Dead of Winter (1987)


A struggling actress (Mary Steenburgen, Melvin and Howard) is asked to do a screen test at an isolated mansion, but this isn’t what it looks like.

Reaction & Thoughts:

From filmmaker Arthur Penn, the man behind such well-regarded classics The Miracle Worker (1962) and Bonnie and Clyde (1967), comes this irresistibly daffy thriller — Dead of Winter is low on logic, but high on amusingly goofy plot twists.

This is a loose remake of Joseph H. Lewis’s nifty B-movie My Name Is Julia Ross (1945). Dead of Winter has very little in common with the 1940s film — it’s a completely different story — and while Lewis’s movie is much better than Penn’s, the original isn’t half as entertaining as the remake.

Does that make any sense? Let me explain. This is one of those movies that falls under the category of “so silly, it’s good.” The script — by Marc Shmuger and Mark Malone — has more plot holes than I was able to count. Dead of Winter becomes more and more implausible with each passing scene.

 I didn’t buy a single moment in the film and yet I was entertained all the same. Dead of Winter is an absurd, (unintentionally?) hilarious, campy thriller that has always managed to tickle me to death! Director Penn’s polished direction and the excellent work of the actors help you suspend disbelief.

Mary Steenburgen has a field day — she plays three different roles. Because Steenburgen isn’t the kind of actor you expect to see ham it up, I was kind of mesmerized by her attempts to do what doesn’t come natural to her (Who the heck does she think she is? Bette Davis? Joan Crawford?). She’s a character actress who seizes a rare opportunity to do a star turn and that’s interesting in itself.

Steenburgen gets some fierce competition from her two main co-stars. Roddy McDowall (Planet of the Apes) and Jan Rubes (Witness) play the film’s villains and they are both excellent. McDowall, in particular, is a complete delight as he tries to create his own version of Norman Bates (!). All three actors are hell-bent on stealing scenes, so it is a lot of fun to see them all turn up the volume.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Dead of Winter is bad in a fun way. There is something appealing about a retro-thriller that throws common sense out of the window — the whole thing is deliciously bonkers! An ideal late night snack! Color, 97 minutes, Rated R.

9 responses to “Dead of Winter (1987)

  1. Saw this one at the theater at the time and that was because of Roddy McDowall’s participation. A good year for him I thought with a fun turn here and even more so in Fright Night. I still like this one as it’s just plain fun.

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  2. I’ve always been interested in checking this one out…that poster intrigued me when I first saw it back in ’87. Never knew about the Julia Ross connection, and definitely didn’t know it was off-the-wall fun! If I can find it, I’ll give it a look!

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  3. That poster is in very “In Cold Blood” style.
    Oh no way that very interesting to hear it’s remake, of sorts, of My Name Is Julia Ross. What a great little film that is.
    You got me very interested with the “so silly it’s good” tagline.
    Roddy McDowall is always good fun even when he’s just walking it.
    Yep I’m sold. Cheers EB I have added to the list and hope to see it one day and yes I will be ready to let the silliness flow over me.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I haven’t seen Dead Of Winter for the longest time since I first saw it on the movie channels. I can agree that it’s a good reminder of how fun even the most implausible thrillers can often be. When we cast a specifically popular actor as a villain like Roddy McDowall, whose talents for playing the villain have included playing the Devil on Fantasy Island, it’s an easy attraction and certainly pays off here.

    Liked by 2 people

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