the couples take to entertaining themselves over dinner and drinks. Once that is finished, they being sharing tales of myths and urban legends in the hopes of scaring each other, the real reason this weekend was even planned.
What follows is a series of 3 short stories, each one involving some sort of campfire tale. In what was surely a cost-cutting choice, the characters in these tales are also played by the same actors playing the characters in the main story. Each story is noticeably longer than the one previous.
The stories range from a rather well-known tale involving an unseen assailant on Lover’s Lane, to frat pledges spending the night in a haunted hotel, to an unhinged sexual assault victim. I found the first story to be the weakest of the 3, but this very well be due in part to it being an urban myth that everyone has heard multiple times, give or take certain embellishments.
The second story, as mentioned prior, involves frat pledges spending the night in an allegedly haunted hotel. It was rumored that, on occasion, a faint green light had been seen wandering the halls of the upper floors. However, no was ever reported to have ever gone up there to see investigate what it was. This one starts quite strong, but soon devolves into an extended sequence of guys just sitting around. Due to the amateurish acting, the story ends with one actor oddly flailing around like a cat trying to swat a toy that someone is dangling from a stick.
The final story is told by a character with a strong resemblance to Thelma Harper. You, know. “Mama” from Mama’s Family. The acting from the women in this story is arguably the strongest of the film, not that that’s saying much. The boom mic steals a few scenes from all of them.
As each story progresses, the wind outside is gathering in strength. An eerie howling can start to be heard. These factors slowly start to unsettle the nerves of a few of the revelers. Their resolves quickly fade as the stories and the outside conditions escalate.
Distributed by Dimension Pictures (not affiliated with Dimension Films) and produced by (a different) Full Moon Pictures, Screams of a Winter Night, like The Giant Spider Invasion or The Legend of Bogey Creek (which this film seems to want to emulate), is part of the run of independent, hometown produced, low-budget genre fare that managed to find its way to audiences courtesy of the drive-ins of the 1970. The whole thing feels like it was slapped together by a few friends with a camera and an idea, and that notion gives the film a charm greater than the sum of its parts.
At first, I was quite disappointed with Screams of a Winter Night, but that was due solely to the lack of a sasquatch. I really wanted to see a sasquatch. Otherwise, I enjoyed this one much more than I expected. It’s not a “great” movie by any means, and there isn’t much of visual significance on display, but there is still enough here to recommend for those looking for something a little “lighter”. Just make sure to lower your expectations.
The full movie is provided below