In most every case, the twain should not meet. After all, it's not often that you see Hannibal the Cannibal performing his dirty, hungry work, only to be met by Dr. Van Helsing who repels him with shouts of "THE POWER OF CHRIST COMPELS YOU!" So the realistic-ass horror and the supernatural-ass horror tend to stay in their own prepackaged boxes, right?
Yep, Bob Clark, as in the fucker who brought us A Christmas Story and those adorable Baby Geniuses movies! Deathdream is, of course, yet another light-hearted, family film with another focus on the sweetest of father/ son moments and... a deeply chilling scene with a puppy getting killed. Well, what do you people want, man? It's not like he could make A Christmas Story every time!
Obviously, Deathdream was neither Bob Clark's first or last horror flick (and he's made some doozies, if I dare use that term)! However, it might be interesting to note that writer/ makeup designer Alan Ormsby hired some punk kid just out of the Army as his makeup artist. Yes, Deathdream was the first film of smilin' Tom Savini (though released after Deranged, Deathdream was produced in 1972). Throw in John 'Bud' Cardos as Production Manager and you've got a Fangoria article waiting to be written!
However, pigeonholing Deathdream as just some horror flick is hard (and would be a mistake) to do. On one hand what you have is some standard Drive-In, B-Movie fare with a shock-based storyline and some grainy point-of-view murder scenes and garish monster makeup. On the other hand, surprisingly, this is very much an allegory on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the aftermath of a Vietnam War soldier returning home... as best he can.
Somewhere in Pleasantville USA (assuming said Pleasantville is somewhere in Florida), your standard American suburban family, consisting of dad Charles (John Marley), mom Christine (Lynn Carlin) and just grown daughter Cathy (Anya Ormsby) receive word from the army that the favorite son Andy (Richard Backus) has been killed in action.
As devastating as this is, that's exactly how overjoyed they are when the clerical error is revealed with Andy's triumphant return home... before anybody else even heard the news. The sad and scary thing is that Andy isn't he regular old fun loving self, but has returned as a creepy, dejected, distracted young man without any local "Mrs. Robinson" to get him through the days and nights. Andy spends his days rocking in a chair with a cold smile on his face and Dad is immediately worried that something is horribly off about the kid. While sister Cathy is hoping to get him out of his shell (with the help of a double-date with her beau Bob [Michael Mazes] and Andy's old squeeze Joanne [Jane Daly]) Mom is in complete denial that Andy is anything but her perfect baby boy returned home from War! If anybody has a problem, it's Dad, right?
Well, as family doctor Philip Allman (Henderson Forsythe) reveals, the Night Andy came home, a truck driver was found cut and with puncture wounds, drained of some of his blood... and the killer hasn't been found. Couple that with Andy's strange behavior and interaction with the adorable family dog and irascible neighborhood scamps and the portrait of a less-than-well-adjusted young man begins to be painted. Who is that looking into your window? Who is hitching that ride? Who is stalking around the drive-in? Who is in your home right now?
Lots of questions abound here, for the characters and the audience, especially about what exactly Andy is. In many ways, he could be described as Vampiric, in other ways he could be described as a Zombie. The truth is a little bit of both and a whole lot of neither one. Yes, this is a ghoulish, monstrous thing, but there is almost Romero-esque sense of metaphor and allegory.
Casual viewers may see the low-budget conceits and dated costuming and dismiss the film as a cheesy movie. However astute film fans will appreciate the layers and drama of this film, while never forgetting that Deathdream is a horror flick... just with an extra added depth of intelligence and mood. Obviously acting, directing and writing helped make this work (and still work these decades later), but equally true is the cool and evolving special makeup effects that Ormsby and Savini create here. There is no single "look" but a changing and variable monstrosity that progresses and regresses by degrees, prompted by Andy's strange new addictions.
Ah, but let me not say too much here. This is a very cool little horror film. Not perfect, but transcendent for what it is and another fine example of why Bob Clark was always quite a director in any genre. This one stands up there with films like Let's Scare Jessica to Death with its subdued horror undertones and dramatic surface.
Dead of Night definitely gets a thumbs up and at least Three Stars out of Five! If you can handle big shocks and subtle creeps, this one might be fore you. If you're ready for a strange mixture of the unexplained and the provincial, try this modern arrangement of The Monkey's Paw on for size. Meanwhile, I'm going to take a SHOT at returning home. Boy will my parents be surprised to see my ass!
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Because I'm planning on rolling home to Louisiana.
Not for the family, so much as for the... yeah, okay, for the family.