“There are good fortunes and bad ones.”
From Satan in spaaaace to Satan on a snowmobile, we bring you The Chill Factor, a 1993 movie I had never even heard of until Arrow Video dropped it on Blu-ray. Which makes sense, as this analog oddity apparently barely got any kind of release, and when it was rolled out on VHS it was called Demon Possessed, instead. (Complete with maybe the least accurate cover in the history of the VHS era—which is saying something.)
The storyline is familiar enough, with one notable exception: A group of snowmobilers (that’s the exception) stumble upon an abandoned Dominican summer camp near Black Friar Lake after one of their number is severely injured in an accident. While there, they encounter a Ouija board-like object called a “Devil’s Eye” and, naturally, supernatural hijinks ensue.
The Chill Factor was apparently filmed in 1989 and released in ’93, but it could have easily come out a decade before and not have felt out of place one bit, except for all the snowmobiles. Even the dialogue’s treatment of race feels like something from years before.
It’s the only directing credit from Christopher Webster, who is probably better known as executive producer on the first two Hellraiser movies, but don’t expect anything on (or even near) that level here.
It takes more than half the film’s running time before the supernatural MacGuffin is even introduced, and, once it is, the proceedings become a by-the-numbers slasher flick, complete with gimmicky deaths (of course, one guy gets stabbed through the eye with an icicle) and a Final Girl who discovers all the bodies in the last reel. And, naturally, it all culminates in a snowmobile chase.
The difference is that, in this case, the slasher is a robed, long-fingered shadow, possibly being puppeteered by their comatose (and now possessed) friend, who gradually gets long nails and a Satanic smirk to show you that he’s the bad guy. (In case that doesn’t make it clear, the “Devil’s Eye” will also spell it out in the last act.)
What isn’t spelled out is… a lot, actually. Early on, before the ill-fated snowmobile race that ends with them at the abandoned lodge, they encounter an unusually gregarious local tavern owner who teases them (and us) with the story of Black Friar Lake, informing them that she’ll tell it to them when they come back—except, of course, they never do.
In that same bar, we also see the first indications of a bizarre incest subplot that (perhaps thankfully) never really goes anywhere.
We’re introduced to the movie with the words, “The nightmare came to me before dawn,” spoken in voiceover by the cigarette-y sounding voice of Barbara Claman, who is supposed to be the older version of our Final Girl, narrating events backward through time.
Claman was better known as a casting director, having worked in that capacity on films like The Changeling and The Entity, and here she sounds a bit like a very tired Adrienne Barbeau.
In fact, our Final Girl Jeannie (Dawn Laurrie) is an all-around spooky chick, in spite of looking like the typical blonde-haired, pink-jumpsuited Valley Girl type out for a snowmobile weekend. She’s the one who informs people that the camp is “a dark place now,” and who reveals that her mother used to be a fortune teller. “Now that was scary.”
Jeannie is also the one who knows how to work the “Devil’s Eye,” an extremely handmade-looking roulette wheel with a popped eyeball in the center, decorated with letters and words like “Yes,” “No,” “Enemy,” “Evil,” and “Friend.”
It’s another character who finds letters from back when the camp was still in service indicating an undisclosed “tragedy” that happened there and a killer who might still be at large, along with a newspaper article bearing the headline, “Satanic Cult at Camp Saint Dominic?” Unfortunately, she gets chopped up by a fan before she gets a chance to share her discoveries with the others.
The Satanic trappings are certainly all there, complete with an inverted cross that is one of the first things we see inside the lodge, and a reveal of a taxidermied goat’s head in the Camp Commander’s office, its unmistakable eye reflecting the flashlight beam. Perhaps most intriguing of all is a photo of the kids at camp, with the slogan beneath it, “Keep the Beast in the Field.”
What we don’t get is much in the way of an explanation for any of this—let alone the fact, as told in voiceover near the end of the film, that none of it is actually there at all. When Jeannie returns after surviving her ordeal, she finds that the camp must have burned down twenty years before.
This kind of ambiguity helps to distinguish The Chill Factor from the films that it is emulating, but can only go so far in redeeming it. Even the booklet that accompanies the Arrow Video Blu-ray seems to be making the case that The Chill Factor should be considered only for “best worst movie” status, though any essay that opens by claiming that The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra is “a disaster” is suspect, at best.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about The Chill Factor is its inadvertent science fiction. The voiceover from Jeannie is coming “thirty years later,” meaning that, if The Chill Factor is set in 1989, when it was made, then she’s narrating from… this year.
And we do have reason to believe that The Chill Factor is no throwback, in spite of its ‘80s movie plot, because that same voiceover narration early on declares that, “The year 2000 was just around the corner and maybe we were all a little crazy.” Filmmakers included, mayhap.
Besides his work as Monster Ambassador here at Signal Horizon, Orrin Grey is the author of several books about monsters, ghosts, and sometimes the ghosts of monsters, and a film writer with bylines at Unwinnable and others. His stories have appeared in dozens of anthologies, including Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year and he is the author of two collections of essays on vintage horror film.