Screams of a Winter Night (1979)

Screams of a Winter Night is a regional movie inspired by regional movies. Director James L. Wilson had played Santa Claus in the Disney movie Lefty, the Dingaling Lynx before getting inspired by the movies that Charles B. Pierce (The Town That Dreaded SundownThe Legend of Boggy Creek) and Joy Houck (Creature from Black Lake) made. It has that hallmark of the regional film, a producer who was really a guy with some cash that never made a movie before, in this case, Mark Lovell, who was a real estate agent. And a local named William T. Cherry III made the special effects.

This movie does what Are You Afraid of the Dark? did for several seasons on Nickelodeon. A bunch of young people sit around a campfire telling stories, forming an effective anthology story that moves well and keeps you interested.

But man, what is really wrong with the characters in this movie? They go to John’s family’s cabin, which before that had belonged to the Durand family, who who weren’t just mysteriously killed at the cabin, they were found in pieces all over the place, possibly murdered by a demon called the Shataba. Why would you stay there after hearing this?

Made in Shreveport, Louisiana and premiering there, this movie feels like urban legends come to life, like the “Moss Point Man” that attacks a couple on lover’s lane, the “Green Light” that drives three college* fraternity kids mad and the story of a girl driven to insanity by a date rape.

The final story makes one of the girls frantic and before you know it, the wind has blows a window out and kills one of the girls before only four of the kids escape as the cabin crashes down. They run to the edge of a cliff and then they hear a howling behind them.

The Code Red release of Screams of a Winter Night includes the director’s cut of the film that runs two hours and has one more story of people being chased by a witch through a graveyard. Dimension Pictures — the people that put out RubyReturn to Boggy Creek and Scum of the Earth — told the filmmakers that two hours was too long for the movie and that all the day-for-night footage wouldn’t show up well on drive-in screens.

This is a movie that sets up a really ominous mood from the very start. I appreciate that and love this movie because it feels like it was made by people who were excited at the prospect of creation instead of just commerce.

*This was shot at Caspari Hall, a dormitory on the campus of Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisian. Its now abandoned and said to be haunted.

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