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DEAD OF WINTER ($15) is a somewhat underrated old style thriller in the vein of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. Actually, this Arthur Penn directed thriller quotes Hitchcock quite liberally and fans of the Master of Suspense will find those particular moments to be good fun. Additionally, director Penn makes great use of the filmís claustrophobic setting to reinforce the central characterís isolation and inability to escape her plight. DEAD OF WINTER also showcases the talents of actress Mary Steenburgen, who handles every twist and turn of the convoluted plot with aplomb.


In DEAD OF WINTER, Steenburgen portrays struggling New York actress Katie McGovern, who travels upstate in the midst of a snowstorm to screen test for a small independent film. Katie is informed by the filmís producer Dr. Lewis (Jan Rubes) and his associate Mr. Murray (Roddy McDowall) that she has been given this opportunity because she is a dead ringer for another actress, who walked off the film in mid-production. However, Katie soon discovers that the offer of a movie role was just a pretense to get her up to an isolated house in the country, and that she has become a pawn in a very deadly game of cat and mouse. The cast of DEAD OF WINTER also includes William Russ, Ken Pogue, Wayne Robson and Mark Malone.

MGM Home Entertainment has made DEAD OF WINTER in a 1.85:1 wide screen presentation that has NOT been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays and a full screen version other side of the disc. In this day and age, I find it inconceivable that a major studio would release any wide screen film on DVD without the benefit of the 16:9 enhancement, but that is just what MGM has done. On an ordinary 4:3 television, DEAD OF WINTER looks quite respectable, but when one is forced to digitally "blow up" the image to accommodate a 16:9 display, there are a number of problems. In particular, the picture becomes somewhat soft, plus existing flaws in the film elements become exaggerated and some digital artifacts are introduced. Still, the wide screen version of the movie remains entirely watchable in this mode, although it could have looked much better had it been given an enhanced transfer.

Owing to the fact that DEAD OF WINTER was a modestly budgeted film from 1987, there are some limitations in the filmís cinematography that havenít been overcome in the transfer to video. Much of the film displays a rather noticeable grain structure, especially the darker scenes, which can be excessively grainy. Additionally, there are occasional nicks and minor speckles on the source element. Colors have a fairly natural level of saturation, although there are sequences that are on muted side, which does serve to enhance the film's wintry atmosphere. Blacks are accurately rendered, whites appear clean and contrast is generally good. Digital compression artifacts rarely make their presence known during the presentation.

DEAD OF WINTER comes with a Dolby Digital 2.0 channel soundtrack that decodes to standard surround. The sound mix isnít particularly directional; in fact, it was almost totally bereft of directional effects. Surround usage is pretty much limited to atmospheric effects and musical fill. Dialogue is crisp and always completely understandable. French and Spanish language tracks are also encoded onto the DVD, as are English, French and Spanish subtitles. The basic interactive menus provide access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a theatrical trailer.


DEAD OF WINTER is a really entertaining little thriller that deserves to be seen for its suspenseful twists and turns, as well as Mary Steenburgenís terrific performance. Considering that the wide screen presentation isnít enhanced for 16:9 playback, MGMís DVD rates as rather lackluster. Personally, I think DEAD OF WINTER deserves better treatment- a new 16:9 enhanced transfer and a Mary Steenburgen audio commentary would certainly be more than welcome.



Dead of Winter (1987)


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2002 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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