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Friday, October 17, 2008

Movie Review/Spotlight

Winterbeast (1986-91)

NR prob R for nudity, language, and violence to film language.

****1/2 (on the "badfilm" spectrum)

One of the great things about film is that just when I thought I've seen everything something like Winterbeast comes along and smacks me in the forehead. Hours of semi-disparate z-horror footage cut (various film stocks, locations; continuity doesn't exist here) together to try and form something of a narrative about totem poles and flannel vests that's about all I can figure out.
The film is edited in a way that would make Eisenstein's head explode (perhaps a dramtization to the right) and creates a unique spatial/temporal experience (on par with the surreal Turkish pop-cinema).

A euphorically strange film that is a must for any fans of "badfilm." There's plenty of stop motion animation, claymation, characters who disappear or appear out of nowhere, an awesome 80's score, awful acting (especially note that they don't seem to know what do do after the scene ends), a few scares, and one genuinely creepy sequence that would make David Lynch envious.

(Left: From the aforementioned scene which alone is worth the price of admission.)

Apparently I was at the world (sic) premiere theatrical screening with about 30 other people here in NYC. The initial filming of Winterbeast (which oddly enough takes place in summer, I think, but that's the smallest of continuity based worries in this film) took place in 1986 and the film was not 'finished' until 1991. It was released on VHS in 1992 and from there, thanks to a few "so bad it's good" reviews it's taken on a life of its own, and now that its on DVD (with an extra's loaded disc) and getting around I think it's safe to say its life as a cult film may have just begun.

The way this film was shot explains a lot about how it ended up looking. The filmmakers said initially they only shot master shots and went back later to shoot the closeups and inserts, for instance, which explains part of the spatial displacement. That the director, a collector of odd trinkets, wanted to incorporate anything he came across and found as interesting into the film as he was shooting (this actually gives this film an intriguing post-modern subtext with the prevalence of kitschy Native American merchandise seen throughout the film), explains some of the continuity issues as well as unprecedented location changes. Or that the filmmakers and the actors were all working other jobs and that this both was made to incorporate aspects of (the stop motion work) or to overcome obstacles created by those jobs (the lead unexpectedly shaved his 'stache during filming for another job).

The relationship of methodology and product is probably why films like Winterbeast thrive and other less-poorly made but still bad films made for exploitation of an audience or market do not. On this film, and films like it, you see the fingerprints and sometimes smudges of those who made and participated in it. The bad films that don't survive show only an impersonal studio "approved by #" sticker. Any film can be made. Great films, on either spectrum (good or bad, classic or cult) are crafted.

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