Have You Seen This?: Deathdream aka Dead of Night

Zombie bloodsucking Vietnam vets come for your doctors, dogs and daughters in this week’s Have You Seen This?

Deathdream posterIn 1973, writer Alan Ormsby penned a screenplay based on the classic horror story The Monkey’s Paw that would take the recent return of Vietnam veterans and turn it into a modern day terror tale.  A year later director Bob Clark would put that story on the big screen with the help of a young cast and some great special effects to make a little known Canadian horror film a lost classic of the genre.

Andy is a soldier in Vietnam who is shot by a soldier, as he lay dying he hear’s his mother’s voice chanting eerily in his head “You said you’d come back, Andy. You promised. You’ve go to…” as Andy slowly dies.

deathdream2Cut to his loving family back home in Florida enjoying a meal, just mom, dad, and little sis. As the rest of the family makes forced small talk, mom Christine yammers on about their son Andy and his current status in the war.  Not long after a knock comes to the door and the family receives a telegram from the war department informing them of Andy’s death.  Christine goes into hysterics and is found later that night in Andy’s room chanting the words Andy heard in his dying ears over a candle.

An unseen figure is hitch hiking and is picked up by a trucker, the hitcher is identified as a soldier.  After a stop at a diner and some time down the road, the driver has his throat torn out and his found dead just miles from Andy’s hometown.

Later that night, sis hears a noise downstairs which turns out to be a fully uniformed Andy apparently home from the war.  The family goes crazy to see him and begin to play welcome home ceremonies which Andy directly rebuts. He states that he wants to be left alone and that no one is to bother him.  Andy seems different, but in the family’s elated state no one seems to care. Except Butchie the family dog…

deathdream3As a few days go by, Andy’s behavior becomes more strange as he is completely dormant and quiet during the days, but is lively and goes out for walks during the night.

Is he a vampire? A zombie? Both?

One afternoon during a family picnic a visit from some local neighborhood kids seems to bring Andy back in some small way, but Butchie’s incessant barking drives Andy to the breaking point and strangles the animal to death in front of the terrified children.  Andy’s father now sees him as a monster and begins to form his own theories as to what his son has become.

bye bye Butchie

bye bye Butchie

Later that night, Andy’s drunken father is met by the local doctor in the bar.  Admitting to the doc that Andy killed the family dog, the doctor becomes concerned and asks to visit Andy immediately.  The two men find Andy rocking mechanically in his chair and the tension created as doc realizes the big issue is palpable.

This is where the movie gets really good, and as is my style I will not give the rest of the story away and hope that you, dear reader, will have the opportunity to see this film.

I will say that the soundtrack in stereo is very creepy, the use of devilish tuned whispers and harpsichord/synth makes some of the scenes build up in a great way.  A young Tom Savini worked along side Alan Ormsby on this picture and his make up effects are unmistakable.  As Andy begins to deteriorate during the story, the progression is subtle at times until the dam begins to break.  For 1974, this shows a burgeoning effects master doing what very few were doing to that quality at the the time.

For an early genre film like this, the acting is fairly good too.  Andy is played by first timer Richard Backus whose intensity brings his character to “life” and just plain freaks you out at all times without hardly doing anything at all.  Delivering his lines like HAL, the character spends most of the film rocking intensely in a rocking chair and glowering at anyone who dares to speak to him with the hatred of 1000 Westboro baptist church members.

deathdream5This was a message that Ormsby and Clark wanted to convey as an analogy to the men that were coming home from the war completely changed at the time and what that war did to those men.  They had either gone mad, came home angry and bitter, or dead – Andy was all three.

Actress Lynn Carlin portrays Andy’s mother who’s batshit ways drive a rift in the family by refusing to see her son’s corrosion in an attempt to save her baby.  The third act has her at her best and is something that adds to Andy’s utter creepiness.

This is a film that fans of the early seventies horror genre will seriously enjoy.  Deathdream (aka Dead of Night) is not too heavy on the kills and gore but makes up for it in intensity and a great story.

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