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Screams of a Winter Night

February 3rd, 2011 by unkle lancifer · 17 Comments

Crudely directed, under written, poorly acted… say what you will, SCREAMS OF A WINTER NIGHT casts a long shadow in my psyche regardless. Slinking out of Louisiana circa 1979, this micro-budgeted, PG-rated horror anthology may be amateurish in its execution but I think it exudes a strange dark aura as well. My slant may be stained by sentimentality but even as I chuckle during a re-watch at its dated hokeyness and ragged edges, behind my condescension lays a bubbling feeling of unease. This oldster caught SCREAMS in the theater at a young age and it did something more exotic than yank-scare me with the grotesque, it quietly contaminated me with the serious creeps. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the rules of horror echo the rules of real estate… location, location, location.

Plowing ahead of many a future horror film to an isolated cabin locale, SCREAMS also paves the roadway in anticipation for the type of open canvas, paint-your -own nightmare horror of THE BLAIR WITCH. Perhaps budgetary restrictions are to thank but this is a movie that shows you very little and lets your imagination do the maniacal math. The opening credits establish the schema; we are shown a black screen and hear terrors unfold with howling winds badgering in the background. Much of what we witness throughout the rest of the film is almost equally vague, elusive or inconclusive. Fittingly the tales in this anthology are not preoccupied with physical violence but spiral around the dread of insanity. Death takes a back seat to losing your mind.

Five couples hit the woods for a weekend. Gas station loitering locals (including a young WILLIAMFRIGHT NIGHTRAGSDALE ) do their best to shoo them off with scorn and warnings. Once snug in their crusty cabin abode the couples entertain themselves swapping stories of the uncanny. The stories get the best of them and some elemental Indian wind demon comes to pay a visit. I know it’s very slight and to be honest the stories exchanged are pretty weak but they’re just weird enough to bite. The first is a hoary urban legend crossed with a Bigfoot tale, the second a standard haunted house bit with an unnerving payoff involving a green light bulb (?!) and the third is an antiquated, sexual repression makes ladies bonkers riff. Still, as presented, with the cabin dwellers playing double duty performing in the vignettes, an accelerated tone of dread is subtly established. The wrap around story’s conclusion, complete with whipping leaves and screams weaving into howling winds, makes for a chaotic lingering close.

Horror tends to be a lot like humor. You can claim your tastes and try to sophisticate your palate but there’s a knee jerk response that bypasses the intellectual. What I really think it comes down to is identification. Why do I find BLAIR WITCH hypnotic and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY a snore? If I take a step back my best guess is that I recognize the people occupying BLAIR and the characters in P.A. may as well be holograms from another planet to me. When I went to go see SCREAMS OF A WINTER NIGHT back in the day, I did so with a group of my older cousins and with their large glasses, plaid shirts and wonky seventies hairdos; they resembled the characters that I saw on screen to a tee. No, I did not want an iron chandelier to fall on my cousin Audrey’s head like what happened to the Audrey avatar in the movie.

Another element of SCREAMS that I appreciate is the anecdotal aspect and the way it understands how a well-spun tale can alter the air in the room. My father was (and is) a great storyteller who could leave you hanging on his every word and he took some joy in freaking me and my brothers and cousins out with his nutzo ghost yarns. Even as an adult I am hyper aware of the way a group of people can whip themselves into a paranoid froth exchanging ghost, U.F.O. or local mugging and crime stories. You get to the point where you are afraid to walk home or if you are home, you might find yourself having to watch a sitcom to settle down to Earth before you hit the sack. Oh, I love that feeling. As I’ve gotten older I’ve become more likely to change the subject and whistle past the graveyard thinking, “If we keep talking this way, it’ll happen to us! We’re attracting disaster! We’re next!” That’s what I think this movie captures that I love, frumpily tacked together though it may be, it ensnarls that weird feeling you get when you’ve freaked yourself out over nothing…

SCREAMS OF A WINTER NIGHT has sadly never materialized on DVD and I’m thinking most VHS copies have probably found permanent homes. Luckily it is available on the YouTubes as we speak but for who knows how long. Stand warned though, this bargain basement production is a gritty watch and its PG-scares are more implied than all up in your grill. On the other hand if you have an inclination towards seventies era drive-in fare and can look past the cracks in the plaster, it warrants a dipping. I can’t guarantee you’ll feel the same unease that I did way back when (not to mention two days ago) but maybe it will bring back to your mind a scary story of your own.

Tags: General Horror · My own personal Jesus · The Seventies mushed my head

17 responses so far ↓

  • 1 TaylorNo Gravatar // Feb 3, 2011 at 9:57 am

    I just watched this for the second time three nights ago. It’s one that I feel a cleaned-up DVD release would spoil some of the charm of…There’s nothing like watching cheesy, creepy movies of this era through VHS-colored glasses.

    I got my copy a few years ago from Horror Theater Video (which I don’t think exists anymore) in the same order with Winterbeast. That was a hell of a double-feature, the night they arrived.

  • 2 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Feb 3, 2011 at 11:23 am


    The graininess does add something to the experience. Maybe they could put out a two disc set with a “clean” version and a “classic vhs” version.

    One things for sure my vhs copy has seen better days, I’m not sure how many more years its got left!

    I have NEVER seen WinterBeast…I can tell by the trailer that I would love it…..thanks for the tip!

  • 3 tehdarwinatorNo Gravatar // Feb 3, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    Awesome! Gotta love the Ingmar Bergman reference in the Screams title – soooo classy. I totally added Winterbeast to my Netflix queue based on the trailer. Thanks for sharing!

  • 4 jimdandytothefescueNo Gravatar // Feb 3, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    I remember seeing a poster for Screams in the theater lobby at the time, and thinking it looked muay-scary. It stuck in my mind, and unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, I never have seen the movie. Do I dare to eat a peach? Can I stand the disappointment of another haunting childhood memory disappearing like fog on a June morn? One thing’s for sure…Kindertrauma does it again.

  • 5 Chuckles72No Gravatar // Feb 3, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    Holy Moley. I’ll have to try to watch “Screams” tonight. Man – you just can’t beat real VHS to add a little free eeriness to a film. Plus its got that wonky cheapo 70s thing going on – first thing that I thought of was the totally rad “Gable Film”. BTW, if you have not seen the Gable Film: (But don’t read the comments! Liars!).

  • 6 TaylorNo Gravatar // Feb 3, 2011 at 2:19 pm

    Winterbeast is a SHIT SANDWICH. But a great shit sandwich.

    To avoid turning off the movie, keep repeating “How did this get made?…How did this get made?!”

  • 7 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Feb 3, 2011 at 2:19 pm


    That Gable film is incredibly cool!

    Wow. I love that type of stuff and I’ve never seen that before thanks for bring it to my attention.

    It doesn’t really matter if it’s real or not it is super awesome either way!

  • 8 TaylorNo Gravatar // Feb 3, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    Chuckles72, that Gable Film is brilliant! I saw that on its MonsterQuest episode, and was 100% convinced.

  • 9 Amanda By NightNo Gravatar // Feb 3, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    What I remember most about Screams is the green light story and the wraparound. The opening scenes at the gas station are really very effective. Plus, William Ragsdale is friggin hot (not that I knew he was actually in the movie until a few days ago when I looked him up – purely to giggle cuz he so cute!).

    I do agree that the low budget-ness of it helps this film quite a bit. It’s off kilter anyway, but then to see it on grainy film just sort of adds an extra touch of dread. Chuckles is right that the vhs quality is pretty great.

  • 10 Amanda By NightNo Gravatar // Feb 3, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    Oh btw, I HAVE to see Winterbeast!

  • 11 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Feb 3, 2011 at 2:24 pm

    Man, I wish I could watch Winterbeast right now!

  • 12 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Feb 3, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    Amazon lists the star of Winterbeast as “Winterbeast”

    So it’s Winterbeast starring Winterbeast.

  • 13 TaylorNo Gravatar // Feb 3, 2011 at 2:42 pm

    I’m so happy to have introduced Winterbeast to you guys! And I’m jealous…I wish I could watch it for the first time again.

  • 14 cmcmcmcmNo Gravatar // Feb 4, 2011 at 12:02 am

    wow. Screams is the kind of movie i live for. i can’t believe i’d never heard of it. thanks so much for posting about it.

  • 15 knobgobblerNo Gravatar // Feb 4, 2011 at 2:04 am

    Thanks for pointing Screams out… I’d never heard of it.
    Another great example of a low budget helping out the mood… it brought up echoes of The Evil Dead and Eyes Of Fire.
    Also, a it had the same feel throughout as 70s era porn… I kept waiting for the penultimate scene where that uptight girl on the couch lets her hair down… just before the wind-monster comes in and sets of the big orgy finale.

    Lots of fun… and now I’ve got Winterbeast to look forward to as well.


  • 16 AsatNo Gravatar // Feb 16, 2011 at 4:28 am

    I’ll back you up on your suspicion about Paranormal Activity. I have relatives so similar to the characters of both PA and PA2 that it’s spooky. If not, the movies probably would have been as ho-hum to me as the godawful Fourth Kind (whose characters were like martians to me – poorly rendered Martians).

  • 17 DownUnderDudeNo Gravatar // Apr 5, 2013 at 5:31 am

    This was released in Australia on vhs under the name HOWLINGS OF A WINTERS NIGHT. The only reason I can think of for the name change is an attempt to cash in on the success of THE HOWLING. Good atmosphere but the stories are weak. The first one about the backwoods creature was very badly lit – you couldn’t see what was going on properly. My favorite would be the green light tale. This takes place in an abandoned hotel and I enjoyed it as I love exploring empty buildings.

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