Arrow Video: The Chill Factor (1993) - Reviewed

Christopher Webster is probably best known as a producer on such renowned horror films as Hellraiser, Heathers and Trapped Alive.  But in 1993, the prolific film producer got a one-time shot at directing a film he could call his own: the wintery demonic possession horror flick The Chill Factor.  Not to be confused with the 1999 actioner of the same name, this VHS era cult favorite is more or less The Evil Dead set in the Wisconsin snow season instead of northern Michigan fall. 

Unearthed from obscurity by Arrow Video, this inspired little number tells that familiar story of a group of youths on a weekend getaway who are picked off one by one by dark, unearthly forces.  The difference here is the window dressing, offering a unique spin on Ouija boards with some creatively gory death scenes and just enough carnality to awaken fans from their drunken stupor.  While nowhere near the caliber of such legendary winter horrors as, say, The Shining or The Thing, there’s just enough mayhem here to set itself apart from the pack.

After a snowmobile race gone awry sabotages the college couples’ weekend and leaves one snowmobiler named Tom (Aaron Kjenaas) near mortally wounded, the kids take refuge in, you guessed it, an abandoned old cabin with no electricity or heat but plenty of occult religious artifacts laying around to conjure up even the sleepiest demons of Hell.  While one member of the group ventures back out into the blizzard for help, those left behind keeping vigil over their injured comrade pass the time digging up and playing around with said occult artifacts and naturally awaken a demon which possesses (and heals) Tom before unleashing an all-out supernatural attack on the kids.

Ouija boards have become as ubiquitous of a mainstay in horror films as the Necronomicon after Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead, but I can’t say I’ve seen one that looks quite like this one.  A circular board with a Wheel of Fortune spinning dial with an eyeball poised in the middle, this demonic summoning tool will probably only ever been seen in this one little movie and nowhere else again.  Next is the wintry setting which includes numerous snowmobile races, high-speed chases and snowmobile related deaths including an easy to miss line of barb wire.

Performances in this are less than stellar though Aaron Kjenaas has some fun hamming it up when his demonic side replete with abnormally long fingernails kicks in.  The voiceover narration of a gravely-voiced old woman signifying there might be one survivor left to this story helps meld things together but also tends to state the obvious.  Prosthetic effects are pretty good for the most part, with an icicle death sure to make hardcore horror fans giddy with delight.  The real standout here are the snowmobiling stunts which reportedly involved a great deal of training to figure out how to make the vehicles flip over and how to throw a stuntman midair off of one without killing them.

The Chill Factor is frequently regarded as a kind of absurd horror flick that treads a fine line between horror and hilarity.  It’s also something we’ve seen before with some slight tweaks made to where and when it takes place.  That said, I had a lot of fun with this one and have to hand it to the stuntmen whose death defying acrobatics leave viewers more shaken than any of the demonic horrors unleashed as all Hell starts to break loose.  It will give you a swell time at your friend’s latest Halloween party!

--Andrew Kotwicki