June 13, 2019

Movie Review: Deathdream (aka Dead of Night)

Well before he was making mainstream films like Porky’s and Rhinestone, and way before he directed the Christmas bomb that became a Christmas classic (A Christmas Story), Bob Clark was creating horror movies. It is hard to picture, but it’s true. He made his debut in 1972 with the (in my opinion) overrated Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things (I know I have friends who love it, believe me, I’ve tried). He would peak in 1974 with the classic Black Christmas. However, earlier in 1974, he released another horror movie that, despite it’s alluring title, tells a tale that could easily fly under the radar. The movie is called Deathdream (aka Dead of Night, which is the title on the actual transfer presented here). I had seen pieces of it before, but this is the first time I have seen it in its entirety. The best thing to start with is to say: See this movie.

That is not to say it is a classic. I am not quite sure it is at that level, but it is certainly no slouch. It is a movie that deals with some important issues in a nicely horrific way. It is a slow burn of a movie, and it really wouldn’t work any other way. Sure, you could amp up the gore, action, and general insanity, but it would do the story a disservice. It is credit, not only to Bob Clark’s direction, but the writing by Alan Ormsby (who also wrote and co-starred in Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things and Deranged), that the movie works on multiple levels and can deliver different things for different people depending on who you want.

The movie centers on Andy Brooks (Richard Backus) and his family (John Marley and Lynn Carlin). After receiving notification that their son was killed in Vietnam, but just as they are beginning to mourn, Andy arrives at their door in the middle of the night. His death notification is written off as a clerical error, and they welcome their son home with open arms. The thing is, Andy is not quite the same. He is quiet, reclusive, and only seems to be active at night. His mom defends his actions, saying he’s been through a lot, while his father thinks he should snap out of it.

The movie has a fascinating slow burn quality to it. It can be looked at as an examination of PTSD. Just watch Andy and think how you might be if you had served in Vietnam and seen a lot of action. It is perfectly understandable to believe he would be standoffish and acting a little strange. It is also interesting to see how his parents respond to him. They react in very different ways, but neither really give him what he needs, rather, they filter his behaviors through what they want.

While this is an interesting look at a soldier returning from war, it is also a horror movie. It lets the film unfold slowly, letting the oddity of Andy build and build before letting the horror take over. At the same time, they do not disguise the fact it is a horror movie, nor do they disguise the fact that Andy is definitely not in his right mind.

Deathdream is a really good film. It covers a lot of interesting and important ground its examination of the effects of war on those who fight and everyone around them. It is also an interesting take on the horror genres of zombies and vampires, it never is clear what Andy is or how whatever it is happened.

What really seals the deal and holds everything together are the performances. I love Richard Backus’ performance as Andy. He is simultaneously really creepy and sympathetic. He makes the PTSD affects of war palpable, but the creepiness is also off the charts terrifying. This is matched by John Marley and Lynn Collins, both of whom deliver solid performances that draw you in to the budding horror of Andy’s world.

Deathdream is a winner and a much better example of what Bob Clark and Alan Ormsby were able to bring to the big screen. If you have not had the pleasure, do yourself a favor and look this one up, you won’t be disappointed.

Highly Recommended.


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