DEAD OF WINTER
Directed by Arthur Penn
Produced by Marc Schmuger
Written by Marc Schmuger & Mark Malone
Cinematography by Jan Weincke
Music by Richard Einhorn
Cast: Mary Steenburgen, Roddy McDowall, Jan Rubes, William Russ, Ken Pogue & Wayne Robson
1987/108 mins/Color/2.0 Dolby Digital
1.85:1 anamorphic/English/US/NTSC Region 1
Review from the MGM DVD
In a remote house in the wintry countryside, an actress rehearses a great role with a movie producer and his assistant. As she mimics the gestures and expressions of the actress she is presumably replacing, she realizes that the producer is not whom he pretends to be and circumstances are not what they seem. Caught in a trap, she has no choice but to give the performance of her life in order to save herself. Roddy McDowall is chillingly sinister as the butler-assistant, and Mary Steenburgen succeeds superbly in her mutliple roles. Director Arthur Penn uses all the tricks of old horror films as well as some new ones to create an increasing sense of claustrophobia as the heroine becomes aware that she has been trapped. DEAD OF WINTER is an eerie film with enough dark moods, shocks, and plot twists to satisfy any lover of mystery. It's an exciting, fun departure from Penn's usual style.
The plot is not really the point in a movie like this. Thriller plots are often manipulated and then forgotten. What counts is the architecture of the house, the exact locations of the one-way mirrors and the hidden staircases, the existence of a working telephone in the attic, the alarming moments when the heroine discovers that all is not as it seems. The plot is simply a device to get us from one heart-stopping moment to the next.
How does Steenburgen get to the house in the first place? Well, she's an out-of-work actress who passes an audition and is summoned to an isolated country mansion for a screen test. She arrives in the middle of a howling blizzard to meet her host, a meticulously polite old gentleman in a wheelchair, and his assistant, Roddy McDowall. What she doesn't know, is that the two men need her because she's an exact double for a kidnap victim they've killed. They tell her she's needed as the double for an actress in a movie they're making, and she unknowingly studies the appearance and voice patterns of the dead woman until she's good enough to read a script into a videotape camera. Then, of course, the plan is to kill her.
MGM has finally released this in its OAR of 1.85:1 and I can now finally retire my full frame LD. This 16 year old movie is in excellent shape and the transfer is great. There are some signs of grain in a few scenes but generally this is a very film-like transfer with no defects at all. A good portion is filmed at night and the blacks and shadows are dead on. Colors and skin tones are perfect. The soundtrack is DD 2.0 stereo and sounds just fine. No complaints there.
The bad news is that this is one of those MGM semi-budget discs that are devoid of extras other than the theatrical trailer which is full frame and no way in as good a shape as the movie itself. But, at least it's there. The good news is that the movie itself looks great.
DEAD OF WINTER is a really entertaining little thriller that deserves to be seen for its suspenseful twists and turns, as well as Mary Steenburgens terrific performance and Roddy McDowall in what I feel is his most sinister role. Recommended!
This Film Features:
Review by Brad Vautrinot. All Right Reserved. 2003. ©