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Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Screams of a Winter Night (1979)




The Anthology marathon continues with this one that I’ve always heard was terrible but just had to watch and see for myself. You know I really should stop doing this… Might as well see what I’ve gotten myself into.

Things kick off with an audio track playing over a black screen as the credits roll. We hear some family being terrorized by something that howls and then there is a van. Not sure about the transition there but we are introduced to a bunch of folks headed out into the woods. They stop at a gas station and are told not to go to Coyote Lake because spooky stuff happens there. How many horror tales start off that way? Of course, they are undeterred. We watch them arrive at a cabin and wander around a bit before settling down to tell ghost stories. This serves as the wrap around story for the shorts that make up the middle of the movie.

Story one has a couple getting stranded on an isolated road in the middle of the woods. The boyfriend heads out to get gas for the car and is stalked by someone or something. This has that urban legend feel to it with the boyfriend’s body rubbing on the roof of the car. You know the one I’m talking about. Then we get another story where some frat boys spend the night in a haunted hotel. They creep around for a few minutes and end up in a room with a green light that apparently drives them insane. The last story has a mousy high school girl almost getting raped and killing the guy who attacked her. She makes up a cover story and is apparently insane because later when in college she stabs her roommate to death. I’m not spending much time on these because there isn’t much to them.

After the last of them wraps up we are taken back to the cabin with the characters from the van. They hear some spooky sounds that sound awfully familiar to anyone who was paying attention during the opening credits. An unseen force attacks them and while some try to fight others go running off into the woods. Then the end credits roll…

Sitting around telling spooky stories... meh.
And thank God they did. Screams of a Winter Night is incredibly boring. Not bad enough to be memorable but just bad enough to be painfully tedious. They have four stories to try and create a single interesting character and fail. No one is at all memorable as the movie falls completely flat. The performances are mediocre with actors that deliver the lines without any charisma or skill. The writing is lazy as all of these stories are either recycled like the couple being stuck in the woods or inexplicably dumb like the green light that I think is supposed to be a ghost. Maybe there was supposed to be more to the stories, and I know that a new Blu-Ray release came out recently that has some added material in it. But as it has existed for the last forty years this is a mess.

I also have a bone to pick with how the movie was shot and the musical cues. You have ample opportunity to milk the situation for tension and some scares. Anyone with the basic filmmaking ability should be able to pull this off. There isn’t a single scare in the entire movie. There are a couple of times where they could have had a jump scare to keep the audience guessing but telegraph it by showing us that it is coming. Why do that? It’s almost like they didn’t know what they were doing. The fact that this is the only directing credit for James L. Wilson this makes sense as a likely scenario.

The only thing that Screams of a Winter Night has going for it is a very brief appearance by William Ragsdale in the gas station scene in his first movie role six years before Fright Night. So that thirty seconds was fun the rest was miserable. Don’t waste your time on this one.


© Copyright 2019 John Shatzer



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