BILL’s BIZARRE BIJOU
William D. Carl
This week’s feature presentation:
Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made. If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if there’s a multitude of drag queens and camp sensibility, if go-go dancers in cages are featured, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it. Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.
I live for those moments where you find that delectably awful movie that is so wrong in every way . . . that it seems oh so right. These are the films that make you laugh, consume more alcoholic beverages than you should, and that you force your disbelieving friends to watch over and over with you. Such a film is WINTERBEAST (1992). The blurb on the front of the DVD box (I cannot find an actual movie poster anywhere) proudly proclaims, “Must be seen to be believed.” Never has there been so much truth in hyperbolic marketing.
The madness starts as soon as the movie begins. A sheriff’s deputy walks into a room, sees his friend sitting there, and he asks, “Are you all right?” The friend turns to face him and half his face is burned off! He answers, “Yeah. Why?” Then, up springs a stop-motion monster with a skull head and squid legs. His friend tears a part of his stomach off and eats it. Then, the deputy wakes up much older than in the dream, and then a creature that resembles a rubber skull on a spinal cord pops out of some random dude’s stomach, looks up at him, and growls.
Sergeant Bill Whitman (Tim R. Morgan), the head ranger of a Pacific Northwest town, is looking for a missing person. His deputy, Ranger Stillman (Mike Magri), who never takes off his sunglasses, interrogates a man who brought back a lost female deputy named Ranger Bradford (Lissa Breer). She says the place was scary but doesn’t remember anything. The dude who brought her in, who runs a canoe rental business, is supposed to take the rangers up there (wherever there is) in the morning. While cleaning, they find a stash of nudie magazines from the 1950s, and we, the audience, get to see at least twenty five pages of hubbuh babes.
Bill used to live nearby but moved to Boston years ago. Now he is back and he gets tipsy with the deputy, who thought being a ranger would be a good way to meet women. Up on the mountain, the Wild Goose Lodge has reopened and is being run by Dave Sheldon (Bob Harlow, who plays the part like a flamboyantly gay Catskill Comic. Charlie Callas meets Truman Capote.)
Meanwhile, a girl in a cabin strips. Outside, watching like a perv, is a giant living and walking totem pole . . . if Gumby were playing a stop motion totem pole. After the pole gets an eye full, he reaches in, grabs the half-naked lady, and bashes her against the house. This is possibly the worst stop motion “special” effect ever created. When he grabs the girl, she is an obvious doll, and the blood looks like red clay.
The rangers visit Dave at the Wild Goose Lodge, where the owner, wearing red plaid jacket and pants, is raffling off a toaster! Wild times at the Wild Goose! A huge crowd of seven or eight people are drinking and smoking, and they all look like your crazy aunts and uncles from the trailer park on the wrong side of the tracks. Suddenly, Bill is ten years younger and his moustache has changed! What? His deputy tries to pick up a couple of 70 year old women.
The canoe rental guy is there (in yellow plaid), and he gets into a ridiculous fight for no reason. Dave runs out, “Who the hell are you? What the hell are you doing?” Cut to morning, and the deputy is talking with Canoe Guy, who is now in red plaid. There are a lot of plaid flannel shirts in this movie! Canoe Guy drives them up to the mountain where there is a huge roadside tourist trap featuring totem poles and souvenirs. There is, off the path, a weird six-armed totem with a bloody human skeleton nailed to it. But this doesn’t bother anyone, including the female deputy who was lost last night. Ranger Bill says he has seen the totem and the sacrifices to Shakira (or something that sounds like Shakira – hips don’t lie!). The cast gets into a PERSONA (1966) stance, and Ranger Bradford blandly states “Something is going wrong. Something is gone. I can feel it. Can’t you?” Suddenly, this is trying to be Ingmar Bergman?
Back to the Wild Goose, where Dave, in red plaid (and a tie!), has the grand opening for the old lodge. Bill’s moustache changes again. Dave doesn’t want the rangers saying anything about the missing people, because it will hurt business. The female ranger tells a story about Shakira killing and eating people in the mountain.
The rangers and Canoe Guy head back up the mountain, where they see a sign that reads “No Licking.” The sign has been clawed by something. In the morning, Bill interviews the guy who runs the souvenir shop, and he shows him a giant tooth charm for protection made by an Algonquin medicine man.
Two women hikers are slooooowly walking through the woods when they discover a suitcase. The ground (or camera) shakes, and a thing that looks like a cross between a sloth and a spider pops up and drags them away. What is it? Why did it take them? What the hell does it have to do with anything?
Bill goes to the Newbury Public Library (wait, Newbury in the Pacific Northwest?). He runs into Dave, and he shows him photographs of the weird totem pole and the skeletons nailed to it. Yep, they still aren’t investigating the corpses nailed to the thing. Oh, and his moustache is a different color and much fuller! It is a magic moustache!
The gift shop owner reads a magazine that says the six-armed totem pole indicates that this is the Indian (ahem, Native American) gateway to Hell. Suddenly, we are outside walking around town while Disney’s Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of The Haunted House record (remember that?) plays and lights go blue.
A rock climber in the woods is attacked by a stop-motion beast that resembles the six-armed totem pole. It also looks a little like the alien from WITHOUT WARNING (1980). It pulls off his doll head (yep, another doll) and howls like a monkey.
The rangers hang signs hand-written in magic marker stating that certain areas are closed to hikers. Dave pulls them all down and screeches hilariously at the ranger. Ranger Bradford decides to take a walk alone near the woods, and she discovers blood trails high up in the trees. She also discovers Dave’s grandfather’s grave out in the middle of nowhere and suddenly, his blue corpse, complete with big fangs and wrapped like a mummy, attacks and rips her face off.
Bill goes back to The Wild Goose to talk to Dave, and they fight. Again. After the rangers leave, Dave goes to his back room, where he has arranged corpses (including the female ranger’s) in a weird tableau. He reaches into her neck wound and wiggles his fingers in there before slapping her dead body a few times. In his lair, he starts an old record player, which plays the old song “What Can The Matter Be?” and he lip synchs the whole thing while prancing around his room. It’s as though Charlie Callas went mad! He puts on a freaky clown mask just as the rangers come by (again). They break in by shattering two windows, even though there are plainly two already broken and, thus, open! Dave, still in that plastic clown mask while that weird song continuously plays, dances and adjusts the many rotted corpses in his lodge! Did none of the guests notice the smell? He caresses and kisses them. Ok, this is all getting too weird. David Lynch would find this scene weird.
Bill finds a spell book that conveniently explains how Dave has been sacrificing people for years to Shakira to release all the demons from Indian Hell. And we get to see the chest-bursting rubber monster again. Then we see a demon, which is, disappointingly, a red guy in a rubber mask and horns. Suddenly, Dave’s head explodes and burns from his hair down to his neck. Why? I haven’t got a @$#&@*@ clue.
The next day, Bill and the gift shop guy (I don’t know what happened to Canoe Guy), go to go cut down the totem with the skeletons attached to it. The totem comes to life as two different stop-motion creatures, including a dragon (you know, because there were lots of dragons in Pacific Northwest Indian Lore!).
Will our heroes survive? Will we figure out why Dave’s head burned? What’s with the weird plucked chicken monster? Why is there so much plaid flannel? Did L.L. Bean produce this movie? Whose home-made special effects reel was used to make this flick?
You get plumb bits of Ed Wood-esque dialogue like:
“Sorry, I got caught up in a fit of capitalism there.”
“You don’t care about anything but your lodge and your foliage festival, do you?”
“Life is just another job with the forestry service. And a lot of TV dinners.”
You also get every kind of weird monster badly animated for you, naked babes, costumes that change mid-scene, a pretty great decapitation, horrifically confusing editing, truly terrible acting, and bad synth music on the soundtrack.
It’s heaven! The special effects are all kind of awful, but they are endearing in a home-made “I wanna be Ray Harryhausen when I grow up” manner. It truly looks like someone’s demo reel that the director and producer just inserted into various places in the film.
This is the only movie credit by director Christopher Thies (who also wrote the screenplay). Apparently, the movie was started in 1986, but production was stopped for some reason. They filmed the rest of it in 1989 over a weekend in Newbury, Massachusetts . . . which explains a lot like the aging characters and the mysterious altering moustache. Two scenes – the totem pole monster and the skull thing bursting out of the guy – originated from a Dokken video for the song “Burning Like A Flame.” I hope they got the rights to those!
WINTERBEAST is a whacky film that does move at a fair clip, and it manages to entertain with its “Let’s put on a show” mentality. You truly must see it to believe it!
I give WINTERBEAST three and a half possessed totem poles out of four. Normal people might give it one, but somehow I think you all will enjoy it!
© Copyright 2017 by William D. Carl