On a snowy, freezing cold night, a woman walks into St. Clair Avenue station and heads towards the line of lockers on the far wall. She walks past twin girls in blue, opens up locker 214 and a grabs a brown leather bag full of money. The audience never sees the woman’s face but her clothing – wide-brimmed hat, mackintosh – all with a splash of red hint at noir while the score screams giallo. Dead of Winter is one of those films that is hard to categorise; part drama, part slasher with a pinch of psychological thriller thrown. Wherever it lies one can, at the very least, argue that it is Arthur Penn’s (yes, that one) attempt at gothic horror.
Loosely based on the Joseph H. Lewis’ noir My Name is Julia Ross (1943), even using the director’s name for Jan Rubes’ character. It is a Freudian’s dream given the numerous nods; from the uncanny, doppelgänger, castrated man, psychologist – everything is to be read and is all, well, very obvious. Rubes’ performance is fairly monotonous, McDowell is a little over-the-top and mediocre; only Steenburgen has work to do and is fairly convincing as three different characters. She conveys a real fragility as Kate McGovern, the actress holed up in a mansion with the two men for a screen test.
There is some suspense to the film, however – while it is well-made – it is a largely televisual affair (even some curse-word dubbing still prevalent in this cut) with some real inexplicable moments which definitely throws up questions. An audience will never guess the outcome in a month of Sundays but by the time it wraps up it has bordered on the absurd and the payoff is not actually worth it.
The music, sound, and red motif are nice touches and certainly enhances Penn’s mise-en-scène, and the wintery backdrop serves the film well but it has a misjudged feel about the whole thing, like Penn has thrown everything cliché, motif and dodgy middling histrionic at it.