“First the whodigo wendigo, then a pot of chili eats my hand, now a hypothermic teenager … what’s gonna happen next?!”

Watching Frostbiter: Wrath of the Wendigo feels like sitting in the sort of bar with knob-cranked rock music where writer-director-producer-editor-cinematographer Tom Chaney might have conceived this low-budget ode to cryptid supernaturalism and skinflint ingenuity.

That’s because in almost every scene of this take on the flesh-eating, shape-shifting monster, dialogue takes secondary position to songs played at concert-level volume. The wind might whisper wendigo, but not this soundtrack – which ranges from purposeful songs about chili with no crackers or onions to beats that sound gaffled from Enigma’s cutting-room floor and, in one headscratcher, a sample of Prince’s “Kiss.”

One of the delights of any Vinegar Syndrome release is discovering the details behind how something like this could happen. Indeed, a late-stage producer – providing funds to finish this film shot piecemeal over several years and finally released in 1995 – insisted on increasing the volume of songs on a soundtrack he thought would fare better than the film itself. (As sound editor / actor Paul Harris recounts in a Sound of the Wendigo featurette, the Italian-language dub on YouTube might be a preferable mix to the English-language version.)

These are the type of tidbits you come to crave from Vinegar Syndrome’s exhaustive extras. And in time, Frostbiter’s decidedly demented sound mix becomes a critical component of its ramshackle charm – an Upper Peninsula love letter to Sam Raimi and Ray Harryhausen with let’s-put-on-a-horror-show energy that pulls out as many stops as $60,000 could possibly buy.

The film’s prologue finds a 100-year-old trapper (in perfectly reasonable Valkenheiser-ish prosthetics) recounting his clash with the wendigo creature – “a fierce battle that rocked the world,” as it looks in matte paintings resembling Thomas Kinkade on a ketamine bender. Only his vigilance has kept the wendigo from wreaking havoc on the world, but leave it to a couple of beer-swilling Yoopers (one played by Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton) to cock that all up. Thus, the prophesied protection from the wendigo falls to Sandy (Lori Baker), on whom the wendigo’s supernatural sentinels will descend with the intent to weaken her and strengthen their master.

Cryptid tales are difficult to pull off at any point along the spectrum, either as a campfire tale (where embers burning eternal in our imaginations are scarier than anything onscreen) or a persuasive, effects-enabled insistence that such creatures walk among us. Chaney takes an approach of fever-dream fun a la the Evil Dead films or Dead Alive, and there are legitimate laughs aplenty as this horror-comedy leans into its limited budget and vigorous pacing (running just 77 minutes before credits taken up largely by what seems like a 60-song soundtrack). Building to a climax of enjoyably efficient stop-motion effects, Frostbiter is the sort of labor that’s easy to love.

Vinegar Syndrome has debuted the film on a region-free Blu-ray with a 2K restoration from its original 16-millimeter camera negative. The film’s preservation on any physical platter is the reward here, frayed flecks and splayed specks often wiggling at the bottom of any given frame. Frostbiter looks – and, as noted above, sounds – just as it should.

In the featurette Wendigo Make a Movie, Chaney touts himself as the guy who shoots movies on the catering budget for most mainstream productions. Indeed, filming Frostbiter was an intermittent endeavor as collaborators had availability and time in the “refrigeration capital of the world” – some commuting 90 minutes to do it or squeezing in work around Raimi’s production of Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (with which Frostbiter shares editor Kaye Davis). Chaney reveals Davis cut a 93-minute version down to 66 minutes, thus necessitating reshoots with anyone available to tack on 11 minutes of news footage … and tie Frostbiter back to a famous, and most unexpected, fictitious town. Chaney offers a convivial chronicle of making Frostbiter, which was eventually picked up by schlockmeisters Troma – one living up to his insistence that truly independent filmmaking involves defeating Murphy’s Law on a minute-by-minute basis.

Chaney also contributes a brand-new commentary track on the film, moderated by producer Michael Felsher. Additional featurettes include:

  • The Many Hats of a Wendigo, with producer David Thiry
  • What Were We Thinking?, with actor Alan Madlane
  • Frankenstein’s Wendigo, with stop-motion animator Dave Hettmer
  • A Friend in Need, with actor John Bussard

Housed in a special limited-edition spot-gloss slipcover designed by Chris Barnes and with reversible sleeve artwork, the Vinegar Syndrome release also includes: an archival featurette with Asheton; the original promotional video (from when the film was simply titled Wendigo); a Frostbiter video trailer; behind-the-scenes footage; an archival Troma introduction and promotional video; footage from the film’s Michigan premiere; and a behind-the-scenes still gallery.