Dead of Winter (1987)

dead of winter

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Trapped in a house.

Being that this has been one of the coldest and snowiest winters in Indianapolis history, which is the current headquarters of Scopophilia, as well as much of the rest of the nation I decided it would be a good time to review a film with cold weather as its theme. After all misery loves company and if we got to suffer through this crap it’s always nice to see film characters have to deal with it as well.

The film is a loose remake of My Name is Julia Ross, which came out in 1945 and starred Nina Foch, which in turn was based on the novel ‘The Woman in Red’ by Anthony Gilbert. Here the title character is Katie McGovern (Mary Steenbugen) a fledgling actress who answers an ad in a paper for an audition to a role in a low budget movie. There she meets a man by the name of Mr. Murray (Roddy McDowell) who hires her on the spot based on her resemblance to their last leading lady who walked out on the production before it was finished. He takes her to an isolated mansion that is owned by Dr. Joseph Lewis (Jan Rubes) to supposedly finish the project by playing a character named Julie Rose, but slowly she realizes this is no movie at all, but instead an elaborate blackmail scheme. Her attempts at escape are futile due to a raging snowstorm outside forcing her to try and come up with a scheme of her own in order to turn-the-tables on her captors before it is too late.

This was director Arthur Penn’s second to last theatrical feature. He had been slumming through the 80’s with movies that never quite hit-the-mark and this one proves no exception. He makes a few attempts to liven it up with my favorite being when they drug Katie and then show things from her point-of-view where everyone talks in an extremely slow way like a tape player running at a very slow speed. There are a few other touches added including some obvious Hitchcock references, which I felt really weren’t needed. Overall though the film seems pretty slow at least through the first hour with only a minimum of tension.

Part of the problem is the casting of the bad guys. While I like the novelty of two elderly men cast as the villains it really doesn’t work overall. Rubes whose character is bound to a wheelchair and speaks in a heavy Czechoslovakian accent seems almost like a cuddly grandfather for most of the way. McDowell has too much of a small frame to be intimidating and there is never any gun or other weapon used against her making me believe that since she was much younger than both of them that had she acted even slightly more aggressively than she does she probably could have overpowered them.

The characters also act pretty stupid at points. Katie goes to this very isolated place, but then when she finally is able to call the police doesn’t have the simple fortitude to know what the name of the nearest town is. She also becomes very aware that these guys are up to no good and even lets them know it only to foolishly take some hot chocolate that they serve her, which not so surprisingly is laced with a sleeping drug.  The bad guys also act dumb by disposing of her driver’s license by sloppily throwing it into the fireplace and then make no attempts to keep her away from it were she eventually spots it.

The wintry atmosphere by-and-large is well handled as cinematographer Jan Weincke deftly captures the gray unrelenting bleakness of the season. It was filmed on-location in Ontario, Canada and there is actual snow on the ground, but the snowstorm itself is fake using artificial snowflakes that they blow in front of the camera that doesn’t look quite right when compared to a real storm.

Things spice up during the final half-hour and features a few interesting twists. However the Rubes character who was stuck in a wheelchair for the entire duration of the film suddenly becomes amazingly agile and nimble using only a fireplace poker to pull himself from the chair and then uses it to balance himself as he chases Katie all around the place and even manages to somehow push himself up a long and winding staircase, which became a bit farfetched. It got to the point where I felt the writers shouldn’t have even bothered to make the character paralyzed in the first place if they were just going to completely sell-out on the concept at the end.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 6, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated R

Director: Arthur Penn

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

One response to “Dead of Winter (1987)

  1. Pingback: Curtains (1983) | Scopophilia

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s