Saturday, 18 October 2014

31 Days of Horror: Dead of Night (aka Deathdream) (1972)

Dead of Night (aka Deathdream) (1972)
Director: Bob Clark
Starring: John Marley, Lyn Carlin, and Richard Backus
Running Time: 88 min

  I've been dying to see this film for such a long time.  Not only is this directed by Bob Clark, who has brought us such great films like Black Christmas, Porky's and A Christmas Story but working along side with writer and makeup artist Alan Ormsby (Deranged, Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things) for the first time on make-up and FX is special effects master Tom Savini!  So, with these kind of credentials, even though it is early in their careers, how can it go wrong?

  While on patrol in the jungles of Vietnam, Andy and his buddy are ambushed and gunned down by the Vietcong.  Before the lights go out on Andy, he hears his mother's voice, saying that he promised her that he would come back.
  Back in America, Andy's family are sitting down to dinner and his mom, Christine is going on and on about how she hasn't heard about Andy and she wonders about how he's doing, and if Andy is happy and on an on.  Andy's father, Charles and sister, Cathy understand how much Christine misses Andy, so they let her natter on.  Then, there is a knock at the door, so Charles answers it and it's a soldier with a letter about Andy.  The soldier offers his condolences and gives Charles the letter.  The family is quite upset and that night Andy's mother wishes and prays that he comes home again.
  Meanwhile on a deserted highway, a truck driver picks up a soldier on the side of the road.  Later on, he stops to grab a coffee at the local diner and tells the nosy waitress that he has an odd soldier fellow in the truck with him, then heads back on the road.  Even later on that night, at Andy's house, guess who shows up?  It's Andy and he's really really creepy.  He doesn't talk much and answers questions with an creepy grin but his family is just glad he's back, except for their dog, who keeps barking at Andy.
  The next morning, the police discover the gruesome remains of the trucker, dun dun duuuuuun!  They start an investigation and all they have to go on is that the trucker had picked up a hitch hiker, who was a soldier.  However, back at Andy's house the family is just tickled pink that Andy is home again until..., he scares the neighbourhood kids by strangling the family dog in front of them!  The father decides to get drunk and find help for his son because he knows that there is something wrong about his son.  He doesn't remember Andy killing dogs like that before and he's not going to take that kind of crap in his house.  Can Andy's family find the help they need for Andy or is Andy too far gone and there are more sinister reasons for this evil ways? 

  This isn't quite what I was expecting from this film.  For a lower budget horror film, the film has a surprisingly good dramatic flair to it.  When the letter arrives about Andy's passing, director Clark was really able to capture that tender moment of loss within the family.  John Marley (The Godfather, The Car) and Lynn Carlin (Faces, Superstition) really shine in this film as Andy's parents, trying to uncover the truth about him and then later on protect him.  
  Also, writer Alan Ormsby appears to be using this zombie like state of Andy to reflect how soldiers, who were coming home from this war felt.  PTSD was a new back then and a lot of soldiers, probably felt isolated when they returned and may have turned to drugs to combat the nightmarish images that left in their minds during their time in the war.  Ormsby and Clark, seem to touch on this when Andy attacks the doctor and instead of simply drinking the blood, he ties off and injects in.  The scene ends with Andy looking more like a sad heroin addict, than a monstrous zombie.
  Worry not though, it's not all drama and there is still some good old horror in this film.  As mentioned earlier, Tom Savini (Dawn of the Dead, Maniac) and Alan Ormsby do some nice work on the gore.  When Andy starts to fall apart both mentally and physically, there are some good deteriorating arm and face make up. 
  Also, the kill scenes may be somewhat simple but are gruesome enough to please.  Especially the kid getting run over at the drive in, which made me chuckle and wince a little bit.

  However, I didn't find that there was as much violence in this film as I was expecting.  Sure, he manhandles a dog, good luck doing that scene nowadays, but the human body count is pretty low.  They don't even show him taking out the trucker, which would have been good to see.  I think I was expecting more but what it lacks in mangled bodies, the film makes up in horror tension. 
  Also, I never figured out what kind of monster he was.  He's kind of like a zombie/vampire and is there anyway to kill him?  Does he need blood or not and if he does what is it for?  And how was he able to come back?  Did his mother's wish and prayers come true.  If they did, what kind of God would send you a zombie creature son?  Ormsby doesn't touch on any of this stuff during the film and at the end your still dangling.

  Even with that said, this is a very interesting film and it shouldn't not be missed.  I think that Clark and Ormsby wanted to convey a message about the Vietnam conflict and how it affected the men and women coming home afterwards, so they took a chance by putting it into their film.  Message or not, this is still a fascinating low budget movie and that balances enough of drama and horror that will satisfy any fan of the genre. 

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