The Insatiable Hunger of the Wendigo

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Horror Mystery and Lore

Forever Wasting Away

Buck staring menacingly
Photography by Paul Johnston

Once during a brutally cold winter, there was a lost hunter whose intense hunger drove him to the unforgivable act of cannibalism; this taste of human flesh he was transformed into an insane bestial man, doomed to wander the forests awaiting his next meal. This is the story of the wendigo who is derived from the folklore of the Native Algonquian Tribes, but like any good story that came from an oral story tradition, the details vary based on who you ask and where you are—there are even those who say the Wendigo is related to Bigfoot, but most agree that the Wendigo is closer to a Werewolf. The Wendigo is said to be more of a cold-weather creature, having been sighted primarily in Canada and parts of the Northern United States, where many of the unsolved disappearances would be blamed on this beast’s cannibalistic tendencies.

This insatiable predator is certainly a sight to see—although you wouldn’t ever want to see him—despite being nearly fifteen feet tall, he appears as a hybrid between a buck and a human male, who is gaunt, emaciated, and rotting. Don’t let this fool you though, he’s incredibly dangerous with his sharp teeth and claws—nothing will save you from his obsession for finding his next meal. Forever wasting away, it’s an insatiable hunger that drives his need to kill and consume.

“The Wendigo” by Algernon Blackwood (audiobook)

More Than an Urban Legend

https://soundcloud.com/backstory/where-the-windigos-are

During the turn of the twentieth century, the Algonquian people say that numerous members of their tribe simply disappeared—they attributed these disappearances to the Wendigo. Unfortunately, this can also be associated with the legend that the Wendigo has the ability to curse humans as the Wendigo by possessing them, gradually imparting his own lust for human flesh that makes this monster so frighteningly compelling. The most famous case of this happening is that of Swift Runner; during the winter of 1879, this Native American man murdered and consumed his entire family. When questioned for his crimes, Swift Runner told the authorities that he had been possessed by a Wendigo’s spirit during the murder and cannibalism. Regardless of his claims, he was found guilty and he was sentenced to hang. Swift Runner’s case was not an abnormality amongst the tribal communities that inhabited the regions of Northern Quebec all the way to the Rocky Mountains in Colorado—so it makes us wonder whether or not the Wendigo is more than just an urban legend.

Does the Wendigo Still Exist?

There is always the potential for a Wendigo to come into existence—since the plague of this creature is that his form is a form of punishment for dishonorable or taboo activities—like chomping down on your fellow man if you’re starving to death. It makes a person wonder about the tragedy that befell the Donner party, did any Wendigos spawn from that horror story? According to the Author of Dangerous Spirits: The Windigo in Myth and History, “[the Wendigo] was a means of defining moral and social behavior, which could serve as a warning against greed and selfishness.” Other ways a Wendigo could come into being is if a medicine man or shaman cast a curse upon the man, or if the man had dreamt of the Wendigo—it was often an explanation used for mental illnesses and other afflictions before they were fully understood.

Antlers (2020)
Antlers (2020)

The real concern about the Wendigo is whether or not it actually exists in this day and age—since no one in their right mind would ever seek out such an unstoppable creature, it’s fair to say that it would be best to avoid an encounter entirely. Thankfully, a majority of sightings happened between the 1800s and the 1920s, with very few of them having had occurred since—those brave enough to seek this monster out would be more likely to catch a glimpse of the Wendigo if they look through the forests that Wendigos inhabit during the colder months of the year. Then again, tromping through the forest in the middle of winter in the harsh climate that the Wendigo is said to frequent isn’t the sanest thing a person could do.

So what do you think? Would you ever go into the blistering cold forest in search of a monster from whom there is no escape? Or would you leave his existence a mystery?

Movies Referencing the Wendigo

The Power (2021) – A Truly Dark Horror Film

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I’m hugely enjoying the trope of modern horror that involves pulling real events from history as backdrops for unique and personal stories. The new film from Corinna Faith (writer of The Innocents), The Power (2021) adopts the setting of a London hospital during the 1970s power-saving blackouts. While it’s a unique pairing of genre and source material within itself, the idea of nightly nationwide power outages is, when considered, the perfect vehicle for claustrophobic intensity. 

Val (Rose Williams) works her first day as a nurse and somehow finds herself forced to work the nightshift during one of the aforementioned blackouts. Simple and effective, no? Couple this setup with fantastically engrossing performances and some playful yet focused cinematography and viewers are transported within the walls of the hospital themselves. I felt Val’s every insecurity, laughed at the sardonic nurses and surmised at their odd detachment to their surroundings. 

All of this made it rather more terrifying when the lights finally went out. Chills ran up my spine as the darkness crept towards Val, her whimper of “It’s too early, isn’t it?” echoing into the black. The idea of being so unprepared and in such an unfamiliar place is universal. This and the quality of direction and casting on display here bolsters an otherwise thin story requiring self-generated drama; Faith clearly knew this and rolled with it, playing to her advantages. 

Every element seems tailored to add to the films immersion; the story taking place in a single night, the realistic reactions (one nurse hilariously walks away when things start to get slightly weird), the slow-burn first act that drew me in with likeable and varied characters as well as the the ambiguity of what the hell that is lurking in the dark? Then, at some point in its runtime, something happened which rarely does in modern paranormal horror; things actually escalated. While the slow realization that something is watching from the darkness is very creepy, this did not give me high hopes that The Power would elevate itself beyond the throwaway slow-build-to-jumpscare horror flick it could easily have been. Thankfully my fears were laid to rest when all implied menace finally reared its ugly head, and the true horror began.

From this enthralling tonal shift onwards we are treated to masterful setup and execution of scare after scare. Restrained and calculated use of violence serves to establish a tangible threat, forcing the viewer to relate more directly. Later on, themes are explored tastefully and mindfully that give the title a new meaning entirely, bringing a fulfilling cadence to the third act. I won’t divulge too much for the sake of impact, but the second tonal shift only added to The Power’s impression on me.

Discipline and moderation are shown in the making of this diversely spooky tale of a hospital’s dark secret. That being said, director Corinna Faith knows how to get the hairs standing and the blood pumping while still delivering a satisfying conclusion to a twisting, tightrope-walk of a horror film.

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