Monday, July 3, 2017

"A Man's Ignorance of Things Unseen Is Never Questioned" - Frostbiter (1995)

There are many fine, artful cabin in the woods films (though The Cabin in the Woods, 2012, is not one of them), but few rise to the level of high art as well as Frostbiter (1995), also known as Wrath of the Wendigo and Wendigo.

Some of the illustrious critics of your universe, however, fail to recognize this film's artfulness. For example, Captain_Roberts writes, "This movie goes beyond bad, it has no redeeming qualities." TimeChaser writes, "This movie is absolutely horrible. The soundtrack is terrible, the action is awful, the special effects are laughable, and everything else is just plain bad." Paul Andrews writes that the film is "painful to watch...the dialogue is rubbish, the character's are poor & the whole set-up is childish. I really can't think of any one positive aspect to Frostbiter: Wrath of the Wendigo (even the title sucks) & I urge everyone to do themselves a huge favour & avoid this one like your life depended upon it."

In most cases, such an abundance of ampersands would indicate a superior mind and hence a superior taste in cinema, but sadly the aforementioned reviews are, in fact, incorrect. They must be corrected here and now.
An old man is writing in his diary. "It was nearly 100 years ago. I was but a lone trapper then." He goes on to say, "A man's ignorance of things unseen is never questioned." So true.

Unlike most monster movies, this film begins with the hero, in flashback, killing the monster, an antlered wendigo. The trapper reveals that he has remained in a cabin in the middle of a circle made of human skulls for nearly 100 years, serving as the guardian that keeps the wendigo buried. If the circle were to be broken, the monster would be resurrected.

The main part of the film occurs on Manitou Island in Michigan. The island itself is depicted in a beautiful, chilling matte painting that includes a mountain subtly shaped like a skull.

Two hunters decide to get drunk and disregard a private property sign. They stumble upon a cabin surrounded by human skulls. "What? Something illegal's goin' on here."

The 100-year-old trapper appears from inside the cabin and asks the hunters to leave his land.

Immediately, the more-trigger-happy-than-his-friend hunter fires his rifle at one of the skulls, blasting it apart, and then shoots the old man. His friend rushes to the old man's aid, but it is too late. "The circle has been broken," whispers the dying guardian. "The wind, it whispers...wendigo...wendigo."

The supernatural occurrences begin immediately. The body decays to a skeleton--an effect achieved through beautiful stop-motion animation--and the skeleton, presumably controlled by the wendigo spirit, starts to strangle one of the hunters, all to the beat of rock-n-roll drums.

A clever pastiche of The Evil Dead ensues, with the camera representing the perspective of a demonic force barreling toward the old man's cabin. The force is more than a disembodied power, however, as we see its massive hand crash through a window to kill one of the hunters.

In another cabin on a different part of the island, the film allows itself a bit of social commentary as a regular group of poker-playing hunting buddies is shocked to find out their friend brought a black man on the hunting trip. The black man ingratiates himself to the group, as black men commonly do, by telling an extended story about running over a cat with a car.

Meanwhile, a woman named Sandy is visited at night by the guardian's ghost, who tells Sandy she has been chosen to be the new guardian, though she has never visited Manitou Island. She pays for a flight to the island, which ends poorly when a flying monster attacks the plane and bites off the pilot's head. The sequenced is scored with an upbeat jazz tune.

Back at the poker players' cabin, the surviving hunter arrives to warn everyone to get off the island. Awakened in the middle of the night, the men decide to make a pot of chili while a song apparently called "Chili" plays in the background. Shockingly, the chili turns into a monster and bites off the black man's hand, then causes a fire that burns another of the hunters.

One of the hunters, a bespectacled man named Tony, mentions that he had an encounter with bigfoot. "It was in a rest room in the Smoky Mountains."

"I think you're talking about big ass, not foot," wittily retorts another hunter.

Tony uses the word "actually" repeatedly to scold his friend, an act that would be called "mansplaining" today.

"I'll never forget the relief of finally getting to use a flush toilet," relates Tony, "and the sheer terror of coming face to face with the Sasquatch."

They are joined suddenly by another survivor of the wendigo, a woman who was either injured by the monster or ate a sloppy joe.

The woman almost immediately becomes a demonic witch reminiscent of Henrietta from Evil Dead 2, a reference that is subtly reinforced by the presence of a glossy Evil Dead 2 poster hanging on a cabin wall.

"You may be friends now, but you'll become cannibals and feast on the flesh of the others!" the witch says before she combusts spontaneously.

The next morning, several of the friends ill-advisedly venture into the snowy woods. They discover, through a charming forced-perspective effect that is repeated several times, that Duke's charter plane--the only way off the island--has crashed.

The film next shows us a black-and-white TV news broadcast covering the story of Duke's plane crash. Savvy audience members might recognize the nod to films such as Night of the Living Dead. Savvier audience members might also wonder why the newscasters are using broadcasting equipment from the early 1960s in a story that takes place in the present.

The hunters find Sandy the Chosen One unconscious in the snow and carry her back to the cabin, where the remaining hunters are nailing their dead buddy into a conveniently available wooden coffin.

Back at the cabin, the deadly chili recedes into the wall where it becomes a trioxide of small dinosaur creatures that attack the survivors.

In a tense sequence, the survivors are forced to use a shotgun to destroy the chili dinosaurs. This horrifying scene is set to an upbeat song called "Chili."

Once the dinosaurs are turned back into chili, Sandy the Chosen One says, "There'll be a whole world full of demons if they can stop me. Two worlds have opened into one another and I've gotta stop the wendigo before it can stop me."

Despite Sandy's warnings that the gate must be closed, one of the hunters plans to walk across the ice to the mainland.

"You don't stand a chance," says Sandy.

"Well it's the only chance I've got," he replies before he ventures out into the snowy thunderstorm.

He is followed by the other hunters, though they leave well after him for no stated reason. However, when they find a skeleton pinned to a tree, they decide to run back to the cabin.

Only Sandy stays in the cabin. As in Demon Wind, visions affect Sandy: she sees her mother arriving at the cabin, but her mother soon turns into a green bile-spewing demon with six hands. Fortunately for Sandy, the demon is easily dispatched with a shotgun. Additionally, apparently as a side effect, the facial wound caused by Sandy's plane crash disappears suddenly.

The wendigo itself, a kind of antlered, skeletal swamp thing/centaur, appears outside the cabin, beautifully animated through stop motion animation.


Sandy and the lone surviving hunter cautiously leave the cabin in search of the previous guardian's cabin on the other side of the island. This second cabin spontaneously explodes, freeing the wendigo.

Sandy and the hunter stumble upon the exploded cabin and see the circle of skulls. Sandy finds a glowing pit where the cabin used to be--clearly the gateway between worlds. She also finds the burned skull of the former guardian, which she uses to complete the circle of skulls.

Even though the wendigo is outside the circle of skulls, it is magically drawn back to the hold between worlds. The monster resists, but the white-robed ghost of the previous guardian appears and shoots lightning out of his hands to zap the wendigo.

Only Sandy and the ghost of the former guardian can stop the wendigo, which they do handily. It explodes.

The ghost tells Sandy she may be called upon in the future if the wendigo's spirit reawakens.

Perhaps Frostbiter's/Wendigo's/Wrath of the Wendigo's cleverest element is its wry commentary on the state of motion picture production. In the film, cannibalism clearly symbolizes the plagiarism that is inherent in every aspect of the modern film industry. Cannibalism in this film reflects its slavish imitation of the structure and imagery of the Evil Dead films, which in turn reflects the film industry's slavish reliance on remakes, sequels, and ripoffs. Where Demon Wind uses a similar plagiaristic bent to remark upon the magic of the movies, Frostbiter uses its plagiarism to remark upon the emptiness of the movies.

Also, Frostbiter stars the late Ron Asheton of The Stooges, and he acquits himself as well as the rest of the cast.