Dead Cold (1995): Murder, He Wrote

Dave revisits one of his favourite films of the ’90s video store era.

“I’m glad you like Dead Cold,” declares Richard Brandes. “You know why? Because it’s one of my favourites, and Pierre David has told me that it’s one of his favourite films as well.”

You can take or leave my love for DEAD COLD. But the seal of approval from Martial Law (1990) scribe Brandes and Canadian producer extraordinaire David? Well, that level of praise can’t be ignored – even if that’s exactly what’s happened to this tense three-hander over the last quarter of a century.

Kurt Anderson had been working closely with Brandes since the late ‘80s, collaborating on functional fodder like Party Line (1988) and The Banker (1989), as well as the excellent Mission of Justice (1992) with Jeff Wincott. Dead Cold, however, provided a great opportunity for one half of this productive pair to assume a new role, as Brandes explains:

“I produced it and shot second unit, but it was the ideal film for Kurt to direct, mainly because the project had evolved from a short synopsis that he had co-written. Pierre expressed interest in coming aboard as executive producer based on the outline, which incidentally was a jumping on point for me, and I developed the story further from there, coming up with one of the big moments in the picture.”

The moment that Brandes is referring to is certainly enough reason to avoid what few other reviews there are for this movie. They’re liberally laced with spoilers, which is a shame as Brandes’ truly unexpected pivot adds to an already gripping tale. In it, Hollywood screenwriter Eric (a never better Chris Mulkey) is left fighting for his life in the wake of a carjacking at his Los Angeles home. Thankfully, his wife, Alicia (Lysette Anthony), is on hand to administer some immediate assistance – and after four months of recuperation, he’s well enough to whisk his other half away for a week in the snowbound wilderness. It’s a serene spot for a snatched vacation – but it’s swiftly interrupted by the arrival of the mysterious Kale (Peter Dobson), a hunter who’s been caught out by the bad weather, and who seems intent on causing consternation between Eric and Alicia…

“Both of them have to die!” screams an agitated Eric. “You just don’t get it do you? Pah! They have no respect for screenwriters.”

As well as its obvious Hitchcockian tropes, Dead Cold offers a series of in-joke-y winks to the camera throughout its running time, with echoes of Brandes’ own life dovetailing with his and Anderson’s thriller template.

“I definitely related to Eric’s need to get away from the city,” muses the writer. “A few years prior to shooting the film, I had actually bought a cabin in the mountains near our location at Big Bear Lake to do just that. I was spending most of my time there too, so that certainly inspired me, while Eric’s struggle with producers on the script he’s writing is certainly something I could sympathise with!”

Whether it’s down to his stimulus or the ideal union of well-suited themes, Brandes and Anderson struck gold with this tightly woven knuckle-whitener. The script is the star and defined by its subtleties – a coy look here, a questioning glance there – and Dead Cold‘s ensemble deliver it admirably. Mulkey’s ability should have seen him cast as a lead more often, Anthony is on fire, and Dobson comes across like a young Martin Sheen, harnessing a barely contained ferocity.

Brandes’ attention to detail is razor sharp too. He crafts weighty characters from minor roles, like caretaker Bill Butler (Michael Champion). “Do you want me to take you back to your cabin?” he asks an ostensibly lost Alicia. “Well, I’d rather take you back there now, than come out later and help look for your body.” A seemingly throwaway exchange, yet it’s a line that amplifies the perilous situation that both Alicia and Eric find themselves in: whether it’s the elements or Kale, they’re trapped every way you slice it.

The perfect storm and a near perfect movie.

USA ● 1995 ● Thriller ● 91mins

Chris Mulkey, Lysette Anthony, Peter Dobson ● Dir. Kurt Anderson ● Wri. Richard Brandes, story by Kurt Anderson and Richard Brandes

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