The Chill Factor Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: July 16, 2019
Audio: English LPCM 2.0 Stereo
Subtitles: English SDH
Run Time: 86 minutes
Director: Christopher Webster
For a group of young couples, a snowmobiling trip turns into a waking nightmare when one of their number is thrown from their vehicle and knocked unconscious. Seeking refuge in a nearby abandoned summer camp, the group find themselves holed up in a cabin filled with bizarre and ominous religious artefacts. As night falls, the discovery of a Ouija board amidst the dusty relics awakens a terrifying evil. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
We’ll start this review off right by making sure everyone understands that, when we say The Chill Factor, we’re talking about Christopher Webster’s 1993 snowmobilers vs. demonic possession horror flick, not Hugh Johnson’s Chill Factor (1999). Arrow Video has not released a remastered Blu-ray edition of that particular Cuba Gooding Jr. action vehicle. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of Webster’s film, aka: Demon Possessed, because it is a very deep cut into the obscure, even for Arrow. The Chill Factor doesn’t star a cult icon, isn’t part of a greater genre pantheon (it’s almost certainly the only satanic snowmobiler movie), and it wasn’t banned on home video by British authorities. Perhaps its reputation starts here?
The good news is that The Chill Factor is really weird, though perhaps not in the ways you’d expect from a long-lost, straight-to-video horror movie. It begins like a made-for-Lifetime original with really earnest narration from lead character Jeannie (played by Dawn Laurrie on screen, the narration is done by Barbara Claman) set against slow motion scenes of smiling actors. Jeannie gives us a load of unnecessary context, including the fact that her fianceé doesn’t really love her and that his friend (who we never meet) got engaged to “a black girl” (her name is Lissa, played by Eve Montgomery, and a major character in the movie, which makes the designation “a black girl” all the weirder). The music sounds like something out of a coming-of-age drama and everything about the imagery feels 1988, rather than 1993. Things don’t get much more normal from there...
Webster is best known as the executive producer of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser (1987), that film’s first sequel, Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988, directed by Tony Randel), and Michael Lehmann’s Heathers (1988). He and credited writer Julian Weaver constantly attempt to meet typical horror movie expectations. The characters meet local hicks at a mountainside diner, where they argue amongst themselves about the quality of their snowmobiles, which leads the waitress to tell them about a legendary local lake where they can race. Jeannie has a tragic dream vision, but the cinematic language does nothing to inform the audience that what they’d seen previously was a prophetic vision until she mentions it outright. The snowmobile race is shot to mimic the game of chicken race from Rebel without a Cause (1955), but this at least gets them to a deserted religious camp (part cabin in the woods, part abandoned church, part summer camp, I guess) when one of the characters nearly kills himself in a crash. They settle in to their spooky surroundings and endlessly argue about the most mundane aspects of their situation (for instance, whether or not they can use synthetic fabrics to staunch their friend’s bleeding). All the while, the melodramatic narration continues to wax poetic about the situation. I could go on, but I suppose the fun of this particular movie is found in its slightly skewed version of haunted house, possession, and slasher movie conventions, so I don’t want to spoil the whole thing or overhype it, for that matter.
What’s important to understand is that The Chill Factor doesn’t seem to be actively trying to be so strange. Webster almost definitely intended to make a standard-issue early ‘90s horror movie. His refusal to take it over-the-top and make something on the level of Evil Dead (1981) actually makes the experience all the more amusing, because people keep doing and saying weird things in the least hysterical manner imaginable. I’m hesitant to praise the film from a so-bad-it’s-good standpoint, because it isn’t quite that, either (the climactic snowmobile chase is actually pretty exciting). Most sequences are competently shot and the cast is fine, despite fighting against some terrible dialogue. Perspective viewers should know that there’s also a lot of filler here. The movie is almost half over when the characters finally find the “devil board” (a piece of haunted outsider art that they use like a Ouija) and supernatural mayhem starts happening. Said mayhem is pretty tame, too (don’t assume that the lack of MPAA rating means that it was too gory for an R), but, again, the film is so incapable of just being a normal horror movie that I found myself fascinated by even the lack of scares and violence.
This may surprise you, but The Chill Factor has never been released on DVD or Blu-ray. Besides an AIP Studios VHS release (under the title Demon Possessed, sporting cover art completely unrelated to the film), an impossible to find pan-and-scan Laserdisc from Image (same title and cover art), and a short run on Amazon Prime streaming (likely VHS quality), this new Blu-ray is the first chance most North American audiences have had to see the film, assuming they’d ever heard of it, of course. The film has skipped DVD altogether for its Blu-ray debut. This 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer was made from a 2K scan of a low-contrast 35mm print. The print source (rather than a negative source) leads to some issues with dark crush and print damage artifacts, but the overall effect is better than most similar print-based transfers. The use of dim lighting and intended ‘coldness’ of the palette both help in this matter, as prints tend to be too crushy and bluish. Print damage is only a notable issue during the comparatively brighter snowbound sequences at the beginning and end of the movie. Even grain levels are impressive for a print source, if not a little blocky and artifacty at some points. Colors are natural during the early acts then flashy and rich as horrific stuff starts to go down, though black levels are pretty consistent, they reddened during the darkest scenes. Details are tight without leading to notable haloes.
The Chill Factor is presented in uncompressed LPCM audio its original 2.0 stereo. The sound quality is as good as we can expect from the material, meaning that there are no obvious distortion or audio damage issues; just iffy original recordings. The mix is good and consistent when sound effects or music is prominent – the snowmobiles buzz, the wind blows, and the fires crackle with relative realism – but, when too many different things need to be layered, the cut & paste approach to effects and dialogue is pretty obvious. The key issues relate to ADR and canned effects work, which isn’t the mix’s fault and, frankly, kind of adds to the uncanniness of the whole experience. The sitcom-like keyboard score is credited to John Tatgenhorst, who also scored a single episode of Batman: The Animated series that same year and very little else.
Commentary with special effects artist Hank Carlson – Wisconsin-based “horror writer” Josh Hadley (he writes for various outlets, but you can find his stuff easily at http://1201beyond.com/) acts as moderator/interviewer here and discusses the making of the film with (also Wisconsin-based) special effects artist Hank Carlson. Carlson, of course, doesn’t know everything about the production, but he has plenty of good behind-the-scenes stories and these two real-life friends fill the runtime with information.
Lights! Camera! Snowmobiles! (13:02, HD) – The new interviews begin with production manager Alexandra Reed, who runs down the film’s production history. Apparently, this was one of three horror movies produced by Webster’s company in northern Wisconsin (the first was Leszek Burzynski’s Trapped Alive , also released on BD by Arrow) and was built around the fact that Eagle River, Wisconsin is known for its snowmobile races.
Fire and Ice (11:21, HD) – Stunt coordinator Gary Paul talks about the admittedly impressive snowmobile races and other stunts, but also fills in a bit more on Webster’s Wisconsin studio, which he reports was built on the remains of an old Girl Scout camp.
Portrait of a Makeup Artist (15:03, HD) – Makeup artist/casting director Jeffery Lyle Segal, who discusses working with Stuart Gordon, casting Michael Rooker in John McNaughton’s Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986), and working on casting and effects for Webster’s Wisconsin movies.
Ouija and Chill (25:28, HD) – More with Carlson and Hadley. This is essentially a compressed version of the commentary track.
Workprint version (1:23:56, HD version of SD footage) – Carlson’s own VHS copy of the complete pre-narration/pre-music workprint. The image and sound quality is limited, but it’s honestly better than some supposedly HD streams I’ve seen.
Home video trailer (with the alternate Demon Possessed title)