Thursday, June 30, 2011

Horror Movie Review: Deathdream (aka Dead of Night)

Deathdream (aka Dead of Night)

Starring: John Marley, Lynn Carlin, Richard Backus, Anya Ormsby, and Jane Daly

Directed by: Bob Clark

Written by: Alan Ormsby

Production Companies: Impact Films and Quadrant Films

Release Date: August 30, 1974

Deathdream starts off looking like a war picture with soldiers in Vietnam under attack, but as we blur away from soldiers screaming as they are shot and killed, we hear a quiet woman's voice, "Andy, you can't, you promised to come home."

The sudden shift from a dark and gruesome Vietnam to the bright, comforting kitchen of a suburban family is almost as jarring as anything else you'll see. A family sits over a supper table saying grace, the pre-meal prayer, and as the father stops the mother continues, talking quietly saying, "Andy, you promised to come home." The difference between the comforting suburban home and the war torn Vietnam jungle shows us why some Vietnam vets had trouble returning home, their lives in Vietnam being so different with little similarity.

The family's supper is interrupted by a knock at the door. Andy Brooks was killed in action. The Brooks family devastated as if a 120-mm mortar shell exploded in the center of the dining table.

But later that night, Andy comes home looking none-the-worse for wear. The Brooks are relieved and excited. But Andy's changed and soon the Brooks family will be destroyed.

At first Andy seems to simply be suffering from post war stress: Quiet and distant. But as his behavior turns more violent, more disturbing, killing the family's dog, and other deaths seem to implicate Andy, we know things are worse. Andy has become some kind of undead monster using people's blood to keep his body from decaying.

As the stress of Andy's return strains the family, the parents, Charlie and Christine, begin to turn on each. Christine refuses to believe anything is wrong with her precious Andy. Charlie is torn, wavering from wanting Andy to take responsibility for his actions to wanting to help him get away. Little sister Cathy just finds herself caught in the eye of this perfect storm being spun around and confused about what is happening to her family.

Deathdream won't keep you up at night with any grotesque scenes or sudden shock scares, but it will keep you up thinking about war and family. There's a strong anti-war message, not through showing the violence of war, but the devastating effects it can have on a family and even survivors of war.

But there is also a warning about family and the dangers of putting all love into one member and the whole family rotates around that one member. Without the mother's blinding love for her son, Charlie's desire for Andy to show what a good father he was in his actions, and the sister's complacency in being kept in the dark about what's going on, Andy's return and transformation would have hurt the family, but not destroyed it.

Richard Backus is great as Andy, delivering his lines in a flat, monotone voice making his detachment an auditory sensation. But beyond that, he uses his face expertly to creep us out with smiles formed as if he didn't understand what the purpose of smiling is and thus creating an eerie, unsettling visage.

The DVD is rented from Netflix is a little grainy, but the movie is worth the watch, and interestingly, while the disk says Deathdream, the movie maintains the original movie title, Dead of Night.

Deathdream (aka Dead of Night) is a wonderful little known horror gem for genre fans looking for an overlooked classic.


It Lives Again - John Marley, who played Charlie Brooks, also dealt with unruly children in It Lives Again. In the gory It Lives Again, one murderous infant isn't enough -- three are now on the loose, all with razor-sharp teeth.

Superstition - Lynn Carlin, who played Christine Brooks, also starred in Superstition. The Rev. David Thompson (James Houghton) discovers that the inviting pond in the backyard of his new home was used to execute an evil witch three centuries ago -- and her spirit still lurks beneath the surface. Vowing to seek her revenge on anyone who ventures near her watery grave, the sorceress begins to hunt down her new neighbors in a bloody horror spree that turns Thompson's dream house into a violent nightmare.

Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things - Anya Ormsby, who played Cathy Brooks, and Jane Daly, who played Andy's girlfriend Joanne, also starred in Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things. A group of actors and their eccentric artistic director, Alan (Alan Ormsby), travel to a burial island rich in tales of evil curses and demons. Their task is to exhume a recently deceased body and try their hand at witchcraft in an attempt to raise the dead. While Alan means for his morbid plan to be a trick that ends in a surprise all-night party, everyone is stunned when the "trick" works ... and the dead become uninvited guests.

Black Christmas - Bob Clark also directed Black Christmas. Terror reigns inside a sorority house a few days before Christmas break as a series of menacing phone calls -- and the discovery of a dead girl's body -- transform yuletide cheer into fear. Margot Kidder, Olivia Hussey and Andrea Martin ("SCTV") co-star as just a few of the petrified sisters at the mercy of an unseen stalker.

Deranged: Confessions of a Necrophile - Alan Ormsby also wrote Deranged: Confessions of a Necrophile. When his overbearing mother dies, sociopathic Wisconsin farmer Ezra Cobb (Roberts Blossom) stuffs and preserves her corpse to keep him company. But when the novelty of this solution wears off, Ezra prowls for fresh ladies on which to practice his taxidermy. The results are some gruesome dinner parties in the Cobb household and other gory delights.