Dead of Winter – Canada, 1987 – overview and reviews

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Dead of Winter is a 1987 American thriller feature film directed by Arthur Penn. It is a loose remake of the 1945 film My Name Is Julia Ross. The movie stars Mary Steenburgen, who plays three roles, Roddy McDowall (It!) and Jan Rubeš.

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Struggling actress Katie McGovern (Mary Steenburgen) is made to believe she has landed an audition for a role replacing an actress with a similar appearance. To record the requested audition tape she is taken to an isolated mansion where she is given the part.

Soon, Katie begins to realise that there is something much darker than filmmaking going on. She is held hostage by the disabled Doctor Joseph Lewis (Jan Rubes) and his assistant (Roddy McDowall) and becomes involved in their plot with a ferocious woman, whose recently murdered sister looked very like Katie…


Despite the credits, Arthur Penn was not the film’s original director. Co-writer Marc Shmuger — a classmate and friend of Penn’s son Matthew — began directing but soon ran into difficulties. Producer John Bloomgarden took over directing in the interim. Studio executive Alan Ladd, Jr. asked Penn — who had brought the project to the studio’s attention — to direct. Penn reluctantly agreed.

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Reviews [click links to read more]:

“Thriller plots are born to be 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.”


“It was clear from the start there was something off with the film, but it maintained a decent mediocrity –combined with Penn’s bewildering direction – until the last twenty-five minutes or so. Then it just got worse and worse.” The Stop Button


“As the story unfolded, I noticed certain elements that seemed a little wrong, a little inconsistent with the premise as set up in the initial scenes… and, in fact, these were clues for the attentive viewer that all is not as it seems. Toward the end, Dead of Winter does follow a somewhat more typical thriller development, but the elements of the story are well-thought-out; the film retains its own flavor and its believability all the way to the end.” DVD Talk

Filming locations:

Ontario, Canada


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