Monday, April 22, 2019

SCREAMS OF A WINTER NIGHT (1979) . . .in the Wayback Machine

You could've knocked me over with a feather when I found out about Code Red's blu ray release of SCREAMS OF A WINTER NIGHT. 
Here's a movie I never expected to see an actual legitimate release; up until now all that was available was an atrociously faded and scratched print on youtuber.  And here we have it, not only in a semi-gorgeous uncut print but with a previously-excised entire sequence restored; this is a horror anthology film with several individual stories enclosed with a lengthy wraparound. 
This is no long-lost gem but it's not terrible either - I've seen both descriptions of the film.  It is, in fact, an OK horror anthology that looks pretty good in this print.  It is professionally shot and features sometimes good performances.  And it came out only a year after John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN and before FRIDAY THE 13TH and the string of other 80's "cabin in the woods" horror films to follow.  10 college kids (5 couples) head up to a deserted old cabin in the woods that is supposed to be haunted and where an entire family disappeared.  While there, they scare each other by telling "urban legend" scary stories.  An interesting choice is to have the same actors play the characters in the stories they're telling; a device that was present in the original script but I'm sure was also there to save on rustling up a bunch of other actors.  Still, it's the only time I've seen this done and it's a really interesting device. 
The famous "The Hook" urban legend is mentioned but not re-enacted; however others including the dead boyfriend swinging back and forth across the car roof and the fraternity initiates spending a night inside a haunted abandoned hotel are represented.  The actual scary stories, as they play out, may be just a little on the underwhelming side but they are acted and shot professionally.  Oh yeah, and there's even a recognizable actor in it:  William Ragsdale [FRIGHT NIGHT], looking about 16 years old, has a scene as a backwoods gas station attendant!  All in all, the movie holds up a little better than I expected and holds a special little place in my heart.

So let me explain a little about my relationship with SCREAMS OF A WINTER NIGHT.  I had seen this movie before.  A long long time ago in about 1981.  As a kid only a little younger that William Ragsdale in the movie, I was in the initial world-expanding year of cable TV. 
Our family was in the first year of having cable which totally changed my world.  Those of you too young cannot possibly imagine what a huge innovation cable TV (and video tape, of course) had on those of us who grew up without them.  Up until then, we were at the mercy of TV programmers on three network channels and about 3 UHF channels; if they didn't broadcast a movie, it was gone.  And they were NEVER uncut and uncensored.  That's where the pay cable channels like HBO came in.  At this time in 1981, HBO wasn't 24 hour; it only came on the air around 3 in the afternoon until about midnight or so.  I remember turning on HBO and seeing the text scroll on a blue background telling what the 3 or 4 movies would be showing on HBO that day.  Can you believe it?!?!?  

Anyway, it was not HBO I have to thank for showing me SCREAMS OF A WINTER NIGHT; it was PRISM.  Who remembers PRISM???  A sorta lower-rent HBO-like local pay channel which showed movies as well as (if I recall correctly) Philadelphia Phillies and Flyers games.  Well this cable TV thing was new and novel and I pretty much watched anything that was on it over and over.  And PRISM played SCREAMS OF A WINTER NIGHT.  This was before I even had a VCR so I actually put my little Radio Shack tape recorder up to the TV speaker and recorded the cool theme music from the movie's end credits. 
Years later, I came across the tape but had no idea where I got that cool music; I had forgotten the name of this dimly-remembered film.  For decades I was trying to find the name of the film I had seen on PRISM all those years before.  It was probably only in the last ten years or so that I discovered it was SCREAMS OF A WINTER NIGHT . . . but it was unavailable.  Except when I discovered later that atrociously damaged print available on youtubers.  So, while SCREAMS OF A WINTER NIGHT is no long-lost gem of a horror movie -- to me it's a nostalgic little gem which is actually not too bad of a watch.  It's competently made and has a late-70's do-it-yourself charm to it of which I'm rather fond.