Director – Bob Clark
Cast – Richard Backus, John Marley, Lynn Carlin, Henderson Forsythe, Anya Ormsby, Jane Daly, Michael Mazes, Arthur Anderson
Release Year -1974
Reviewed by John of the Dead
I came across Deathdream (AKA Dead of Night) randomly and despite good reviews I decided to take my time with this one. Why? Well, from what I read I felt that Deathdream would not appeal to me as much as I wanted it to, and while that was somewhat the case I must say that after finally giving this one a watch I was mostly wrong, and it gave me a very unique experience that I can truly appreciate. The pacing is slow and the PG rating keeps some elements of horror at bay, but Deathdream gives enough horror for its time to result in another great watch from the Bob Clark / Alan Ormsby filmmaking duo.
When the Brooks family receives word that their son Andy has been killed while serving in Vietnam, their indescribable heartbreak leaves this seemingly perfect American family in shambles. However, they soon find themselves bewildered yet elated when none other than Andy himself shows up at their front door in the wee hours of the night. Their reunion is a joyous one, but soon enough the family begins to notice an obvious change in the behavior of the Andy they know, or once “knew”. When Andy’s adventures outside the home coincide with a series of grisly murders, the Brooks family soon realizes that their beloved veteran son may not be so beloved after all.
Yes I expected to like this one due to its writer and director, but the end result was better than I expected. Don’t you love when that happens? The overall storyline is a simple one, but great writing and directing execution make it much more unique than what appears on the surface. The usage of Andy is brilliant, as he charmingly makes his way back into the life of his family but soon begins to degenerate into the monster that he has become. This worked very well in keeping me engaged because at first it seems the military made a mistake in listing him KIA, but as the film progresses and Andy’s crime increase in severity it comes to light that Andy may in fact have been killed after all, which brings us to a zombie element that I never saw coming. The usage of Andy’s family is phenomenal (minus the miniscule and almost worthless role of his sister), and plays mostly on his father Charles, a hardline but loving man who slowly realizes that his son is never truly “coming back”, and his mother Christine who will do anything to save her son from the trouble he has brought upon himself. We watch the family deteriorate over the trouble Andy has brought with him, and Andy sheds no remorse for what he has done to those who love him and only seeks to inflict further damage when an old flame brings him out on a date. The horror given to us is phenomenal, and while the kill count is not overly high the quality of the kills is great, and I applaud Alan Ormsby for using all of the film’s numerous elements to mostly full potential to give us supreme horror for a PG film of the early 1970s.
Director Bob Clark, who showed us he can handle a vast range of both horror (Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, Black Christmas), comedy (A Christmas Story, Porky’s, Porky’s II: The Next Day), and utter crap (Baby Geniuses, Baby Genuises II), does an incredible job executing this piece. His atmosphere is good and reminiscent of the heinous events that would soon adorn the film, and he gets the most out of his actors with all of them giving superb performances, especially John Marley as Charles Brooks and Richard Backus as Andy himself. Clark and Backus’ execution of Andy was supremely awesome, giving us a truly scary character who’s psychotic glare will go down in history as one of the creepiest there is, and his actions and mannerisms during the kill sequences only rose his greatness to extreme levels. The FX used during the kills were positive, although the PG rating may have held back the severity of what we see on screen, however the FX regarding Andy’s transformation as the film progressed were dead-on awesome thanks to a fantastic job from Tom Savini in his debut FX effort. I mentioned earlier that the film moves slow, and it does, but Clark’s execution of the story sells the film to the viewer and should leave you with no worries over pacing issues, a testament of great direction.
Overall, Deathdream is an awesome early 70s effort from famed horror director Bob Clark that gives us a unique story thanks to Ormsby’s awesome screenplay that brings much more than meets the eye with numerous creative elements that blend extremely well together. Clark’s execution is phenomenal, and it results in great horror delivered via one of the creepiest killers I have ever witnessed.