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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Chill Factor (Blu-ray)
The Chill Factor (Blu-ray)
Arrow Video // Unrated // July 16, 2019 // Region Free
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted July 11, 2019 | E-mail the Author
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The Cliffs Notes version of The Chill Factor – and no, not that one – sounds completely irresistible. A bout of borderline-incest that never factors in again! Death by possessed soccer goal! Disembowelment by ceiling fan! A climactic low-speed chase against a demon on a snowmobile! Raspy, awkwardly stapled-on narration that sounds like the voice actress was paid in cartons of Pall Malls! Sterling dialogue like "football players don't get lost, honey; they know where the end zone is"! A sex scene that cuts between a hellspawned O-face and the dude's presumably nude sister rotating on a Lazy Susan! And c'mon, it's written and directed by the producer behind Hellraiser and Heathers.

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Oh, if only The Chill Factor could somehow have managed to live up to all that. There's maybe an episode of Tales from the Darkside in here, with its premise of a group of college-aged friends seeking refuge after a snowmobile accident, they stumble upon something close enough to a Ouija board in this abandoned religious camp, and...yeah, demonic possession, spam-in-a-cabin, yadda yadda. This 85 minute flick is too long at least by half. It's a supernatural thriller where you don't get your first demon-induced kill until literally the halfway point. There's barely a third of the movie left once it bothers with Murder Numero Two-oh. There's precious little in the way of splatter. I mean, a guy screaming by in a snowmobile plows head-on into some barbwire, and all you get is a tiny trickle of blood from his lips. The disembowelment later on takes place off-camera, and all we see is some chunky red stuff flung against the wall. The Chill Factor doesn't even bother with an opening scare. Lacking anything resembling a hook, Christopher Webster (in what is understandably his sole directorial credit) just splices in footage of Tom (Aaron Kjenaas) getting flung into a tree and heaps on some clunky narration that spells out who the Final Girl is gonna be. So when the movie actually starts and the time comes for Tom's arboreal accident, the impact – so to speak – is completely neutered. We just saw this, like, ten minutes ago!

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The Chill Factor is padded out to feature length with vast expanses of nothing. The endless snowmobile racing doesn't exactly get the adrenaline pumping, failing to convey any sense of speed or danger (until, y'know, splat!). There are so many shots that drag on for several beats too long, where no one's saying anything, nothing's happening, and just...why? Why not cut to something – anything – else? There are only six of these friends, one of whom is possessed and another is unmistakably the Final Girl. Since there's not another soul to be found for thirty miles, and The Chill Factor doesn't cut away to any sideplots or whatever, that limits the demon's body count to a miserly four. The kills are too brief to ratchet up any tension or suspense, and they're not particularly visceral besides. If you're aching for some T&A to distract you from the tedium, there are a couple of sex scenes, but sideboob is the most you're gonna see. Characterization doesn't extend much further than "football player" or "black fiancée can't sing". If that last part made you reflexively cringe, then look forward to some racial stuff early on in The Chill Factor that'll inspire even more yikes.

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The movie has a tendency to briefly introduce plot/character elements that offer a glimmer of interest before forgetting about them completely. The one-guy-with-a-keyboard score is no great shakes, randomly incorporating "Three Blind Mice" at one point. The demonic snowmobile chase in the finalé is backed by music that sounds like the royalty-free theme song from a UHF sports highlight show circa 1987. The primary actors fare alright, although hardly any of them worked in front of the camera beyond this. But thrill to these exquisite performances:


It'd be one thing if The Chill Factor swung for the fences but still somehow whiffed it for an hour and a half straight. We're not talking "so bad it's good" here; instead, we're suffering through something lethargic, slapdash, and punishingly, gruelingly boring. I feel like I did something terribly wrong, and this is my penance. I mean, kudos to Arrow Video for rescuing a movie like this that hasn't gotten a home video release since the LaserDisc era. But unless you or a loved one worked on this flick back in 1989, I can't possibly recommend shelling out twenty or thirty-someodd bucks to buy The Chill Factor sight-unseen. This is too nice a release to warrant DVD Talk's lowest possible rating, but I gotta tell you that I considered it.


Video
I was kind of caught off guard by how much of a step down The Chill Factor is visually from Trapped Alive. While Windsor Lake's inaugural production was remastered from the original camera negative, this presentation of The Chill Factor is sourced from a low-con 35mm print. And although, sure, there's no shortage of shots that still manage to look terrific:

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...the image is fuzzier overall and not nearly as well-defined, at times to excess:

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Its filmic texture is on the chunky side. The Chill Factor's use of color isn't particularly striking, admittedly somewhat in step with backdrops alternating between an underlit, abandoned cabin and an endless blanket of white snow. And even though The Chill Factor is technically an '80s slasher despite its 1993 release, having sat on the shelf for years before AIP picked it up, it still looks several years older than it actually is. Like Trapped Alive, there's quite a bit more speckling than I'm accustomed to seeing on an Arrow release, but it's not all that distracting.

I don't doubt that Arrow did the best they could with the elements available, and we are talking about a hopelessly obscure flick that was barely released in the first place. That there's a high definition release at all is pretty miraculous. It's just that Arrow has so routinely spoiled me with such exceptional presentations that The Chill Factor can't help but feel like a letdown.

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The Chill Factor scores its first ever widescreen home video release here, and its aspect ratio of 1.78:1 means I don't have to crop out any letterboxing bars for my screenshots. Thanks for saving me a couple minutes, Arrow! And with two cuts of the movie and more than an hour of high-def interviews, you've probably already guessed that The Chill Factor is storming in on a dual-layer disc.


Audio
There's something distinctive about The Chill Factor's audio, likened in the disc's commentary to a radio show for sounding almost too clean. So, yeah, this uncompressed stereo soundtrack is a sight better – pun kind of intended? – than the visual end of the presentation. Dialogue is consistently clear and readily discerned. No intrusive background noise or assorted aberrations ever threaten to get in the way. There's an incestuous conversation early on where the lip movements fell noticeably out of sync, and while it was repeatable on my primary player, I couldn't duplicate it on a second Blu-ray deck. I couldn't spot anything else like that throughout the remainder of the film either, so I guess I should chalk that up to a hiccup with my rig. While the inexorably '80s keyboard score doesn't roar, exactly, the synth bass packs a healthy wallop, especially in that country-fried number likening love to a game show. Well done.

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Also included is a set of optional English (SDH) subtitles.


Extras
  • Audio Commentary: If you dug the commentary with 12:01 Beyond's Josh Hadley and makeup effects artist Hank Carlson on Trapped Alive a few weeks back, you'll be thrilled to hear that the two of 'em team up again here. They're pretty frank about The Chill Factor's numerous flaws, and that sort of candidness is appreciated. Also discussed here are a bar scene where extras ran out of apple juice and inadvisedly started guzzling the hard stuff, everything you wanted to know about that icicle spear but were afraid to ask, an actor nearly being blinded by some incorrectly applied stage blood (more on that later), and what a plumber did with all that gear after buying a defunct movie studio. Worth a listen for sure.

  • Ouija and Chill (25 min.; HD): It's been thirty years since production wrapped on The Chill Factor, but as we learn from Carlson and Hadley, the malevolent power of the witchboard continues to wreak havoc in Wisconsin. No, I mean it! While their commentary approaches the movie as a whole, "Ouija and Chill" focuses more on Carlson and his career in effects. This includes comparing and contrasting low budget efforts like this with his larger studio productions, how he'd evolved as an artist three movies in, and how being thrown into the deep end here landed him a gig with the legendary KNB FX. The interview is peppered with behind the scenes photos, and they also show off the old LaserDisc release and (gulp!) a homemade Devil's Eye.

  • Portrait of a Makeup Artist (15 min.; HD): Special effects makeup artist Jeffery Lyle Segal wasn't interviewed on Arrow's Trapped Alive special edition, but he takes the opportunity here to talk a bit about that earlier Windsor Lake production, along with Re-Animator and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Hey, turns out he's responsible for casting Michael Rooker! As far as The Chill Factor goes, Segal discusses the punishing weather, a further explanation of the dire mishap with fake blood, and that your favorite toe-tappin' number from the film's soundtrack is his uncredited masterpiece.
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  • Lights! Cameras! Snowmobiles! (13 min.; HD): Though Hank Carlson is smirkingly cagey about it elsewhere, production manager Alexandra Reed confirms in this interview that director/producer Christopher Webster did indeed write The Chill Factor under a pseudonym. Reed covers an impressive amount of ground in this relatively short conversation: stuntwork, budgeting and scheduling, miniatures, effects, and even the snowmobile geekdom that working at Windsor Lake inspired. She also notes what a last minute addition the raspy-old-lady voiceover was, and Reed takes care to point out some of the studio's staff in bit roles in the bar sequence as well.

  • Fire and Ice (11 min.; HD): After chatting about the start of his association with Windsor Lake, stunt coordinator Gary Paul discusses – what else? – The Chill Factor's stuntwork. Paul was intimately involved in the stunts from concept to creation, seeing as how the screenplay would just say something like "snowmobile chase" and leave it at that. On the docket here are the fleet of wrecked snowmobiles, the staging of the dangerous climactic chase, an impressive burn gag, and an old-school camera trick for a little bit of body crushing.

  • Original Workprint (84 min.; SD): Also included is a VHS-sourced workprint of The Chill Factor – zoomed in and upconverted to 1080p. If you're desperately searching for a shot-by-shot analysis of what's different here, you're gonna have to look elsewhere. I'm not masochistic enough to watch The Chill Factor a third time in one day, especially when the quality is so...y'know:

    Original Workprint
    [click on the thumbnail to enlarge]

    ...but I can tell you that this edit pre-dates the voiceover narration and recycled opening. Its inclusion is greatly appreciated, just...not for me.

  • Home Video Trailer (2 min.; SD): It probably goes without saying that we're talking 4x3 and standard-def, seeing as how we're rooted in the VHS era and all that. And since it's an American trailer, thrill to the alternate Demon Possessed title.

  • Still Gallery (HD): This gallery is a couple dozen images strong, heavy on production stills and with a definite emphasis on the action an' red stuff.

The new cover by Marc Schoenbach so masterfully evokes the era that I assumed that I was genuinely looking at vintage artwork. And if you are craving the original painted art, the cover is, as ever, reversible. No AIP T&A this time around, which is probably for the best. The first run of copies also include a booklet, the centerpiece of which is an appreciation by The Projection Booth's Mike White.

Oh, and yes, The Chill Factor is an all-region release.


The Final Word
In the disc's liner notes, Mike White tries to make the case that The Chill Factor is a work of accidental genius in the same vein as Troll 2 and The Room. And...y'know, no. Just "no". Agonizingly slow and more forgettable than a flick with a snowmobiling demon oughtta be, The Chill Factor gets my vote as the single worst movie in Arrow's catalog, or at least since they opened up shop stateside.
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