Dead Winter (1987): Arthur Penn’s Horror Thriller, Starring Mary Steenburgen in Three Roles

Arthur Penn directed Dead Winter, a horror thriller, starring Mary Steenburgen in three different roles.

Grade: C+

Dead of Winter
Dead of winter poster.jpg

Theatrical release poster

Dead Winter is a loose remake of the 1945 film My Name Is Julia Ross, itself inspired by the 1941 novel “The Woman in Red.”

On New Year’s Eve, a woman retrieves a satchel of cash from a train station’s locker and drives into an empty parking lot. Once there, she calls someone and says on the phone that she will wait only a few more minutes. Back in her car, a man in the backseat strangles her and removes her left ring finger.

In New York City, struggling actress Katie McGovern lives in a cramped apartment with her unemployed husband, Rob Sweeney. The couple is behind on rent, and Katie tries to get acting job to help them financially.

At an audition, she is interviewed by Mr. Murray, who hires her immediately. The pair drive upstate into the midst of a snowstorm and arrive at the secluded home of Dr. Joseph Lewis, a wheelchair-bound paraplegic. Katie asks to use the phone to call Rob, but finds it has no dial tone.

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

Mr. Murray realizes the ruse, but Katie stabs him. Dr. Lewis is not fooled by the disguise and chases Katie into the attic, where she kills him.

In the end, Rob and Roland arrive with the police.

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

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

The movie is overplotted, often silly and lacking in credibility.  The first hour is slow, hampered by too much exposition, the build-up to the final confrontations take too long.

Furthermore, the villain is not sinister enough to be the mastermind behind such elaborate schemes.

Mary Steenburgen as Julie Rose / Katie McGovern / Evelyn
Roddy McDowall as Mr. Murray
Jan Rubeš as Dr. Joseph Lewis
William Russ as Rob Sweeney
Ken Pogue as Officer Mullavy
Wayne Robson as Officer Huntley
Mark Malone as Roland McGovern
Michael Copeman as Highway Patrolman
Sam Malkin as Gas Jock
Pamela Moller as Woman at audition
Dwayne McLean as Killer
Paul Welsh as New Year’s Eve reveler


Directed by Arthur Penn
Written by Marc Shmuger, Mark Malone
Produced by John Bloomgarden, Shmuger
Cinematography Jan Weincke
Edited by Rick Shaine
Music by Richard Einhorn

Production: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Distributed by MGM Entertainment Co.

Release dates: February 6, 1987 (US)

Running time: 101 minutes
Box office $2.4 million