Had Dead of Winter (1987) not been widescreen I would've assumed it was made-for-tv. It's the kind of "thriller" decidedly shy of working up any thrills, in the manner of so many free-tv scarcely-thrillers.
The plot was absurd. Mary Steenburgen's character would've had to be mentally retarded & not from cynical New York to fall for the kidnapping scheme, which involves Roddy McDowell doing a quicky casting-call for a non-existent film, secretly seeking an identical twin for a dead woman, & randomly finding the twin right away. This was wholly preposterous.
Neither McDowell as henchman nor the feeble old psycho doctor (Jan Rubes) could terrorize a healthy-bodied woman, they both look & act like they're on their last legs, & much more likely to be buggering each other than harassing Steenburgen. There were any number of times she could've gotten away from these pathetic feebs, but she's just too stupid to do anything sensible to save herself.
When the best idea in a film is "girl runs up to the attic with madman in pursuit" you just know the film has no ideas at all.
Then there were technical problems like the bad looping which made all the dialog an unvarying monotone.
The three main players of the piece all seemed to wish they were in something else & put very little into these performances.
Steenbergen had the hardest task, so not suprising she failed to make much of a storyline that is praiseworthy for nothing beyond its preposterousness.
Not only does she have to pretend to be terrorized by a psycho feeb who could barely walk "chasing" her through the house, but she also had to have a duel with the crazy sister of the dead woman Steenburgan looks exactly like -- for all three women look exactly alike, saving lots of money on hiring a full cast. Plus she had to interact with a corpse of herself, one that was clearly made out of rubber. And she has to perform all this without making the viewer laugh. Fat chance of that!
I did enjoy the magic way McDowell's hand got permanently stuck to his neck when a steak knife pinned them together, & I liked seeing the oh-so-predictable use of the gigantic bear-trap that just happened to be laying about in the attic -- but that's because I get a kick out of stupid things happening in stupid films, not because any suspense resulted from things happening that couldn't've happened.
Arthur Penn's almost always a better director than this -- he directed The Miracle Worker (1962) & Bonnie & Clyde (1967) for crine outloud -- but this film is flat & artificial throughout. Penn must've needed the money & his talent wasn't seriously invested in this poor idea for a film, which refashions the mediocre story from My Name is Julia (1945) into something no less mediocre but a whole lot sillier.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl