|Something Unspeakable Has Come Home
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
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
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
FOR DVD REVIEW
(Out of 5)
|August 30, 1974
|DEAD KEV'S ADVICE
|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 movies...at 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)
||Dr. Philip Allman
|Robert R. Cannon
||Policeman in Diner
|Entertainment International Pictures
|COUNTRY OF ORIGIN
|United States & Canada
|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
|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
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