Wendigo (2001) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

This is one of those movies that generated polarized reactions. Part art movie, part supernatural/horror, it didn't please many fans of either, but was very well reviewed by some critics (RT: 61% positive) who appreciated the director's ability to maintain a feeling of dread.

It starts out as a New York version of Deliverance. An upper middle class Manhattan couple take their son to a remote cabin in the Catskills for a weekend retreat. Things start out badly when their car strikes a deer, and they run afoul of the hunters who were chasing "their" deer. One of the hunters is testosterone-crazed and gets into some heavy chest-thumping with the father. We basically watch this activity through the eyes of the little kid, who sees a bunch of violent gun-toting men shoot a deer at point blank range (actually a mercy killing), then wave their guns around while shouting at his parents.

Here's a tip for you youngsters, from a native of Upstate New York - if you go up there, always be afraid of white guys named "Otis", unless they are cookie manufacturers. I never met or heard of any such people up there, but if I did meet one, I'd know enough to give that mofo some elbow room, especially if he was mad at me and was carrying both a rifle and a handgun, because that sucker would be mighty ornery, being so far from the Confederacy and all.

The next major development in the film occurs in the small town near their rental house, where the little kid is handed a carved totem by a mysterious Native American, only to have his mother find out that the mysterious stranger was not really there at all, and that her son was probably making up a story to get the "toy". Or was he? Before vanishing, the non-existent stranger told the boy that the totem represented the Wendigo, a mysterious, powerful, shape-shifting spirit who could kill men and take their souls.

Yeah, whatever.

The premise is lame, to be sure, but I think the maintenance of tension is excellent because the director stayed inside the little kid's POV, and underscored the boy's fear with an effective, mysterious score which blends elements of classical music and Native American rhythms. Fair enough.

The film also had some problems:

One genuine problem. I laughed when I saw the actual Wendigo, and I couldn't have been the only one laughing. It may be a shape-shifter, but the only form it seemed to take here was that of a giant reindeer that walks on his hind legs. In fact, it looks exactly like the famous hoax animal, the Jackalope, aka The Warrior Rabbit. Let's face it, how scary can a reindeer be? They are herbiverous ruminants - basically cows, albeit prettier and more agile - so they present more danger to your flowers than they do to your family.

"Look out Marge, I think it's going to graze"

I grew up right next to a deer preserve, and the animals are sometimes nuisances because they get into gardens at night, and they can't distinguish between open space and glass, so every once in a while a big 'un tries to run into somebody's sliding glass door or greenhouse. Saddest of all, they sometimes run into a road, as the deer did in this film, thus endangering themselves and the motorists. But they aren't very scary, and they won't attack with their teeth no matter how hungry or frightened they are. They are herbivores. I guess Manhattanites could find one scary, but I can't imagine why. There is nothing more peaceful or pastoral than to see a family of deer wandering around the back yard on a snowy morning.

Anyway, I guess the all-wise Indian spirit wasn't quite as tight with nature as it was made out to be. If it had a freakin' clue about nature in Upstate New York, it would have taken the form of a big, riled, starving, female bear ransacking a trash can and protecting her cubs. Now those mofos are scary.

Rudolph the freakin' red nosed reindeer, on the other hand, is about as scary as Freddie and the Dreamers.

OK, maybe that was a bad example.

It actually looks more like Bullwinkle.

If SCTV was still on, Mrs Prickly would book this movie for Monster Chiller Horror Theater, and Count Floyd would have to bullshit the kids into thinking reindeer are scary. "Look, kids, did you see those pointy antlers? Arooooooooooooooooooo!"

Yup, that Wendigo is one scary, Santa Claus-totin' mofo.

Here's another tip for you youngsters. If you make a movie like Jurassic Park, feel free to make a special feature on the DVD in which you explain how the special effects were created. On the other hand, if you make a film where the supernatural creature looks like a guy with limp wrists wearing a reindeer head with a goofy smile, don't create a 30 minute documentary explaining how you did it. (Gee, let me guess, you had a guy wear a reindeer head? Yup, sure enough.) Also, you might want to leave out the original artist's conceptions of the monster if they are, in fact, even sillier and less scary than the actual representation in the movie. "Yeah, we wanted it to look a lot stupider, but shit happens, ya know?"

One debatable problem - this one is not a problem in my estimation, but was a major irritant to many people who watched the movie. The finale was a complete downer, felt incomplete, and was one of those endings which leaves people feeling "what the ....?" To tell you the truth, I liked it. It ended like an art film, not like a horror movie, but that was OK. The entire film was about maintaining a certain tone, and the film's ending capped that off perfectly. It did leave some things unsaid and unexplained, but sometimes mystery is better left mysterious, and I was OK with the ambiguity, because it was handled artfully.


Brief breast exposure from Patricia Clarkson in a dark sex scene. After years of working in relative obscurity, the Yale graduate from N'awlins, with the compassionate eyes and distinctive croaking voice, seems to be on the cusp of stardom at age 43. She was in four films at Sundance 2003, and I wrote that she might even get an Oscar nod if people with the power to grant such things saw Pieces of April.

The Fearsome Wendigo

DVD info from Amazon

  • widescreen anamorphic transfer

  • special featurette on the creation of the monster

  • interview with the director

The one thing I simply didn't understand was the purpose of an extra scene which was inserted after the credits started rolling. As you can guess from what I have already written, most people were wondering if the movie was really over. The credits started to roll over black space, and then there was a very brief intercut of a truck being towed, a scene which may or may not have explained something earlier. This seemed to promise more footage. No such thing. The towing scene was just hanging there on its own, and the rest of the credits rolled uninterrupted. Was that just a trick to force people to watch the credits?

I don't know.

But I do know this, Babs. It'd behoove ya ta check yer uvula.

Oh, yeah, and it would have been better not to show the actual creature. It was more powerful in the imagination.

The Critics Vote

  • Roger Ebert 2.5/4. Reviews were all over the place. Filmcritic.com gave it 4.5/5, for example, but the NY Post gave it 1/4.

The People Vote ...

  • The gross was virtually non-existent. For all practical purposes, it went straight to video. (Played two theaters)


The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C. Odd little film that sometimes to shine with the luster of The Shining, and sometimes seems to be a laughable grade-z horror film.

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