Director: Bob Clark
Stars: John Marley, Lynn Carlin, Richard Backus
By Brian M. Sammons
The late, great Bob Clark is one of the most varied and talented directors that most people don’t know of. I’m talking about the normies here, not us horror fans. For us he gave what some think John Carpenter would…er… “homage” a few years later with Halloween. I am of course talking about the amazing Christmas chiller, Black Christmas. He gave us the family classic, a completely different kind of Christmas movie, and perhaps the only Christmas film I can watch every year without getting sick of it, A Christmas Story. When I was a youngin’, he fed my developing libido with Porky’s I & II. Then he did Baby Geniuses…okay, not everything he did was great, but it is undeniable that some of his films are out-and-out classics. But what about this one? A weird little supernatural bit of horror early in his career, set at the end of the Vietnam War and one of the first movies to really tackle it? I am talking about Deathdream, AKA Dead of Night. So without further ado, let’s jump into this one and find out.
A family in Florida gets the sad news one night that their son, Andy, died in the Vietnam War. Later that night, while they are sleeping, Andy nevertheless comes home. What they take as a happy army mix up, they soon learn might be true despite their son walking and talking in their home. Well, kind of talking. See, Andy has come home wrong. He talks little, eats little, isn’t happy to see his old friends or even his girlfriend. What you could take for PTSD turns out to be much worse once bodies start piling up. What exactly is wrong with Andy and what will his family do about it?
Deathdream is an eerie, unsettling movie. Ostensibly it is often called a zombie movie, but even though it has the undead in it, that definition doesn’t exactly fit right with this film. It’s not a gut-munch-athon, it’s creepy and weird and just gets under your skin like a low-budget but weird movie from the early 70s can. It’s a movie that’s hard to pigeon hole. Why does Andy come back? He’s not a ghost, despite him showing up at home a couple thousand miles away from where he died. He’s not a vampire, despite a thirst for blood. And as hinted at before, I don’t think he’s a zombie. He’s a face of war that has returned home and will no longer be ignored by those on the home front. So is it a message movie? Well, sort of; it sure has one, but like the best of movies with messages, it doesn’t hit you over the head of with it. It is more concerned with being a good bit of horror first and foremost and at that it succeeds.
Okay let’s get to the extras on the new Blu-ray/DVD combo pack from Blue Underground. First there are two audio commentary tracks on here, one with the late director Bob Clark and the other with writer and uncredited make-up artist Alan Ormsby. Then there are five featurettes on here. One with actress Anya Liffey and the aforementioned Ormsby that runs 30 minutes. There is an interview with composer Carl Zittrer that is 19 minutes long. There is a short feature with production designer John ‘Bud’ Cardos that’s five minutes. Another is one everyone’s favorite make-up effects guru, Tom Savini that lasts 10 minutes. The final one is with poor Andy himself, Richard Backus, that is 12 minutes long. In addition there is an alternate opening title sequence, a theatrical trailer, still galleries, a screen test with the original actor who was to play Andy, Gary Swanson, that’s 12 minutes, and a short student film by writer Alan Ormsby. That’s a lot of extra goodies for a movie that is so seldom talked about today.
Deathdream is a great little horror gem of a movie. It’s a shame more people haven’t seen this one, but now is your chance to change that if that’s you, or catch back up with it if it’s been some time. I like this movie quite a lot and can easily recommend it.
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