Reviewed by: JimmyO
What's it about
Years ago, Nick Kegan's brother, the President of the United States, was assassinated. It seemed to be an open and shut case, until Nick hears a confession from who may possibly be the real killer. A conspiracy is born, and as he tries to find the truth, everyone that he comes in contact with seems to end up dead.
Is it good movie?
When Oliver Stone made JFK, there was already speculation in regards to another gunman involved in the killing of President Kennedy back on November 22, 1963. There were many theories and even with the release of that film, there was controversy. So imagine a book that takes a fictional President Kegan, assassinated many years before, and brings up new evidence in which it is revealed that there were conspiracies involved. Much of the novel gave blame to certain people which I will not mention here to avoid spoilers. But the film based on that novel, Winter Kills has a whole lot to say about this fictional president and who really killed him. And this was 1979 when the movie came out. Imagine the controversy when Kennedy’s death was still fairly fresh in people’s minds.
So what could have been a dark and brooding film about those who conspired to kill a President, ends up being an entertainingly odd satire on a similar theme. It starts with a confession of murder. When young Nick Kegan (Jeff Bridges) is witness to a dying man who claims that he shot Nick’s brother, who was the President of the United States, a whole lot of trouble begins to brew. He tells him about where the gun was kept all these years. He also gives his respects to the young man whose brother was killed. An interesting side note, the man who makes the confession in the film is played by none other than Joe Spinell from Maniac fame. It is a chilling confession and Joe pulls it off as only he could, especially since he is covered in bandages and you can only see his eyes. What a terrifically creepy performance. There are several moments throughout the film that keep reminding you that this is a thriller, but it is a smart one laced with black humor.
As for our man Jeff Bridges, he is superbly naïve here. He is the non-ambitious son of a father who grooms his children for the Presidency. I love the relationship between father and son. The legendary John Huston as “Pa” Kegan is a scene-stealing son of a bitch, that never speaks with his son, only at him… calling him “queer” on a couple of occasions. It is a terrific on-screen pairing and thankfully, Mr. Huston is funny as hell. Also giving a fantastic show is Anthony Perkins as John Cerruti. This guy was much more than just Norman Bates, he really was a powerful actor. And of course, William Richert who adapted the screenplay and directs, handles this material like a pro. He is able to really build the satirical elements, even with the bodies pile up. Yes, a bunch of folks bite the bullet as our hero gets closer to the truth.
I highly recommend this lost classic because it is a real testament to what a well told tale can do. This is a movie way ahead of it’s time. It is filled with sardonic humor and a unique visual style with the help of cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond. Upon it’s release, Winter Kills was treated like the red-headed step-child and quickly removed from theatres. It makes an ambitious political statement and raises controversial questions about the way politics run. I’ll admit, this is not a horror film, and it is not really the kind of film that usually gets reviewed on Arrow in the Head. But if you are interested in a captivating satire on an American tragedy, you can’t go wrong with the Kegans.
Video / Audio
Video: Anchor Bay/Starz gives us a beautiful 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen Transfer.
Audio: The sound is also pretty damn good with Dolby Digital 5.1.
This 2-disc edition of Winter Kills offers up a fairly hefty helping of special features considering the lack of love the flick was given before. This includes a Commentary with writer/director William Richert and it is fascinating. There is a whole lot of history here that he discusses, including stories about some his cast member including John Huston, Elizabeth Taylor, Sterling Hayden, Eli Wallach, Anthony Perkins and more. If you don’t know these names… look them up. This is a terrific look at a film that constantly ran out of money, yet still found its way to be made. I highly recommend this to any student of film.
Next up, on the second disc, we have a few Featurettes. This includes:
Who Killed Winter Kills? (37:55) This is another great look at the making of a motion picture financed by gangsters whose biggest film before this was Black Emmanuelle. There are interviews with Richert, Jeff Bridges and many more involved. It is an amazing thing that this film finally got made after being shut down and filing for bankruptcy. Seriously, they ran out of money and this thing was shut down three times. And still, you can now own it on DVD. Yeah, it’s a basic talking head documentary… but loaded with fun facts.
And you can’t have any more goodness than Reunion (9:03), an on-camera interview with Jeff Bridges and William Richert. Jeff has to be one of the coolest guys ever. I love this guy, I always have, always will. The two talk old times like they are having coffee with a friend. I want to hang out with these guys. It even gets a little romantic??? Funny stuff.
With Star Stories (7:31), you can hear all about Elizabeth Taylor, Sterling Hayden and more with fantastic stories about working with these legends. So much history here that it makes this second disc so much fun. William is a blast to listen to, and he has so many terrific stories that it makes this disc very worthy of purchase.
And finally, you get a Trailer which gives too much away, do not watch it before the film. And also several point your remote and click Still Galleries including “Production Stills”, “Behind-the-scenes”, “Deleted Scenes”, “Posters and Advertising” and finally “Original Production Art”. It finishes up with the Screenplay you can download onto your computer.
Winter Kills was so wrongly abused upon it’s initial release. This is a fascinating and wonderfully dark satire. It has an uncanny way of making a serious subject regarding the assassination of a President, but adding this little touch of oddness such as a lady on a bike who may or may not be some kind of angel. It also a fascinating glimpse into a Kennedy inspired family. And yes, it even adds a controversial relationship between the President and an actress (this little tidbit was inspired by Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe). There are so more colorful characters from legendary talents on display here. And luckily, even when Jeff Bridges was a young pup, he was still a phenomenal actor. Do yourself a favor and check out this underrated classic.