Dead of Winter (1987)
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Dead of Winter (1987)

Certain movies seem to follow you throughout your life. After you initially, encounter these movies they manage to resurface every few years or so. One of the films on my list of these movies is a 1987 film directed by Arthur Penn, ‘Dead of Winter.' Which fundamentally was a horror movie woven throughout with strong influences of a psychological thriller? The top built stars were naturally at a higher level of audience recognition than they would be today, Mary Steenburgen and Roddy McDowall. Affording this movie a distinctive aura of timelessness was derived from the strength of the performances, a solid script, and direction by one of Hollywood’s legends. Those of you who have noted the director's surname, yes, he is related to Sean Penn, he was his father. After watching this in the theater subsequently recorded while channel surfing on cable is eventually adding the VHS tape and subsequently the DVD to my burgeoning collection. The reason to consider this film after so many years is that it has become part of the growing trend of remastering cinephiles’ favorites into high definition for a Blu-ray release. I have had a discussion with some young people were in the process of building their movie library. Some may argue that there is little reason to repurchase some of these older films on Blu-ray. I couldn’t disagree more adamantly. A significant number of Hollywood movies you 35mm film as the preferred medium of the filmmaker. The amount of detail captured in each frame of this film is highly conducive to provide the necessary detail and resolution to deliver a near flawless than 1080p video. It is possible to catch a myriad of details that you undoubtedly missed on any of the technically lesser formats cited above. Watching this movie on a Blu-ray disc was showcased with a modern layer, HDTV audio provided by home theater receiver capable of producing distinct multichannel sound. I’ve seen this movie the times it watching this new release was in many raising more exciting experience provided in that dark movie theater 30 years ago.

To help establish the psychological thriller as a part of the horror genre the opening is constructed as a teaser frequently used to plant some images in the minds of the audience that would become important later on. In this instance you see a woman driving to a train station on New Year’s Eve. She retrieves a small suitcase that is revealed to contain the considerable amount of cash. She will not have a chance during the New Year to enjoy such a tidy sum, later that night she found herself strangled, and her ring finger amputated. The focus of the film slides into the current year. Katie McGovern (Mary Steenburgen) is a struggling actress living in New York City with a husband Rob Sweeney (William Russ). At the moment her brother is staying with them for a visit. Like many performers who are determined to break into their craft, Katie routinely scours the papers and magazines prominent in the entertainment industry. He notices an advertisement for one open casting call and immediately goes to try out. Much of surprise and delight Katie hired on the spot by the man managing your additions, Mr. Murray (Roddy McDowall). Those who are not familiar with his work that eschews the requirement of transforming into a chimpanzee, Mr. McDowell had been considered one of the most sought after character actors who occasionally had the opportunity to be the leading man. This film showcased one of the many archetypes that he excelled in performing, the meticulous mid-management executive or majordomo service to a powerful man. He was able to perfectly combine a façade of almost my friendliness with the distinctive undercurrents of a man who was mercilessly efficient.

Mr. Murray explains that the final approval before assuming the role in the production is dependent on his employer. Despite the employment rather Mr. Murray insists that that meeting takes place immediately. Understandably, many in the audience might think why a young woman would travel out into a dark and stormy night with a man she spent less than an hour ago? If this question lingers for in your mind more than a few minutes that I am quite certain that you have never been desperate to find work overcome the harsh articles to achieving your life’s goal. I order to make sense of the film; it is advantageous to place yourself Katie’s mindset as someone so entranced by the opportunity presented that she can only think of the fame and glory that inevitably this opportunity would bring. The idea of careening off into the night with a stranger to a remote mansion becomes inconsequential. This is a necessary process promote horror films, but I do feel that credit goes to the screenwriters, Marc Shmuger and Mark Malone for providing at least a modicum of the rationale for the behavior. Mr. Murray brought Katie to a remote upstate, the location of the screen test and the approval of the producer of the film, wheelchair-bound Dr. Joseph Lewis (Jan Rubeš), was a psychiatrist entering the field of filmmaking. Katie’s husband understandably was filled with significant trepidation about his wife’s decision, but he was reluctant about standing in the way of his wife’s ambition and Mr. Murray so reassuringly affable and convincing that he assuaged his doubts.

Dr. Lewis explains to Katie that the reason behind needing to rush the process to such a degree that Katie was replacing was a diva (and the streams of unreasonable demands stormed off the set and a huff. Because scenes of the film had been shot already, Mr. Murray explained to Katie that she would have to undergo a bit of a makeover for sure that she looks as close to the first actress as possible. She tries to call the husband to check in but is unable to get a dial tone, which is blamed on the storm bringing down phone lines. At the time that this movie’s production was at a time when there is a greater simplicity in crafting the isolation so crucial for most psychological thrillers and horror films. This is a simpler time more straightforward technology. Isolation was achievable by cutting a few wires and made clear to the audience by the lack of a dial tone. In more current stories some contrivance must be done as to why cell phone will not work leading either to the statement "I’m not getting any bars" or "my batteries are dead."

One aspect of the situation that dotted the audience more Katie seems to appreciate that for a ‘feature film ‘there is a distinct lack of any supporting crew. Mr. Murray demonstrated expertise in such an eclectic range of functions as hair and makeup to lighting and camera work. One connection to reality situation like this is that in an independent movie is not uncommon for individuals to assume a plethora of roles in the production. The importance of this observation within the context of the story is that it trims down the cast of the bare essentials. As noted, isolation is critical to creating and maintaining a pervasive sense of isolation in the prospective victim. Having Katie confined to a mansion in upstate New York during a blizzard is an ideal and organic way of cutting off any possible systems. The only people in the house with Katie are the ubiquitous Mr. Murray and mysterious Dr. Lewis.

There is a distinct possibility that you will find yourself second-guessing every plot point, surrounded by the feeling that you know everything that is about to happen. Truthfully, this is applicable for many examples of these genres, but it is vital to keep in mind that a movie such as this is not the destination but the journey. Mr. Penn handles the telling of the story expertise and care. Arthur Penn has been sharpening his impressive skill since the early 50s having been instrumental in the early days of television haven’t been involved with such groundbreaking program as ‘Playhouse 90’ and ‘Goodyear Playhouse.' His contribution to cinema is even more impressive having held such iconic movies as ‘The Miracle Worker,' ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ and ‘Little Big Man.' Although this movie is not able to provide an optimal showcase for such astonishing talent, Mr. Penn’s indisputable stamp is obvious in the pervasive style of this movie. The pacing manages to captivate the attention of the audience firmly holding it in place as a suspended simmers also be reaching the boiling point at the film’s conclusion.

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Posted 01/10/2017

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