Saturday, January 28, 2023

Chill Factor, The (1989)

... aka: Demon Possessed
... aka: Fator Calafrio

Directed by:
Christopher Webster

The pain begins almost immediately in this amateurish regional production as inappropriately lighthearted fantasy music spills out over the opening credits and unnecessary opening narration from one of the lead characters, which not only telegraphs her fate but also the fates of every other person in this film, plays over grainy slow-mo shots of snowmobiling. Our six primary characters are lead by insecure blonde whiner Jeannie (Dawn Laurrie), who complains about everyone being "smarter than me" and can't believe she's lucked out in dating the equally dull Tom (Aaron Kjenaas), "a college boy so handsome I could have died." Tom's future brother-in-law Chris (David Fields) is in his final year of medical school (something at odds with his affinity for drunken snowmobile riding), while Ron (Jim Cagle) has just been drafted for training camp by the Minnesota Vikings. 

As for the females, they apparently have no real aspirations aside from acting jealous and catty over these eligible bachelors they've sunk their claws into. Karen (Connie Snyder) is Tom's sister and engaged to Chris, but that doesn't quite explain the flirting and sexually-charged banter between the siblings nor the fact he casually rubs his hand up and down her ass in broad daylight... in public... in front of everyone else. Another character later observes that this behavior is "a natural brother / sister thing." The hell it is!

As for the third female character, this is where we get into even more problematic territory indicative of both the era and the place (rural Wisconsin) in which this was filmed. Before we even meet Lissa (Eve Montgomery), the narrator alludes to her by noting that Ron "got engaged to a black girl." When the three couples then stop by a bar for a beer, they get harassed by a local slob who refers to her as Ron's "nigger girlfriend." A character later refers to her as "dark meat" and then her own fiancé listens to her humming and sighs, "I'm in love with the only black girl who sings off-key!" You may be wondering why they'd even bother casting a black actress if all they were going to do was shine a spotlight on the fact that, yes, she is indeed black, but it all makes sense later on when the film needs someone to explain voodoo to everyone else.

After the competitive brothers get into an argument about who's the better snowmobile driver, barmaid Bessie (Bekki Vallin) suggests they go to a two-mile-long frozen lake bed called Black Friar Lake to have a race. There, Tom is seriously injured when he's thrown from his vehicle and hits his head on a tree. Knowing he'll die if they can't get him out of the 20 below temperatures soon, they look around and manage to locate an abandoned, boarded-up old lodge. After breaking inside, they're forced to spend the night due to the weather, nightfall approaching and the unconscious Tom, who's suffered a severe concussion in addition to possible spinal damage and internal bleeding, cannot be moved. The fact he's lost so much blood prompts Ron to make a go at leaving on one of the snowmobiles.

Further exploration of the old building reveals it was a former church camp. The are pews, crucifixes, bibles, an altar, multiple bleeding Christ statues and black-and-white photos of previous campers from way back in the 1950s with an ominous scroll saying "Keep the beast in the field." Apparently at some point, Satanists infiltrated the camp and took over. Not that these people seem to care all that much.

Karen finds a strange "game" with a circular board and a pointer. A OUIJA? Not exactly. Lissa explains it's actually a "Devil's Eye;" a tool commonly used by voodoo practitioners to communicate with the dead. So, yeah, basically a OUIJA. To work this one, everyone has to sit in a circle, put two fingers on the board and touch hands together with the person sitting next to them in order to talk to the spirit. Even though they're in a dire situation dealing with their dying friend in a very creepy setting, they're so bored they decide to give the device a whirl and unleash an evil force that sets in motion a series of supernatural killings.

Someone gets possessed, a cloaked figure prowls around and people are killed off in ways that include a neck slashing via barbed wire, a hanging, getting chopped up by fan blades in a walk-in freezer and an icicle through the eyeball. There are also a couple of hilariously inappropriate PG sex scenes. Would you sneak off to a bedroom and bang your boyfriend with your brother on his death bed in the very next room? And would you have sex with your significant other if they were almost dead one minute, had all of their wounds miraculously and inexplicably healed the next and then was acting extremely weird and saying all kinds of inappropriate things right after you've been trying to summon the dead? Well, the folks in this film certainly don't seem to mind!

There are a couple of OK things here, namely the setting and a somewhat amusing finale featuring a human vs. demon snowmobile chase that ends in someone getting blown up after being crushed under an ATV's snow tracks, but the film is pretty forgettable otherwise. The characters are all bland, the plot is thin and predictable, the pacing is slow, there's limited gore / fx work and both the dialogue and the acting are awful. The only other thing worth pointing out is the film's bizarre aversion to nudity despite the filmmakers' insistence on constantly showcasing the actresses in various states of undress. All three of the lead females strip off multiple times and we get gratuitous cleavage, side ass, side boobs, smooshed boobs, silhouetted boobs, bare backs and shoulders, bras and panties and close-ups of asses in skin tight pants, yet the film amazingly somehow manages to not have a stitch of actual nudity in it.

Director Webster had produced the first two Hellraiser films prior to this and would go on to produce two additional genre films; Trapped Alive (1988) and The Inheritor (1990), for the same short-lived production company (Windsor Lake Studios) out of Eagle Rock, Wisconsin. Afterward, he moved on to the film production wing of Fangoria magazine to produce Children of the Night (1991), Mindwarp (1991) and Severed Ties (1992).

Most reference books and many websites list this as a 1993 release (the same year it made its VHS debut courtesy of AIP under the new title Demon Possessed), but it supposedly received a brief limited / regional theatrical release in 1989 first. In 2019, Arrow Video released it on Blu-ray, which comes with commentary and / or interviews with stunt coordinator Gary Paul, line producer Alexandra J. Reed and special effects artists Jeffery Lyle Segal and Hank Carlson.

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