Dead of Winter (1987)
Reviewed on 2013 March 29
Twisting, clever story of an actress who thinks she’s landed the role of a lifetime, only to wind up in a nightmare.
The film opens with a blizzard and mayhem, in the wee small hours of New Year’s Day no less, that reminds us that our moms weren’t kidding when they said nothing good happens after midnight. After this we settle down to what appears to be bleak normalcy. Katie McGovern (Mary Steenburgen) is an aspiring actress who’s shoehorned into a tiny apartment with her sweet husband and visiting brother. Katie dreams of the job, the one that will land her steady work, and one day sees an ad in the paper.
She auditions, and is chosen on sight by a twitchy man, Mr. Murray (Roddy McDowall). Her husband has reservations, but Katie goes for the brass ring, and winds up at an enormous house owned by one Dr. Joseph Lewis (Jan Rubes), who assures her she’s exactly what they need to complete their movie. It seems the lead actress ran off after a nervous breakdown, and all she has to do is cut her hair to look like the other lady… dye her hair like the other lady… dress like the other lady…
Nope. This will not end well.
The trouble is that most people nowadays would have run out of there screaming after the first night. Time hasn’t been particularly kind to this movie: you can’t help but watch it through today’s eyes and catch yourself pondering things like wandering off without a cell phone, or the wisdom of going off with someone you barely know to The Big Creepy House™ in Upper East Snowstorm, NY. This was before Craigslist and the like and I had to keep reminding myself of that to get through it. Still, the script was never a dumb one — Katie was never dense like a lot of characters in the stuff made today; she just had the trust of people pre-Internet and pre-September 11 — and it smartened up even more at the end, with Steenburgen trying to fight on the level of these freaks. Anything that calls to mind an Agatha Christie yarn can’t be too bad a way to spend 90 minutes or so. The brutal winter only made it more effective.
With some reservations, three chocolate morsels.