Directed By Bob Clark
Starring: Richard Backus, John Marley
When you say “zombie” to most people they think of Night of the Living Dead, slow moving monsters attacking the living for sustenance. That for the most part is the mold from which zombies spring from. There have been some exceptions. Deathdream is one such exception. The zombie in this film retains his intelligence, his memories, and is able to speak and he even bares a social message.
Charlie and Christine Brooks have just received some bad news. Their son Andy, was killed in Vietnam. Later that night Charlie shows up on his family’s doorstep. Happy that the Army has made a mistake they bring Charlie into the house. Charlie seems different though. He barely eats, he only speaks when he has too, and he is happy to sit in his room in the dark swaying back and forth in a rocking chair.
His mother and sister are unwilling to admit there is anything wrong. His father on the other hand realizes there’s a problem and asks the local doctor to come by. Even after Andy kills the family dog his mother almost out of her mind refuses to admit anything is wrong. Andy ventures out at night alone looking for the one thing that will sustain him, human blood. If he doesn’t regularly give himself blood transfusions
This movie is about so much more than just a zombie killing people for their blood. Deathdream explores the effects of the Vietnam war on the small town family. The once happy and vibrant family is torn down by the loss of their son. When he returns, even as a zombie he still remembers the horrors of the war and has no guilt over killing others to stay alive because of what happened to him and others in the war. He feels he is owed these people’s lives in exchange for what he did for America. Of course his logic is out of whack, he’s a zombie for god’s sake. But his feelings and those of his family are representative of where the nation was at the time the film was made.
Deathdream surprised me in the level of creepiness throughout, mostly due to the outstanding performance by Richard Backus (Andy). His stern unflinching stare gave me chills. He felt like he could explode at any minute. John Marley, who had just been in The Godfather before making Deathdream, and Lynn Carlin were also very good as Andy’s parents.
Deathdream feels very George Romero even though the zombies in those two films are polar opposites. Romero’s no frills approach with very little visual flare adds a level of reality to his films that make them all the more scary. Deathdream feels the same way, with no frills camera work and minimal lighting that makes the film feel very much like a documentary. Like Andy, the film moves along very slowly and deliberately. Some may be turned off to this pacing but I actually feel that it added to the creepy surreal atmosphere of the film.
At the end of the film I had a few questions. How did Andy become a zombie in the first place? How did he get back from Vietnam? Does the military have someone else’s body that they believe to be Andy’s? I like to think that they brought Andy’s body back to the United States and while in the Army morgue he just got up and walked out. We’re never given any answer to these questions. To add to the confusion there is another guy playing Andy in a Vietnam sequence at the beginning of the film. These unanswered questions are only of minor concern once the story is really about Andy and his family,
It’s creepy, well acted, and outside of the minor plot issues I mentioned it’s well executed. It’s interesting that Tom Savini took a job as an assistant on the special effects for this film right after he himself returned from Vietnam. Deathdream was released under several different titles including The Night Andy Came Home and Night Work. The only complete print available carries the title Dead of Night in the opening credits. So don’t be confused and think you got the wrong disc in your box. This in fact is Deathdream, just under a different title. Any hardcore fan of 70’s horror is used to this by now as many of that eras movies were renamed by various distributors thinking the name they picked was more appealing than the one it was given by its creators.
Dust, scratches, and grain, are apparent throughout, especially during darker scenes. Detail is good and colors look nice. The widescreen presentation is well produced for its age.
The basic audio presentation is fairly clean and easy to hear with minimal noise. Score and dialogue are well mixed.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The single disc release comes in a standard keep case with artwork I’m honestly not that fond of. I think it’s a little more “B-Movie” than Deathdream actually is.
There are two really good commentaries on this disc. The first is from the director Bob Clark and David Gregory from Blue Underground. Blue Underground has utilized this technique of bringing in a staffer to these commentaries to moderate and interview. It works with great success in Clark’s commentary as he seems to be a quiet individual. Gregory is able pull some great nuggets out of Clark during the commentary. Even with Gregory on board there are still some dead spots throughout.
Gregory’s commentary with writer/make up artist Alan Ornsby is a bit more energetic with Ornsby sharing information on many subjects regarding the film including the title, and his ex-wife’s part in the film. This commentary is also the funnier of the two with Ornsby not afraid to poke a little fun at his own work.
There are two interviews, one with actor Richard Backus, who plays Andy, and another with Tom Savini. Backus shares a lot of great information about the making of the film from his perspective. He even closes the interview by recreating his character one last time. Savini’s interview covers his work as Ornsby’s assistant and other work he did in the early days.
There’s a theatrical trailer, an alternative opening sequence and an extended ending sequence, and a ton of still images including behind the scenes, posters, promotional stills, and more.
A surprisingly taut and creepy film from the man who would bring us Porky’s.
Overall (Not an Average) 8/10