Frostbiter: Wrath of the Wendigo (1995) Review by RevTerry

The Wendigo is a surprisingly broad subject. When I hear the term, I first imagine a pale Bigfoot-ghost-deer hybrid that pulls people from their tent and drags them to death. A somewhat physical beast comes to mind, one with glowing eyes that hangs out in cold-ass, uninhabitable places and fucks people up who shouldn't be there in the first place. From my limited understanding (mostly comprised of research done when I was thirteen), the origins of the supernatural entity are more complex. The roots of the story describe something closer to a zombie mixed with the middle management found in retail. It's actually more of a concept or a condition than a full-fledged tangible monster. For several members of the Algonquian-speaking people, it was a spiritual representation of greed, gluttony, and extreme desperation. In some popularized Native American legends, it possessed ordinary humans bringing a cannibalistic hunger that could never be satisfied and drove the host insane. When introduced with the concept, missionaries (being grounded as they were) even started officially diagnosing the native population with something called “Windigo Psychosis” (whether they had eaten anyone or not), which invoked a range of unsuccessful treatments including sometimes murder. Unsurprisingly, the syndrome became increasingly rare as soon as it was put under any real scrutiny and was most likely just another horrible time in history where people with real-world mental health issues were disregarded as inhuman monsters. Anyway, the version I impulsively jump to is a relatively modern variety of the narrative formed by the comics, supposed children's books and nerdy board games. Arguably, the 1910 novella The Wendigo by Algernon Blackwood could be to blame for the discrepancy in my case, as the loose take on the myth had a great deal of influence on the mediums following it. Cinema has had a few interpretations of the lore as well, including the snow-covered isolation flick, Frostbiter: Wrath of the Wendigo (1995).
A disfigured, broken man (Mike Missler) sits alone in a remote new york cabin, scribbling away on rustic parchment and reading the words back to himself (as you do in movies) in his best wise hermit voice. His exposition explains that long ago when the old man was spry and owned a coonskin cap, the area fell under a great evil known as the Wendigo. Through nondescript means, the narrator had defeated the monster, stopping a massacre and freeing the region from terror. Unfortunately, the victory came with a cost as, according to the local lore, the beast's remains must be appropriately prepared and perpetually guarded to avoid its return. Always willing to take one for the team, the man takes up the charge, which involves living in a cabin surrounded by human skulls on sticks, calling yourself “The Guardian” and writing your manifesto with a quill--like some kind of mystical Ted Kaczynski. This works out for a while until a couple of hunters, Gary (Guitar legend Ron Asheton) and Dave (David Wogh) come upon the sacred place while expressing some extreme libertarian views on property. Not wanting the loud hicks to break his power circle of human heads, “The Guardian” attempts to scare them off with a shotgun and an anecdote about respect, which only provokes the trespassers. In his belligerence, the more mouthy of the party, Gary, blows the old man away and breaks the circle. With his dying breath, The Guardian lets out a futile cryptic warning before the cabin erupts into cartoon madness and a giant hand comes out of a closet and decapitates Dave. Gary makes a break for it, heading towards another hunting group’s camp for help while coming up with excuses as to why it's not his fault. At the same time “Back on the Mainland,” a young woman named Sandy’s (Lori Baker) sleep is rudely interrupted by the haggard ghost of the freshly dead Guardian, Jacob Marley style. In so many words, she is told that the Wendigo has broken loose and that since the old man was too dead to be effective, it was now up to her to stop it. Sandy, no slouch when it comes to destiny, heads out toward Gary and his new (living) hunting friends.  Ancient spooky party tricks follow including an appearance by a homemade chili monster that has its own theme song. 
 The plot comes together like a snow-covered Evil Dead clone written lovingly by the staff from Married... with Children after a night of cheap beer, binge-watching golden era Troma films and telling half-remembered campfire stories. Shamelessly, it borrows the structure directly from Rami's iconic series, even using some of the same setups and gags. The world of the film is most fashioned after Evil Dead II (1987) specifically taking the notorious cartoon horror vibes and running with them into Class of Nuke 'Em High (1986) territory. It never comes close to meeting Evil Dead's comedy or shock but could, in many ways, connect as a spiritual sequel more faithfully than anything ever considered part of the "La Casa" series. Sprinkled into the 80s appropriate haunted cliches, are little chunks of late 40s Americana via Frank Capra’s It's a Wonderful Life (1946) as it shares the fictional town of Bedford Falls (originally created by Philip Van Doren Stern for his The Greatest Gift). The Christmas classic can also be seen playing on televisions in the background of various scenes, creating a sort of in-universe paradox for any canonical ties (dammit). The film's monster can seemingly do anything, and morph the rubber reality at will. Ultimately serving to fill in for the Deadites, the wendigo lore takes from multiple sources creating its own (probably slightly offensive) version of the legend. Some of the added flavorings harken back to a few of the more serious takes on the angry forest-god, including Ghostkeeper (1981) and Wendigo (1978), but it never gets past useless trivia, dispensed while people are fucked up in ridiculous ways. Being based around a shape-shifting villain and taking place in the snow, there are brushes with John Carpenter’s The Thing, although it’s better described as a more playful take on the same source matter (The Thing from Another World 1951, Campbell maybe). Similarly, it has a fair amount in common with Stephen King's work, including his love for small east coast town folk. There is a lot of (sometimes contrasting) overlap with projects like Creepshow (1982) and future King stories like Dreamcatcher, but it's presumably a side effect of the similar taste alone in most cases. By the second half, any actual exposition dissolves into Ghoulies (1984) style monster antics and screaming.  It's not a smart film, just witty enough to understand what makes a mess enjoyable. Everything in the movie is self-aware to the point of parody, with several layers to the joke. It does an excellent job of filling in space with easter eggs, callbacks and other entertaining (but pointless) details. The characters themselves are entirely filled out, extreme cliches with personalities that obey the punch line above all.  Among the goofball horror tropes, is a pension for cheesy dialog and one-liners, especially during the fleeting masculine hero moments. The primary motivation is seemingly a blend of genre admiration and the desire to entertain. It is recycled b-movie trash held together by fan service, moving at a rapid pace.  Silly as all fuck and with all its seams showing, the passionate display still (as far as I can tell) accomplishes everything it showed up to do.
Much like its script, the production is an outward homage to Sam Raimi that has been pulled off with a Lloyd Kaufman-like execution method. The beginning of the film builds on an atmosphere that feels like a mix of Redneck Zombies (1989) and retro Scooby Doo, strengthened by exaggerated angle work. It teeters between back yard video and studio work before restricting itself to the practical constraints of the cabin for the remainder of the film. There are some serious tries for Evil Dead’s signature camera moves, including monster-vision and “the spinning Ash trick” which all fail in entertaining ways. The creature effects are pretty close to being a best-of for techniques used in the eras previous. Sometimes, at the same time, the film employs everything from Ray Harryhausen style claymation centaurs to a puppet that looks like the toweled-off synthesis of the devil baby from To the Devil a Daughter (1976) and the penis monster from Tromeo and Juliet (or any in-house Troma film for that matter). A close relative to the dragon from Q (1982) makes an early appearance only to expertly rip off a pilot’s dome-piece and disappear forever. I'm pretty sure I also saw a Star Wars hologram (sans its trash can robot to project it) during one of the crowded royal rumbles. It shows its budget with each silly makeup style or rubber doll, but the practical showmanship is a blast. The lone digital graphic, on the other hand, lost me a bit and made me wonder if it was superimposed at a later time in its long shelf life. Along with (public domain) It's a Wonderful Life (1946) clips, there is some semi-obvious stock footage involved, and an epic painted stage background (that looks like Castle Greyskull crafted on felt by the guy at the flea market).  Even though it isn't mixed correctly and plays louder than everything else, the soundtrack is one of my favorite parts. It’s entirely comprised of obscure Experimental rock, industrial noise and silly mood music which narrates the scenes while simultaneously feeling out of place (somehow).  I'm not even talking shit, I would put that tape in my car permanently. Altogether, the trip to the icy woods rides like a solid tongue and cheek 90s throwback to Evil Dead’s era, despite actually being filmed in the late 80s.
Frostbiter: Wrath of the Wendigo (called simply Wendigo in the title credits) was produced during 1988 in Michigan for a reported $25,000. It occupied a shelf somewhere until 1995 when it was picked up by iconic-slime-powerhouse Troma and was distributed under their banner. At some point before the VHS release, an adaption was commissioned from Caliber Comics, which accompanying media sometimes erroneously cites as the source material. By the time the film found its home in the late 90s the writer-director Tom Chaney had lent his expertise to another derivative creature flick, Mosquito (1994) which starred Gunnar Hansen, sported a considerably larger budget and almost had a theatrical release (the studio went bankrupt...he might actually be cursed). Currently, Chaney has two films in listed as “In-Production” one being a documentary about runners (not updated since 2012) and a mysterious 2016 project titled The Wind Walker (fingers crossed for another wendigo movie released eight years after its completion). This is one of five acting roles for original The Stooges guitarist and apparent b-movie aficionado Ron Asheton, who would also return for 94's Mosquito. Asheton plays gun-toting douchebag Gary and provides a majority of the production's Bruce Campbell impressions. He has a great over the top on-screen presence, playing the unlikable character like a drunken, spoiled Wings Hauser. It's a shame he didn't do more films, but he also was instrumental in the song I Wanna Be Your Dog, so he gave the world plenty. Japanese home video distributors further capitalized on the obvious connections to Evil Dead by releasing the picture with a misleading name and matching artwork in a similar fashion to the notorious Italian series of unofficial sequels under the “La Casa” brand.
Frostbiter: Wrath of the Wendigo is a punk rock cover version of the cabin in the woods tropes, adorned in clown horn honking with a spirited dedication to the b-movie gods. For the most part, it's nothing new, but it is a motivated remix that gets the joke. I enjoy the fuck out of it, but I'm easily won over with cartoon violence. As for the portrayal of the mythical Wendigo, it's less than traditional, taking from different versions of the myth when it best serves the trashy entertainment. If there is any trace of the original morals attached, it's buried deep in cheese and rubber. In its defense, however, the myth has evolved heavily over time making tracing its roots difficult. Plus, “Ancient Wind Monster” is far enough removed from “Ancient Evil Book” to avoid a lawsuit, and that's what really counts.
1h 24min | 1995
 Director: Tom Chaney
Writers: Tom Chaney, Rick Cioffi, Steve Quick 

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Review by:
RevTerry

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