Frostbiter: Wrath of the Wendigo [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Vinegar Syndrome
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (2nd March 2023).
The Film

Almost a century ago, a trapper on Manitou Island in Michigan's Upper Peninsula did battle with the Algonquin Wendigo. Realizing that he has been chosen to guard the Earth against the demon's return, he erects a circle of protection over the opening to Hell using the skulls of the Wendigo's victims so that their restless souls can keep the beast at bay should it awaken again. Now a decrepit old man (Mike Missler), he is powerless when drunken hunters Gary (Hellmaster's Ron Asheton) and Dave (effects artist Dave Wogh) inadvertently break the circle when Gary accidentally shoots him. Gary only just escapes with his life as his friend is torn apart by the creature. As Gary's attempts to warn the only other hunting party on the island fall on the deaf ears of inebriated Pete (Patrick Butler), Leo (Devlin Burton), Tony, (Tom Franks), Nick (Alan Madlane), and Jerry (John Bussard) - who are reluctant to head out into the sudden blizzard even after Leo has hand his hand bitten off by a demon that emerges from his pot of chili – the guardian's ghost appears to Sandy (Lori Baker) on the mainland to tell her that she is the next chosen one and must close the opening to Hell within the next to days or the Wendigo will be unstoppable. Sandy bribes charter pilot Duke ( John Mietelka) into flying her to the island, but the trip in adverse weather is made worse by an attack by one of the Wendigo's sentinels which sends the plane crash-landing on the island where Sandy and the survivors of the hunting party are besieged by shape-shifting and manipulative demons as well as the flesh-craving resurrected corpses of their buddies.

From the late eighties onwards, it seems as though every independent genre filmmaker making their debut with a horror movie would either do a slasher or their own variation on the highly influential The Evil Dead; however, Michigan filmmaker Tom Chaney was actually invited to attend the local premiere of the Sam Raimi film back when it was still called "Book of the Dead" and after toiling for a few years in TV commercials and industrial films would end up working as uncredited camera assistant to Peter Deming – who had just lensed the Florida horror film Scarecrows and go on to Hollywood where he would shoot genre efforts like Lost Highway, Mulholland Dr., and Scream 2 among others – where he met some of the cast and crew who would work on Evil Dead 2 and subsequently Frostbiter. While the inspiration of The Evil Dead has been acknowledged by the director, the film just as much Equinox… A Journey into the Supernatural which also inspired the Raimi film with its woodland setting and stop motion monsters. The film also shares some commonalities with Winterbeast (also a Vinegar Syndrome release but only available currently in the Home Grown Horrors: Volume One boxed set) which was released before Frostbiter but their similarities seem more coincidental since both were project shot piecemeal over a number of years.

Acting ranges from competent to over-the-top – with Iggy and the Stooges' musician Asheton bellowing a lot of his dialogue yet managing a successful character arc, starting out as the reckless asshole desecrating a sacred spot and unleashes the beast who then concerns himself with attempting to get anyone still on the island off rather than saving his own skin. Raised but left undeveloped is the Tony's assertion that even among the Algonquins the Wendigo was an "excuse" for necessary acts of cannibalism during the cold winter months with no game or crops and one of the beast's sentinels in human form goading the hunters that their loyalty to one another will only last until they get hungry; however, the ones that do end up craving flesh are resurrected and possessed corpses rather than ones who "became" the Wendigo by choosing to consume flesh. There is never a question of the verisimilitude of the film's effects – even in the most degraded old video master – as the rod puppets, stop motion, and miniatures are a love letter to the likes of Ray Harryhausen whose effects work inspired several self-taught effects artists who went mainstream (make-up and visual effects artist Gary Jones would helm the Chaney co-written and photographed Mosquito and is still active as both director and effects artist in DTV genre cinema, and creature creator Wogh would join the K.N.B. Efx team from their mid-nineties heyday onwards). The Wendigo itself is a striking piece of design: an antler-horned humanoid demon with a minotaur body whose scale model puppet human victims are no less laughable than the victims of the relatively higher-budgeted "low budget" theatrical exploitation film Q: The Winged Serpent. Other treatments of the Wendigo legend including the 1978 Canadian obscurity Wendigo and the Shining-esque slasher Ghostkeeper, Larry Fessendent's sleeper Wendigo, a passing reference in Pet Sematery (and an appearance in Stephen King's source novel), as well as a more recent found footage movie.


Given scant theatrical release by Troma, Frostbiter did most of its business on home video, and its eventual DVD release was one of their less "interactive". Bearing the original title "Wendigo", Vinegar Syndrome's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.33:1 pillarboxed fullscreen Blu-ray of Frostbiter: Wrath of the Wendigo comes from a new 2K scan of the original 16mm camera negative; and the restoration is a testament to Chaney's toiling in shorts and industrial films with slick camera movement, striking lighting, and a rich rendition of a considered color scheme. That the miniatures and opticals look nothing more than what they are is a faithful representation of the filmmakers' considerable efforts to create something theatrically-viable with little money.


The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track is free of any distracting damage – like the negative, the audio elements have probably not been accessed since the creation of the nineties video master – with crisp dialogue (production and post-synched) and exaggerated foley effects sounding fine on their own but in some cases warring with source music that is sometimes too loud and sometimes not enough so that the lyrics are not always intelligible even when there is nothing else on the track. Optional English SDH subtitles are included.


Extras start off with a new audio commentary by co-writer/director Tom Chaney, moderated by Michael Felsher in which Chaney recalls his Detroit film school days and his teacher inviting him to a screening of "Book of the Dead", the interim period of making shorts, commercials, and industrial projects – including working at the local optical effects shop of Tom Hitchcock – and how his script was originally about a sasquatch and then a snow giant (yeti) before he learned about the Wendigo legend. He recalls working on The Carrier and not realizing that Asheton was the Ron Asheton of Iggy and the Stooges, the freezing cold shoot in which the camera stopped and film became so brittle it snapped, the various stages of the effects work, and the input of Eric Pascarelli as sound recordist and sound designer before his Hollywood visual effects career, and seeking the advice of the film's editor Kaye Davis when the first cut ran only sixty-six minutes.

"Wendigo Make a Movie" (25:38) is an interview with Chaney which covers a lot of the same ground with some expanded anecdotes like how he initially designed the chili demons himself and shot the sequence before Jones saw it and created new demons to reshoot just the shots in which they appeared for the better and being a production assistant on the film Collision Course and how it put him in contact with the owner of a charter flight business who gave him free use of one of his planes to shoot the interior scenes of Duke's and Sandy's flight. He also expresses his displeasure with the volume levels of the music on the sound mix which he feels makes some sequences seem more like music videos (the mix was done in Toronto with co-writer and musican Rick Cioffi apparently behind the decision to "turn it up").

In "The Many Hats of a Wendigo" (14:39), producer David Thiry recalls being the "dad of the group" and participating in several roles during production and post-production including foley work and the various makeshift methods of creating the sounds of rending flesh.

"What Were We Thinking?" (18:59) is an interview with actor Madlane who was acting in a stage production with a cast mate who was a friend of Asheton who then recommended him for the film. In discussing the length of the shoot, he reveals that the reason that he did not come back as a zombie and was killed with an offscreen dubbed-in scream was because he was no longer available.

"Frankenstein’s Wendigo" (13:11) is an interview with stop motion animator Dave Hettmer who discusses his admiration for Harryhausen, his initial experiments with building puppets for stop motion, the steps in creating the Wendigo from Chaney's design, and the guesswork required to animate it.

"A Friend in Need" (7:40) refers to director Chaney not interviewed actor interview Bussard who recalled Chaney talking about wanting to make a movie since they were teenagers working at McDonald's and was a waiter at Red Lobster when Chaney called him years later for a day of work on the film and the lengths to which he went to get that day off. He recalls the cold shoot, the hurry-up-and-wait nature of filmmaking, and surprises Chaney by revealing that everything from setting him on fire to putting him in burn make-up and then zombie make-up was all done on that one day.

In "Sound of the Wendigo" (11:34), sound editor/actor Paul Harris(Thou Shalt Not Kill...Except) recalls how the non-union nature of the shoot meant that he got to do more than sound, appearing in the added scenes as an actor as well as being asked by Chaney to do the drawings and calligraphy for the guardian's memoirs seen in the opening sequence.

Ported from the Troma DVD is an interview with actor Ron Asheton (6:33) from 1991 focusing on his work with Iggy Pop and his brother Scott Asheton who also makes some comments here and sings with him for the music video "Bitchin' Babes" seen here in its entirety.

In addition to the original "Wendigo" video promo (2:46) Chaney edited for the American Film Market, the disc also includes the "Frostbiter" video trailer (1:00), behind-the-scenes footage (6:34) focusing on the scene with Asheton, Wogh, and the old man, footage from the 1995 Michigan premiere (9:12) which includes a theater marquee that gives billing to both Asheton and Baker, the archival Troma introduction & promo video (2:24 and 2:14, respectively), as well as a behind-the-scenes still gallery (7:31).


The disc comes with a reversible sleeve while the first 5,000 copies ordered directly from Vinegar Syndrome includes a special limited edition spot gloss slipcover designed by Chris Barnes.


One of many indie horror films inspired by The Evil Dead, the Michigan-lensed Frostbiter: Wrath of the Wendigo winds up being more ambitious than your average Troma pick-up.


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