|Review||Deathdream (1974)||Director||Bob Clark|
|Cast||John Marley, Lynn Carlin, Richard Backus, Henderson Forsyth, Anya Ormsby, Michael Mazes and Jane Daly|
“I died for you, Doc. Why shouldn’t you return the favour?” – Andy
Although director Bob Clark (1939-2007) was quite the journeyman director he began with a trio of horror films that still impress to this day. Starting with the (maybe not excellent but certainly a lot of fun) ultra-low budget “Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things” (1972) and concluding with the near perfect proto-type slasher “Black Christmas” (1974); Clark later all but abandoned horror in search of a more varied career. “Deathdream” is the middle film in this trio and it’s a remarkably effective piece of horror laced with relevant social commentary.
Suburban parents Charles and Christine (Marley and Carlin) along with their daughter Cathy (Ormsby) receive the shattering news that their son Andy (Backus) has been killed in action in Vietnam (though to be accurate the word “Vietnam” is never said aloud). Christine can’t accept that fact and starts praying for her son to return. Later that night Andy returns home to the amazement of everybody. Soon after it’s apparent that Andy’s not the same as everybody remembered; very distant, cold and quiet…and possibly killing people.
The famous story “The Monkey’s Paw” was published in 1902 and has been the source of inspiration for many films. Basically it’s message is summed up in the phrase “Be careful what you wish for” and Bob Clark’s “Deathdream” has been lumped into a host of other films as a variation of that story. Aside from being a remarkably effective chiller in it’s own right it’s also the first film (that I can think of) to deal with the tragedy that many families faced when the returning soldiers were very different from the ones who left for Vietnam.
There’s a very melancholic streak running through “Deathdream” that makes sure the horror that ultimately reaches frantic heights is all the more powerful in the end. There’s some heavy drama on display here and massive inner turmoil is exposed by Marley’s and Carlin´s characters and it’s very delicately handled by writer Alan Ormsby who penned here quite a powerful story. Although Andy is only a shadow of the character he was before the war (as told by everyone but the audience never sees that side of him) he nevertheless gets some effective quiet scenes that show he’s going through hell also. Multiple viewings for me have really driven home that point and display even further just how well thought out “Deathdream” was.
The film is very well acted with Marley and Carlin giving committed performances in demanding roles. Backus is effective as Andy and while it’s a fairly monotonous role he manages to convey what’s going on underneath his cold exterior. His abrupt change in the end (with no small help from maestro Tom Savini’s make-up effects) is decidedly unnerving and packs a punch. Anya Ormsby is very likeable and Daly also as Andy’s girlfriend before he went off to war. Ormsby and Daly both appeared in “Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things” and there are also cameos by Jeff Gillen and writer Alan Ormsby who both played big parts in that film as well. Lastly Forsyth makes an impression as the town doctor.
“Deathdream” is a very good horror film. The fact that it’s also a good drama piece along with being a penetrating contemporary examination of a war that was still very fresh in the nation’s psyche only goes to show how much talent was behind the camera. That it also features a novel take on zombies and makes a connection with the broken down individuals scarred by the horrors of war (and mixes it with some violence and gore) only further cements it as a classic in the genre.
There’s some gruesome imagery on display here that will take up residence in the mind.
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Particularly one startling moment when Andy shoots up with the doc’s blood after he’s killed him and looks like a junkie in a high. That one scene covers a lot of ground.
I cannot recommend “Deathdream” highly enough.