Screams of a Winter Night

Sometimes, I think that society wants us to break the law. How else can you explain the hapless circumstances surrounding a remote albatross like 1979's Screams of a Winter Night? If you're reading this review, chances are, you're a devout horror fan. It would stand to reason that you know how frustrating it is trying to find a copy of an obscure film. If it hasn't been released on DVD, obtaining the videotape can be a fruitless endeavor. When it comes to the subject of today's review, a used VHS would set me back upwards of $100. Bullshit, right? I am left with two options. I can bend over for some dickhead on eBay or I can resort to bootlegging. And I'm not talking about moonshine, although it was considered as a tenable alternative.

I'm off on a tangent (again), but I wanted to stress how obscure this film is. Screams is a low-budget anthology championed by the likes of Quentin Tarantino and Dom Coccaro. It never gets the credit it deserves for beating others to the punch with respect to immortalizing urban legends on the silver screen. It was also one of the first genre treats to milk the "camping getaway" motif, fireplace gatherings and all. However, my intention is not to hype this flick up as a horror landmark. Screams is faulty, but first things first. It's worth mentioning that there are three vignettes sheathed in a tense wrap-around story. This anthology is unique in that the wrap-around story occupies half of the running time.

Oddly enough, the anecdotes are presented as afterthoughts. The first segment, an effective Bigfoot yarn that was essentially reiterated in Urban Legend, lasts a mere ten minutes. "The Green Light" is more in-depth, but it's achingly simple. We only see two different sets. "Crazy Annie" could have evolved into a disturbing character study, but the script is in too much of a hurry to study any of its characters. Screenwriter Richard Wadsack (dude, that's why God invented pseudonyms) focuses on the people telling us these stories. That is both a positive and a negative. It's a positive because the bookend plot ends on a gratifying note. It's a negative because I was in the mood for a true anthology. None of the vignettes are as involved as "The Crate" or "The Raft."

On the upside, Screams is dripping with atmosphere. This is the movie that Campfire Tales wanted to be. It nimbly encapsulates the feeling of being alone in a forest in the middle of the night. I won't lie; there were scenes that creeped me out, and that's coming from the most jaded cinephile in North America. The last fifteen minutes are killer. Surprisingly, the cast is stellar (relatively speaking). Each actor tackles dual roles, which confused me in the early going. I didn't understand why Crazy Annie was a spitting image of Cold Bitch Jookie. Yes, I added the "cold bitch" part. What? She's a cold bitch! But I digress...if you luck into hunting down Screams of a Winter Night, don't pass it up.

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