BADass SINema Unearthed - Blu-ray Review
- Published Date
- by Loron Hays
Director Arthur Penn’s Dead of Winter is pretty much forgotten today, which makes its appearance on blu-ray – thanks to the efforts of Scream Factory – a real find for fans of old school chills and thrills.
The film – which is far too smart for its own good thanks to screenwriters Marc Shmuger and Mark Malone and their efforts to revitalize the classic mystery genre – is just dying to be rediscovered by appreciative audiences who know just what lens to see this one through. The shadows that stretch through it harken back to another era of filmmaking in which mysteries reigned supreme and motives weren’t questioned until it was far too late.
Go ahead and throw common sense out the window before pressing play on Dead of Winter. You definitely won’t need it. Just sit back and get wrapped up the deadly and twisted narrative about one aspiring actresses’ performance of a lifetime.
One of the most interesting shots in this throwback murder mystery involves a very frightened would-be actress named Katie McGovern (Mary Steenburgen) desperately crawling through snow as she makes her escape from the psychologist-producer (REALLY?!) who has kept her secluded from all things sane while filming what she’s been told is a very important role. The camera suddenly zooms in as she climbs the top of the steep hill and reaches out for support. The urgency in the movement is shocking. We quickly focus our eyes and discover that her hand has wrapped around the ankle of her pursuer instead. Shit.
It is then that she learns there will be no easy escape from the two men who once so graciously welcomed into their shared home.
How she got into this predicament is where the combined work of Shmuger and Malone come into play. After discovering Kate at a casting call, Mr. Murray (played by the late and GREAT Roddy McDowall) practically falls all over himself trying to convince her to come to the isolated home of Dr. Joseph Lewis (a VERY intimidating Jan Rubes), where their all-important movie is being filmed. She’s perfect for it; absolutely perfect. And, yes, the resemblance between her and the actress they are trying to replace is striking. Too striking.
She just has to give up certain things…like her freedom and her friends. But the part pays well. It could also launch her career. What she doesn’t know are the reasons why she’s perfect for the role. She soon will. And it just might kill her.
Rubes, who is oh so very scary and imposing even from the seat of his wheelchair, is a roaring force throughout the movie – even if he appears barely interested in his surroundings – hiss performance echoes throughout the house he’s essentially trapped within. There’s a game of chess he barely plays with Mr. Murray; recipes he absentmindedly samples; and a player piano that begins to play whenever his heart rate accelerates. There isn’t anything he doesn’t control.
McDowall, who is an absolute king at being both kind and creepy, is just the kind of assistant any madman requires. Thankfully, McDowall knows exactly the right note to strike regardless of the scene. He knows the attitude the script requires in order for his contributions to be successful and is both comical and creepy when called upon. Steenburgen plays THREE roles. Yes, three – which is part of the mystery – and she, too, has the chops to sell the events of the movie to even the stingiest of horror hounds.
This is a quietly intense film. Dead of Winter is also a lot of fun to just go along with once you recognize that its aim is for something quite different than the rest of 1987. It seems to want to resurrect the film style 40 years gone from its birth year. And I don’t mind that at all.
MPAA Rating: R.
Runtime: 100 mins
Director: Arthur Penn
Writer: Marc Shmuger, Mark Malone
Cast: Mary Steenburgen, Roddy McDowall, Jan Rubes
Genre: Horror |Thriller
Tagline: Spine-tingling suspense.
Memorable Movie Quote: "There is no 311 area code."
Theatrical Distributor: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release Date: November 16, 1976
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: January 10, 2017
Synopsis: A fledgling actress is lured to a remote mansion for a screen-test, soon discovering she is actually a prisoner in the middle of a blackmail plot.
Home Video Distributor: Scream Factory
Available on Blu-ray - January 10, 2017
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Subtitles: English SDH
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; Single disc
Region Encoding: Region A
Brought back to life by Scream Factory, Dead of Winter and its deep, dark shadows is presented on 1080p with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The details inside the house are fantastic and the costume changes – which are good for keeping track of the many different roles Steenburgen are absolutely fabulous. Walls are also rich with layers. The atmosphere is made especially eerie with think shadows that hold their edges and a nice depth. Outside of the house, there is a crispness to the property and – as individual flakes are noticeable – a clarity that has long been missing from the print. The sound is presented in a 2.0 stereo mix.
For Scream Factory, this is kind of a bare-boned release. While there is a NEW interview with Steenburgen, she spends a large portion of it talking about her career and how she goes about her skill in performing while apologizing for not remembering a lot of the actual shoot as she was raising her children during the day AND filming the movie. She does have wonderful things to say about the movie and its cast, but doesn’t really go into details that much about the shooting of the movie.
- Interview with Actress Mary Steenburgen
- Original Theatrical Trailer
- TV Spots
- Still Gallery