Say hello to the ‘60s … in a film that came out in 1979. That—and the fact that it was released by Avco Embassy—probably has far more to do with the box-office failure of William Richert’s Winter Kills than any rumored vendetta against the film from the Kennedy family. (There is, however, a certain charm in the concept that a movie about conspiracy theories should have one of its own.) It’s simply a film outside its time. Even conceding that the ‘60s were a state of mind, it’s a state of mind that ended around 1975, so what place was there for this very odd movie that feels like a holdover from 1967? Imagine The President’s Analyst or Casino Royale (both 1967) played with straight faces, as if someone thought they could pass as real thrillers. That’s pretty much what you get with Winter Kills—the conspiracy-theory movie to end all conspiracy-thriller movies.
The story follows Nick Kegan (Jeff Bridges), a somewhat unsettled young man of limitless means, whose brother, U.S. President Timothy Kegan, was assassinated 19 years earlier. A mysterious associate of Nick’s (all his associates are mysterious), Keifitz (Richard Boone), brings him a dying man (Joe Spinnell), who confesses to being “one” of the men who killed his brother—an idea that flies in the face of the official story put forth in the Pickering Commission Report. Thing is, the dying man’s information about the location of his rifle checks out. But before anything can be done, everyone involved in finding the gun—everyone, that is, except Nick—is handily killed and the car containing them and the weapon spirited away.
This prompts Nick to call on his father (John Huston), an outspoken, cantankerous, libidinous old goat with more money than God, who’s kept going with periodic “blood exchanges” from Dartmouth students. In other words, it’s a role just right for Huston. The twists and turns are nonstop from this point, as are the mountains of bodies piling up. It all leads to a conclusion that’s easily as screwy as what the letters TPC mean in The President’s Analyst, or who Dr. Noah is in Casino Royale. As an absurdist take on conspiracy thrillers, it’s close to brilliant—assuming you get the joke, which audiences don’t seem to have in 1979. Looked at in hindsight, Winter Kills is at least a minor classic of spoofery, with a cast you’ll never see the likes of again.