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Screams of a Winter Night
Directed by James Wilson and released in 1979, Screams Of A Winter Night is an anthology film that starts with a group of friends heading up into the woods to hang out at an old cabin a man named John (Matt Borel). Everyone has piled into his van and despite an ominous warning from a young gas station attendant (William Ragsdale of Fright Night) they encounter along the way, they make it to the old cabin without any issues. A prelude that plays over the opening credits, however, alerts us to the fact that they're in for a less than idyllic experience. As they settle in and start cleaning the place up, they start to squabble a bit and being to tell scary stories to pass the time (though it takes almost a half hour to get to this point).
In the first story, a couple heads out to park for a bit and fool around out in the woods only to be terrorized by something that might be a sasquatch but which also might just be a very angry little person. In the second story, the best of the bunch, a trio of frat boys have to initiate the new pledges by spending the night in a haunted, abandoned hotel. In the third story, a girl is sexually assaulted by her date and kills him out of self-defense only to go to college some time later and demonstrate how scarred she is from those events. The fourth story, only available in the director's cut of the movie, features a group of people in an old cemetery being chased by a witch with glowing red eyes.
As these stories play out, we see them reenacted by the different denizens of the cabin.
In its director's cut format as presented here, the movie runs less than two minutes shy of the two hour mark. Not surprisingly, it suffers from some pacing issues. There's no reason it should take a half hour to get to the actual horror stories that should be the film's main draw, yet here we are. The film was made on a low budget and at times this is quite obvious. The effects are infrequent and not all that great when they do show up on the screen, but most fans of oddball seventies regional horror efforts won't be put off by that any more than they'd be put off by some occasional overacting from the cast (who, to be fair, handle the material quite a bit better than you might expect them to).
The film's main problem is that, in the two hour director's cut or the shorter ninety-one minute theatrical cut, not a whole lot happens. The movie has a lot going for it that it never manages to exploit. There's some genuinely excellent location work here: the cabin setting, the dark woods surrounding them, the haunted hotel and the cemetery are all perfect for the stories being told. Sadly, aside from a few mildly eerie bits here and there, Wilson and company just sort of let things happen at their own pace, never doing much to build tension or suspense or to provide any real scares.
Yet, somehow, despite all this, the movie is watchable in its own, sluggish way. There's some regional charm here, and most, though not all, of the cast members are reasonably likeable if never really properly fleshed out in terms of actual character development. After all the story's meandering, it does finally rush towards an unexpected, though pretty nonsensical, ending that you won't likely see coming and it has a decent enough score. The cinematography is competent and occasionally impressive, but there's so much day for night photography in this movie that it winds up looking very blue. Somehow, this movie winds up being derivative and predictable and wholly unique at the same time, and the bizarre easy listening style jazz soundtrack feels very out of place.
The director's cut Screams Of A Winter Night arrives on region free Blu-ray from Code Red in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.78.1 widescreen taken from a new 2k scan (no other information is provided), presumably from a print as while it is more than watchable, it is in less than perfect shape. There's noticeable print damage throughout, some scenes have a bit of distracting flicker and colors are inconsistent. Detail is less than amazing but it is most certainly better than what DVD would have offered. Really, it's entirely possible that this was taken from the only existing elements, and while more cleanup work would have been appreciated, it's nice to actually see the complete film at all.
The film gets a DTS-HD 2.0 Mono audio track with optional SDH subtitles provided in English only. Again, quality is serviceable but less than perfect. Expect some hiss and a bit of sibilance here and there, but for the most part the dialogue is easy enough to follow and understand and the levels properly balanced.
The main extra on the disc is an interview with actor Gil Glasgow that runs for twenty-one minutes. Here he goes over how he wound up appearing in this movie in the first place though his connections with a live theater group, what it was like shooting on location in Louisiana, his fashion sense at the time the movie was made, what it was like on set and how he got along with the crew and his fellow cast members..
Additionally, we get a quick intro to the movie with Glasgow and Bananaman, a quick thirty second TV spot for the feature, bonus trailers for a few other Code Red releases, menus and chapter selection options. This release also comes packaged with a slipcover.
Screams Of a Winter Night has that certain interesting charm to it that a lot of regional horror pictures have, which makes it watchable enough despite the very serious pacing issues and the fact that it is only occasionally actually tense. Code Red's Blu-ray release does an okay job with less than perfect elements and throws an interview with one of its stars into the mix to provide some welcome historical background information on the movie. It's hard to fully recommend this to casual fans of even horror buffs who want their movies to actually scare them, but for those with an interesting in seventies cinematic oddities, it's worth checking out, despite its many and varied flaws.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.