Dead of Winter

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Dead of Winter
Dead of winter poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Arthur Penn
Produced by John Bloomgarden
Marc Shmuger
Written by Marc Shmuger
Mark Malone
Music by Richard Einhorn
Cinematography Jan Weincke
Edited by Rick Shaine
Distributed by MGM Entertainment Co.
United Artists
Release date
  • January 1987 (1987-01) (Avoriaz)
  • February 6, 1987 (1987-02-06) (United States)
Running time
100 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $2,413,427 (USA)

Dead of Winter is a 1987 American horror thriller film, directed by Arthur Penn and starring Mary Steenburgen, who plays three roles. It is a loose remake of the 1945 film My Name Is Julia Ross.


On a snowy night, a woman enters a train station on New Year's Eve to retrieve a satchel full of cash, from a coin-operated storage locker. Later that night, she drives into an empty parking lot, and exits the car to place a call. As she anxiously smokes, she makes a phone call, and tells the other party she will wait only a few more minutes. After she gets back in her car, a man is seen in the rear-view mirror, in the backseat, unbeknownst to her. When she catches sight of him, she is strangled, and her left ring finger is removed.

In New York City, struggling actress Katie McGovern (Mary Steenburgen) lives in a cramped apartment, with her out-of-work photographer husband, Rob Sweeney (William Russ). Her visiting brother, Roland (Mark Malone), makes the small space even more confining. The couple's behind on rent and other bills, so, Katie feels the pinch to get an acting job which will help them, financially.

Looking through a list of casting calls, Katie circles one: a vaguely-worded description for a lead actress, who must be available immediately, and willing to travel. At the open-call audition, in a room full of other women aspiring for the job, Katie is called in to be interviewed by a Mr. Murray (Roddy McDowall), who hires her immediately.

The pair drive upstate into the midst of a raging snow storm. When they arrive at the secluded home of Dr. Joseph Lewis[1] (Jan Rubeš), he graciously welcomes her. Dr. Lewis is a paraplegic, confined to a wheelchair. He gives her a cursory tour of the house, which features a number of trophies from his hunting days, including 2 massive, stuffed polar bears. Katie asks to use the phone to call Rob, but finds it has no dial tone. Dr. Lewis surmises the storm must have downed the lines, and Mr. Murray would drive her into town in the morning to make her call, if necessary.

Dr. Lewis explains that Katie has been hired to replace Julie Rose, an actress who had a nervous breakdown during a film shoot, and was picked due to her physical resemblance, as the plan is to still utilise the footage shot by Julie, with new footage of Katie.

When Katie sees pictures of Julie Rose, she is stunned by the resemblance, exclaiming, "I could be her sister!" Dr. Lewis (who is professionally retired from his field, and now is an investor in this independent film), says a test-reel on videotape will be shot tomorrow, which the director will view when he arrives.

The following day, Mr. Murray tries to drive Katie into town to make her phone call, but his car will not start. Mr. Murray cuts and dyes Katie's hair to match the photos of Julie. Asked how they met, Mr. Murray explains that Dr. Lewis was his psychiatrist. The shoot goes well. Katie's lines all seem to eerily describe the attack seen at the film's beginning.

Mr. Murray sneaks out and reconnects the car's ignition. He drives to a house, where a woman, whose face is never shown, watches him from her upstairs window. Mr. Murray slips the videotape through the mail slot. The unseen woman sits down, facing a screen, and watches the video of Katie. After the test footage ends, Dr. Lewis appears on the video to tell the anonymous woman-viewer they need to meet, and he will contact her soon.

The next morning, Katie finds a notebook with Polaroids of Julie's corpse. Horrified, she confronts Dr. Lewis, who explains that Julie's breakdown ended with her suicide. In the parlour, Katie's startled by a pop in the fireplace, where she sees her driver's license burning. Unable to retrieve it, she rushes to her room and finds all of her ID is missing from her wallet. Katie flees the house without a coat. The weather is so ferocious, she ends up crawling to the top of a hill where, to her horror, she looks up to see Mr. Murray, who tells her Dr. Lewis is worried, and is waiting for her.

Back at the house, Dr. Lewis pretends her imagination is running wild. Katie realizes that Mr. Murray has drugged her hot chocolate. In her room, she barricades the door with furniture before she passes out. As she sleeps, Mr. Murray enters her room from behind a full-length mirror. Katie wakes up in a fresh sleeping gown with a bandaged hand. She peels off the bandages to find her left ring finger has been removed, and screams in horror.

Her barricade undisturbed, Katie quickly finds the secret door and a staircase to the attic, which has a working phone. She calls Rob and explains that they are going to kill her. Rob asks where she is, but Katie can only remember vague landmarks about the drive upstate. Rob orders her to call the police, which she does. As she collapses, she sees the body of Julie Rose. Mr. Murray arrives and rips the handset off the phone, taking her back downstairs to Dr. Lewis.

As Dr. Lewis redresses her finger, he explains that Julie was involved in a vicious family feud with her sister, Evelyn. As a radical therapy, Dr. Lewis had convinced her to blackmail her sister, theorizing that it would help her achieve a catharsis. He was pleased with Julie's progress, but did not expect Evelyn to kill her, ordering the hit man to take her finger as proof.

During his explanation, the police arrive. Katie is confused from a sedative and Dr. Lewis claims that she is his patient, so the police leave without much of an investigation. Meanwhile, Rob and Roland have begun to drive upstate, using the handful of clues they have to try to locate Katie.

Katie wakes to find Evelyn standing over her. Dr. Lewis offers her as proof that Julie is still alive, to continue the blackmail. Katie fakes an escape attempt, luring Dr. Lewis and Mr. Murray out of the house. She pleads with Evelyn to help her escape, but Evelyn is convinced that she is really Julie and attacks her. Katie kills Evelyn and poses as her to try to escape.

Mr. Murray realizes the ruse, but Katie stabs him in the neck. Dr. Lewis is also not fooled by the disguise and lunges at Katie from his wheelchair. Using a fire poker as a crutch, he follows her upstairs and eventually into the attic, where Katie manages to kill him. Rob and Roland arrive with the police, having convinced them to revisit the house.



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 Penn, began directing, but soon ran into difficulties. Producer John Bloomgarden took over directing in the interim. Studio executive Alan Ladd, Jr. asked Arthur Penn, who had initially brought the project to the studio's attention, to direct. Penn reluctantly agreed.[2]

Dead of Winter was filmed on location in Ontario, Canada.


Critical response[edit]

Dead of Winter has an 82% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.[3] In Janet Maslin's review for The New York Times, she wrote, "When a director approaches Gothic horror with this much enthusiasm, the results are bound to be as merry as they are frightening. So audiences for Arthur Penn's Dead of Winter are in for a hair-raising treat."[4] Roger Ebert gave the film two and a half our of four, and concluded that, "The movie itself is finally just an exercise in silliness – great effort to little avail – but the actors have fun with it, the sets work and there are one or two moments with perfect surprises."[5]

Writing for The Washington Post, Paul Attanasio stated that Steenburgen "manages with élan an assignment that has her playing three parts". He faulted the lengthy build-up to the final confrontation, specifying, "An hour's worth of exposition is a long wait, and if the payoff isn't quite worth it, it is fun. After nine yards of soggy oatmeal, you're reintroduced to the pleasures of an old-fashioned haunted house."[6] The staff review of the film in Variety found Rubeš to be lacking as the villain, writing, "Steenburgen and McDowall are the adversaries to follow, even though it would seem more likely that the wheel-chair bound doctor (Jan Rubeš) should be the one to watch. Rubeš is simply not sinister enough to be the mastermind behind this scheme."[7]


  1. ^ Character's name is homage to the director of the source material
  2. ^ Nat Segaloff (2011). Arthur Penn: American Director. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 9780813129815.
  3. ^ Dead of Winter at Rotten Tomatoes
  4. ^ Maslin, Janet (February 6, 1987). 'Dead of Winter' A Gothic Horror Tale', The New York Times.
  5. ^ Ebert, Roger (February 6, 1987). Dead of Winter.
  6. ^ Attanasio, Paul (February 6, 1987). "Dead of Winter" The Washington Post.
  7. ^ Staff (December 31, 1986) "Dead of Winter" Variety.

External links[edit]