Syndrome Selects Volume 1: WINTERBEAST and ALL-AMERICAN MURDER

Welcome to Syndrome Selects, our monthly(ish) roundup of a few of our favorite recent releases from Vinegar Syndrome, the beloved boutique purveyor of genre oddities and golden era smut. Each volume will include 2-3 titles from the current and recent months that The Farsighted has enjoyed, endured, and/or been impacted by. This is Syndrome Selects.

This month, we tackle two early 90s gems. One a 1992 shot-on-video film entitled Winterbeast that doesn’t take place in the Winter nor is really about a beast, the other a direct-to-video thriller co-starring Christopher Walken and directed by Potsie. The former was released by Vinegar Syndrome as part of the Homegrown Horrors: Volume 1 collection last month, while the latter also hit shelves from Vinegar Syndrome in April but was released as a solo release. While neither is well-known, both are a blast… albeit for wholly different reasons and in wholly different ways.

Winterbeast (1992)

Late 80s and early 90s SOV is a beast all its own – always low budget, often having incoherent plots, and full of fun practical effects of varying effectiveness. Winterbeast is very much built in this tradition. With stop motion glory intersected with befuddling dialog and a plodding plot, the film works more as an effects reel or a drinking game than an actual movie. Yet, there’s literally nothing wrong with this, because it’s truly never not fun.

We could discuss the plot here, but there’s little reason… as it’s barely coherent and definitely not at all consistent. It mostly serves as a vehicle for extremely fun stop motion kills and a couple of unique costumed creatures. Decidedly low budget, the film was made on multiple types of film formats overs the course of 5-6 years. If one were to find out it cost over $10,000, they’d surely be surprised… as it appears more likely to have had a budget of no more than 5 digits. But fans of microbudget cinema will already know that low budgets don’t necessarily make bad movies. This, however, is definitely a “bad” movie by most standards. What isn’t bad at all, though, are the stop motion effects.

With claymation style monsters and kills that transform real life actors into easily destructible clay people in mere moments, each time the film switches to a stop motion shot, it’s hard not to laugh a little bit. However, the laughter isn’t all in mockery, but rather in sheer delights. The monsters are unique, fun, and well made. The kills are exquisite, even if clearly fake. Why the weird evil totem at the center becomes or summons an array of monsters is beyond me, but I’m here for it.

My first viewing of this film was sober, but I honestly can’t wait to rewatch this one a few drinks in with a group of like minded bizarro cinephiles. It’s only bound to get better and better with an illicit substance or two in your system. In other words, Vinegar syndrome fans are likely to have a blast, but “normies” need not apply…

All-American Murder (1991)

If you can watch a film that prominently features Christopher Walken and not have a good time, you are probably more than a little bit dead inside. This film is n’t all about the Walken factor though, it’s also about that guy who played TV’s version of Ferris Bueller and was in that Police Academy movie that was in Russia playing an arty college student being framed for murder. You see it’s a thriller and go in expecting some twists and turns, but for the first 20+ minutes it’s a straight up 80s rom-com. Yet, the tonal shifts and unique pacing of the film all work. It’s almost too quirky for its own good, but it works. Melrose Place‘s Josie Bissett also figures prominently into the story, while we get to see a decent helping of character actor favorite (of mine, at least) Richard Kind. With rom-com staples and giallo tropes equally mixed in, it only goes to figure that a great mind like Anson “Potsie” Williams would be behind the camera ensuring this film retains wonderfully weird balance of tones that it gives the viewer.

The IMDB plot summary is far more reductive:

An antisocial college student gets transferred to a new college, where he meets the popular girl in school. She’s suddenly killed and he becomes the prime suspect. While trying to clear up his name, more victims fall to the brutal killer.

Walken’s cool demeanor and emotive facial expressions pair well with TV Ferris’s frantic energy and scurrying attempt to clear his name in the face of people dying all around him. With a made for TV feel outside of a few words, some brief nudity, and one relatively brutal kill, the film is a breezy 93 minutes and is extremely entertaining throughout. In fact, if release today, it could fit really wel into the Lifetime movie model with few alterations. And since Lifetime movies basically rule, this is far from an insult.

Of these 2 film, this is the one I’ll revisit more and would endorse buying immediately. It’s just wall to wall fun and doesn’t require the viewer to be able to appreciate the microbudget staples that Winterbeast demands of the viewer… especially when the demented climax featruing the weirdest use of “Oh Dear! What Can the Matter Be?” takes place.

The Syndrome Treatment

I once remarked that Arrow Films was the undisputed king of giving Criterion treatment to movies that really don’t deserve it. One could argue that Vinegar Syndrome give them a run for their money in this category. In this case, however, I think both films deserve it – even if they are closer to Citizen Toxie than Citizen Kane.

Winterbeast features include:

  • Region Free Blu-ray
  • Newly scanned & restored in 2k from its original 16mm and Super 8mm film elements
  • Brand new commentary track with producer Mark Frizzell
  • “It Came from Lone Peak” – an unfinished early workprint version of Winterbeast
  • “Sweat & Persistence” – a new interview with producer Mark Frizzell
  • “I Saw it in a Dream” – a new interview with actor Charles Majka
  • “My First Career” – a new interview with actor David Majka
  • “So Bad, It’s Good” – a new interview with actress Dori May Kelly
  • “He Wears Sunglasses at Night” – a new interview with actor Mike Magri
  • “A Movie For Filmmakers” – a new interview with filmmaker Simon Barrett
  • “Oh, Dear, What can the Matter Be?” – an archival making-of documentary
  • Archival deleted scenes, commentary, audio interviews, and additional footage
  • Reversible cover artwork
  • English SDH subtitles

All-American Murder features include:

  • Region Free Blu-ray
  • Newly scanned & restored in 2k from its 35mm interpositive
  • Commentary track with The Hysteria Continues!
  • “Being on a Team”- an interview with actor Charlie Schlatter
  • “A Valuable Experience” – an interview with cinematographer Geoffrey Schaaf
  • Reversible cover artwork
  • English SDH subtitles

Both titles are available at Vinegar Syndrome’s website now.

Justin has been running websites since his first Geocities site in 1994, but only did he ever start covering anything of substance years later. After he stopped regularly running local concerts in Northern NJ and the greater Philly area, he knew he needed to step up his writing game if he expected to continue to get free music to listen to. He writes regularly here and at Cinapse, as well as contributing to a few other sites on occasion. He likes music, film, the Philadelphia Eagles, the 76ers, talking about Criminal Justice, reading Intelligence Report, and his family... not in that order. His beautiful wife is far more talented than he is and his kids far more adorable... and crazy.
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