Winter Kills (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Powerhouse Films
Review written by and copyright: Rick Curzon (29th December 2019).
The Film

Based on a novel by Richard Condon (The Manchurian Candidate), William Richertís brilliantly off-kilter conspiracy thriller features an all-star cast, including Jeff Bridges (Jagged Edge), John Huston (Breakout), Elizabeth Taylor (Secret Ceremony), Tomas Milian (The Last Movie), and many other famous faces. This dark vision of political corruption is presented in two cuts from a new 4K restoration.

Video

Nick Keegan (Jeff Bridges) is the brother of a president assassinated in 1960 who uncovers - bit by bit - a labyrinthian web of conspiracy behind the murder. Everyone he is led to in his amateur investigation (helped by his business magnate father - John Huston), turns up dead.

Interesting, good looking and with great production values ... which amounts to very little in one of most jarringly messy, prestigious films I've ever seen; big budget, star cast and crew, best selling novel source etc. The tone shifts from mildly slapstick to deadly serious with some bloody violence ... and a daft sex scene ... which bizarrely seems to have got this an 18! Were this to be re-certified it ought to be no more than a 15, surely? A troubled production that was mostly shot in 1977 but had additional material shot in '79 due to production woes.

Part of my problem is that the plot is labyrinthian and the characterisations shallow and confusing; Bridges doesn't seem terribly emotionally involved in the events and tragedies enough. He does his best, along with the rest of the cast, but the it just doesn't hang together as coherently as it needs to. I think multiple viewings will be needed to make sense of it all.

Potentially duff film (subjective) but what is totally objective is that Powerhouse Films have done a typically bang up job with this well appointed special edition. Both edits of the film are seamlessly branched with both the longer theatrical cut and the 1983 reissue version (apparently writer-director Richert's preferred edit) presented side by side on a home video format for the first time.

Shot by the great Vilmos Zsigmond this has a a rich, naturalistic look with strong colours and a warmer palette. Flesh tones are also pleasingly natural if occasionally pasty. There is a certain softness with some diffusion occasionally but it's well handled and graded without any gamma bias that I could detect. Reds are particularly well handled in some of the club flashback footage; flashbacks are more stylised when compared to the then-present day footage.

Black levels are nicely rendered with fine shadow detail with no signs of noise although given Zsigmond's style there are some moments of intended crush. The encode is typically strong and handles the grain field very well; grain is mostly very fine across brightly lit sequences, occasionally course in some of the darker under-lit moments. This is a filmic transfer with no splats or clumping.

Contrast varies but is mostly fairly low key; I saw no blown out highlights or the kind of boosting that could be prevalent on older standard definition transfers. This isn't quite as robust, almost but not quite, a master as most of others I've seen from Powerhouse Films but that's entirely down to the elements. Fine detail can vary but is mostly very strong. Taken from a new 4K master created by Studio Canal I can't see this being improved upon until an UHD Blu-ray is released and that's unlikely to happen.

1080/24p / MPEG-4 AVC / 2.35:1 / 96:35, 91:13

Audio

English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0
Subtitles: English HoH

The sound is a basic mono track but it's a fairly big budget, well resourced film. Base is good although obviously no LFE boost. Dialogue is crisp and clear, the score fairly low key and they don't conflict. About as good a restoration as we've seen for a mono track of the period and budget.

Subtitles are present for the hearing impaired.

Extras

Audio commentary with writer / director William Richert

Excellent commentary taken from the 2003 Anchor Bay DVD release (R1, USA). Covers everything you'd want to know about the film and works very well in concert with the other 2003 extras ported over (see below) and the newer material.

"Who Killed Winter Kills?" 2003 featurette (37:51)

Vintage piece from the 2003 Anchor Bay DVD that covers the controversial nature of the film, it's funding, its release, conspiracies behind its failure, the murder of one of the producers because he owed money to the Mafia and plenty of entertaining tales from the set mainly involving the veteran cast.

Contains interviews with Belinda Bauer (actor), Robert Boyle (production designer), Jeff Bridges (actor), William Richert (writer / director) and Vilmos Zsigmond (cinematographer).

"Things Happening in Secret: Glenn Kenny on the History and Legacy of Conspiracy Thrillers" 2019 featurette (30:56)

Meaty new HD pie e with journalist Kenny discussing conspiracy films, their allure to audiences and the history of such tales dating back to literature of the 19th century. Obviously Winter Kills author Richard Condon is covered in some depth along with his various books and the film adaptations.

"Reunion with William Richert and Jeff Bridges" 2003 featurette (9:07)

Another carryover from the Anchor Bay DVD that has a joint interview with both Bridges and Richert; it's more personal. Warmly nostalgic with the two bouncing off each other well; it's obvious they're mates.

"Star Stories with William Richert" 2003 featurette (7:39)

2003 interview material continues with Richert discussing his cast. Plenty of interest here with clips from the film and Richert narrating as well as appearing on camera.

Theatrical Trailer (3:18)

Theatrical trailer focussing on the more serious tonal aspects of the films and it's conspiracy and thriller elements. There may be alternate takes and deleted footage in the trailer; not entirely sure.

Trailers from Hell with Josh Olson on Winter Kills (3:31)

Screenwriter Olson waxes lyrical and enthusiastically about the film; makes me wish I liked the film more.

Radio Spot (0:34)

Evocative radio spot makes the film sound brilliant.

Winter Kills Image Gallery: Optional Promotional Material (65 images)

Solid HD image gallery.

36-page liner notes booklet by Anne Billson, archival accounts of the making of the film, Richert on Winter Kills, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and film credits

Essential booklet that - for me at least, along with the other extras - is the main draw here. Comprehensive and detailed, filled with interesting commentary on the film.

Packaging

Standard, clear BD case.

Overall

A strong transfer with full bodied sound and a terrific extras package that brings together legacy and new material. A strong release and a great start to 2020 for Powerhouse Films.

The Film: D+ Video: A Audio: A+ Extras: A+ Overall: A+

 


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