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Deathdream (1974)

Something Unspeakable Has Come Home

Deathdream (aka Dead of Night)
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With more alternate titles than you can shake a severed limb at, director Bob Clark's follow-up film to Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things takes the form of a metaphor for the horrors of the Vietnam War. It's more commonly known title is Deathdream, but you may also know it as Dead of Night, The Night Andy Came Home, Night Work, or even as its working title The Veteran.

Andy Brooks (Richard Backus) is a young soldier who has just come home from the Vietnam War. He certainly knows how to make an entrance, showing up in the middle of the night and surprising the hell out of his parents and his sister. It wasn't so much his late night arrival that surprised them, it was the fact he was there at all. You see, earlier in the evening they'd received notice that Andy had been killed in action. Of course, mistakes happen and I suppose the family chalked it up as a military paperwork error because they eagerly dismiss it and it's quickly forgotten. Andy's dad, Charles (John Marley), recounts, "They actually said that my son was dead." Andy replies, "I was" and after an initial shock, Andy smirks and a good laugh is had by all.

I hope they got it out of their system, because there isn't much laughing during the following days after Andy's return. He's a somber and disconnected man, devoid of much emotion or a desire to associate with family or friends. From what we gather from those around him, this is obviously not a trait of the old Andy. Everyone's best guess is that this new attitude is a natural result of his time at war. I personally think that his pissy mood could be because he's dead. That's just me, though.

Other than the pissy mood, another unfortunate by-product of the war is that Andy now is cursed with the need to kill and inject the blood of others in himself to keep from rotting away. So that explains it. I'd be a little pissed off too. If you're trying to categorize Deathdream in zombie terms, think of it as (loosely) similar to Andrew Parkinson's I, Zombie or Dead Creatures in that the zombie here is self-aware of his situation. Both of Parkinson's films, however, are vastly inferior to Deathdream.

So how is it that he ends up defeating death in the first place? And how exactly does Andy get from Vietnam to hitchhiking his way home? There are several questions that beg answering in Deathdream, and while we're given a few vague hints we're never given any real answers. Isn't anybody interested in why he's home in the first place? Is his tour up, did he get wounded, is he AWOL? Does he have to go back? Who knows. If you can forget about those holes (and a few others) in the story, the script of Alan Ormsby's is coherent and believable. That Ormsby name is probably familiar among zombie fans. He was the self-named lead character, and writer, in Bob Clark's other zombie tale, Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things. In that one, Ormsby plays Alan, the one with the loud, crazy pants. You can't miss him.

Deathdream is privy to some remarkably tamer clothing than CSPWDT, and is a much more serious film. They bare little resemblance, but one of the few similarities you might notice are the familiar faces of actors Anya Ormsby and Jeff Gillen. Anya has the more significant role as Andy's sister, Cathy, and Gillen with the minor role of a bartender. You'll no doubt take note of the same Ormsby last name, that's because Anya was the then wife of scriptwriter Alan.

The acting is superb from start to finish. Richard Backus plays an irritable zombie absolutely perfectly. He's got that disturbed look about him and has the cold delivery of his lines down pat. His actions can repulse you during most of the film and by the end have you empathizing with his plight. John Marley as the frustrated and befuddled father is also excellent. That's no surprise, since Marley received an Oscar nomination for his role in The Godfather and waking up to a horse's severed head. Perhaps the most challenging role, though, was that of Andy's mother, played by Lynn Carlin. Her character's clearly in denial of her son's horrible actions, but she's blinded by her love for him. Father and mother clash as they slowly realize that Andy is no longer what he used to be.

One of my favorite parts of the film is the score. Carl Zittrer's work is genuinely eerie and foreboding, with its whispering undertones downright creepy. Deathdream wouldn't be half the film it is without it. Zittrer had provided the score for CSPWDT and would go on to work with Clark on the movies Black Christmas, Porky's, Murder by Decree, and A Christmas Story.

Bob Clark's work behind the camera here is capable, but I think he was far from peaking just yet as a director. Close-ups can really get annoying and there were a few too many. Many scenes were poorly lit, which actually looked good for some of them but detracted from others. A point of minor confusion is the Andy switcheroo. The Andy in the opening's Vietnam scene is played by someone other than Backus.

My big complaint on Deathdream is the slow pacing. It's deliberate there's no doubt, but a little too slow for my tastes. Several scenes succeed at building real tension as the audience anticipates what Andy's reaction is going to be in the situation at hand. We've learned quickly that he's a time bomb waiting to go off. There just wasn't enough of that.

The last twenty minutes of the movie are the best minutes. The fast-paced climax is in stark contrast to the rest of the film and finally offers a payoff for the slow buildup. The bulk of Andy's deterioration takes place there and finally we see the makeup work of Orsmby and a no-name, at the time, assistant named Tom Savini. This was Savini's first feature film, and we all know what he's gone on to do since. It takes awhile, but Andy eventually turns into a pretty cool looking zombie.

As a general rule, I don't really care to have my politics mix with my entertainment. That being said, I was impressed that the anti-war message in Deathdream was a subtle one. As one of the first movies to tackle the post war implications, they were obviously careful to not openly smack you upside the head with the issue. It's very much implied and surprisingly unobtrusive to the viewing pleasure.

If it makes any sense, ultimately Deathdream makes for a better "film" than a "horror film". If it's gore and scares you're after, look elsewhere. There's little of it here. With the exception of the ending and a few other disturbing scenes, it's very subdued. In fact, take out the ending and it might be able to be snuck into the drama section of your video store. By today's standards there is a limited amount of "horror" but it makes up for that in other areas.



(Out of 5)
August 30, 1974

Not the film to see if you're looking for lots of action, but if you're into great acting, solid story, and eerie music, then Deathdream is worthy of you time.
1. Be careful at drive-in movie theaters, the speaker cords can be used for strangulation.
2. When your date shows up in sunglasses and wearing black gloves, it's time to bail. Especially if you've planned to go to the night.
-"I lost my dog."
-"I died for you doc, why shouldn't you return the favor?"
-"Everyone changes eventually."
-"I'm neurotic, I can't watch a movie without popcorn"

Bob Clark (Black Christmas)
Alan Ormsby (Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things)
Bob Clark (A Christmas Story)
Gerald Flint-Shipman (Spanish Fly)
Peter James (Shivers)
Geoffrey Nethercott (Blue Blood)
John Trent (Find the Lady)
John Marley Charles Brooks
Lynn Carlin Christine Brooks
Richard Backus Andy Brooks
Henderson Forsythe Dr. Philip Allman
Anya Ormsby Cathy Brooks
Jane Daly Joanne
Michael Mazes Bob
Arthur Anderson Postman
Mel Stewart Captain Mayberry
Arthur Bradley Army Captain
David Gawlikowski Truck Driver
Virginia Cortez Rosalie
Bud Hoey Ed
Robert R. Cannon Drunk
Raymond Michel Policeman in Diner
Quadrant Films
Entertainment International Pictures
United States & Canada
88 mins R

Director Bob Clark makes an uncredited cameo as a cop. He's the cop first seen tending to the truck driver's corpse. Screenwriter Alan Ormsby also makes a cameo as a bystander watching the doctor's corpse removal. He's the one that speaks to Andy's dad. Ormsby's son also appears as the kid with the glasses who cries.
The budget for Deathdream was somewhere around $200,000.
Bob Clark and Alan Ormsby met while attending the University of Miami.
While it was a Canadian production, Deathdream was filmed in Florida near Brooksville.
AKA : Dead of Night; The Night Andy Came Home; Night Walk; Soif de sang [Canada: French title]; The Veteran; Whispers
Official Trailer
Deathdream Poster

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