Beyond the Slimy Wall: Wendigo
By Stephanie Star Smith
March 14, 2005
We here at BOP are an eclectic group, and our tastes in movies run from the serious cinephiles to the foreign-film aficionados to niche film lovers. Thus was born the idea for this weekly column, devoted to horror films of all shapes and sizes, but concentrating on those B- and C-grade films that mainstream reviewers disdain, but are the bread-and-butter of every spook movie lover's viewing. So come with me as we venture beyond the slimy wall, uncovering the treasures - and burying the time-wasting bombs - that await those who dare to love the scare.
Over the many long years I’ve been viewing horror films, I’ve come up with a few rules of thumb to help me separate the wheat from the chaff. Many of these were formulated back when dinosaurs ruled the Earth and cable was not the omnipresence it is now, and one needed a few guidelines in order to have a decent chance of returning home from the local video rental emporium with something worth an evening’s viewing. Among the Golden Rules of Horror Film Selection are such gems as Number 3: The quality of any given horror film is in direct inverse proportion to the number of exclamation points used in the back-of-the-box synopsis, and its recently-added corollary, Number 3A: The boredom factor of any given slasher flick increases by magnitudes of ten for each breathless assurance of the film’s never-before-seen levels of gore.
The latest rule I’ve had occasion to add to the list is Number 42: Never believe horror film recommendations made by people who are seriously into artsy-fartsy films. Because as it turns out, people who are seriously in artsy-fartsy films - and by seriously, I mean moviegoers who are known by sight at the local art-house, who disdain anything that makes even a modest profit at the box office, and who believe a film that is incomprehensible must be high art indeed - will only recommend artsy-fartsy horror films. And the most horrific thing about an artsy-fartsy horror film is that someone somewhere actually called it a “horror” film.
This week’s offering is a case in point. Wendigo quite possibly holds the Guinness World Record for being the slowest-paced horror film in the history of horror films. In fact, pretty much the first five minutes are all the excitement you’re going to get out of this puppy, because by the time the last ten minutes rolls around and the next semi-interesting thing happens, you’ll be nearly comatose from boredom. Not to mention that there’s only one event that’s even remotely supernatural, and that’s just a maybe.
Oh, yeah; guess I should issue a spoiler warning here, since I’ll be discussing...let’s be kind and call it a plot, shall we? - but honestly, I can’t imagine anything I could reveal in these pages that would spoil the film, because frankly, in spook movie terms, NOTHING HAPPENS. Hell, in any terms, nothing happens.
The sole attention-garnering occurrence in this 90 minutes of tedium comes right at the outset, when the nuclear family - two yuppie units and an exceedingly quiet kidlet - whose story is at the heart of the film accidentally hit and kill a deer on their way to spend some quality time in a friend’s mountain cabin in upstate New York.
Yep, that’s the extent of the thrills this film offers right there: car kills deer. Ooo, scary!
In aftermath of this non-occult occurrence, the yups-and-kid are accosted by a group of extras from Deliverance 2: Electric Boogaloo, who create much sound and fury signifying nothing because Daddy Yuppie went and killed the deer they’d been hunting for days, thus spoiling their backwoods blood-sport fun. Lots of vaguely threatening dialogue from the Inbred Contingent follows, although none of them offer to make Daddy Yup squeal like a pig.
In between the deer hood ornament and the not-in-the-least-bit-exciting-and-only-vaguely- supernatural-and-only-then-just-a-bit ending, there’s a whole bunch of artsy-fartsy film work that I guess is intended to create tension. Which, if you’ve never seen anything more energetic than Death in Venice, may well work; however, if you’ve had a steady diet of, say, Nightmare on Elm Street, you’re going to be stifling the yawns before the film hits the 20-minute mark.
There’s a lot of talking, about Daddy Yup’s photography career and Mommy Yup’s psychiatry practice, and a lot of shots of Boy Yup looking...well, comatose, actually, but I’m sure the director was going for “spooky” or perhaps “deep”. Mommy and Daddy Yup have sex on the couch whilst Head Squeal-Like-a-Pig plays Peeping Tom. Then there’s some more talking by Mommy and Daddy Yup, and Boy Yup is given a totem by a possibly-non-corporeal Native American. Then Mommy and Daddy Yup do some more talking and...you get the idea. After Daddy Yup bores Boy Yup even further into catatonia with more talk, Daddy and Boy go sledding and Daddy gets shot. Maybe on purpose, maybe not; no one ever cares to make that clear, because of course camera angles are far more important than plot points. Boy Yup gets freaked - albeit more by the wind in the trees than his dad getting shot - and faints, then Mommy Yup comes looking for him and Daddy, revives Boy Yup but finds that Daddy somehow managed to crawl back to the house, bleeding buckets. Mommy and Boy take Daddy to the hospital, then Mommy sends the sheriff after Head Squeal-Like-a-Pig, a quest which affords the only other semi-interesting, albeit still not even vaguely supernatural, event in the film when Head SLaP kills the sheriff. Then in the sole supernatural - maybe - sequence, Head SLaP nearly gets killed himself by...well, basically the wind in the trees, although it’s likely supposed to be the wendigo, which probably we’re to infer the boy sent, although again, why make these things clear when you can go for the artsy-fartsy effect of strange camera angles and indistinct action? And then Daddy Yup dies and Boy Yup watches as they bring in Head SLaP to the ER.
And that’s it. The end.
Believe it or not, it’s even more boring to watch than it is to read about, and as you all know, being boring is the greatest sin a horror film can commit. So if you need a good soporific, then by all means, hunt Wendigo up next time you go to your local rental emporium. But if you’re looking for something a little more along the lines of a real horror movie...then select anything else you can find.
Just beware those exclamation points.
I see by the shadows falling from my bust of Pallas that our time is up. Until next time, then, when we will once again venture Beyond the Slimy Wall.