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Deathdream (1974)

DVD Cover (Blue Underground)
Genres:
Creature Film, Horror, Supernatural Horror
Director:
Bob Clark Bob Clark
Starring:
John Marley John Marley
Lynn Carlin Lynn Carlin
Richard Backus Richard Backus
Henderson Forsythe Henderson Forsythe
Anya Ormsby Anya Ormsby

6.7 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by Chad
Added: August 24, 2011
Deathdream, aka Dead of Night, is another one of those movies that I first experienced as a kid. I remember picking up the movie on VHS in the huge clamshell case from the local video shop based strictly on the amazing cover artwork for it. I had no idea what it was about, I didn't recognize any of the names, I just liked the cover and plopped down some of my allowance for a copy. I hated the movie. Being a kid who wanted nothing more than a bunch of gore and maybe a couple of titties, I thought that it was too slow and, after that initial viewing, it sat on my shelf for years.

I have no idea what ever became of that copy and I had totally forgotten about the movie, until I saw that cover artwork pop up on a list of "best horror covers" somewhere online. That prompted me to check into the movie so that I could give it a review on here. Imagine my surprise to see that it was a Bob Clark film, it was Tom Savini's first film as a makeup artist, and above all else, it was actually a really good horror flick. I guess twenty years can really change a guy's opinion.

It all begins with a Rockwell'ish family sitting around the table eating dinner and discussing the day's events. Father Charles (John Marley), mother Christine (Lynn Carlin), and daughter Cathy (Anya Ormsby) all have a handful of topics to talk about, but it seems that Christine is only thinking about her son. You see, the boy is over in Vietnam, and the family hasn't heard from him in months. As if on cue, a military officer shows up at the door and regrettably informs the family that their son has been killed in the line of duty. Heartbroken, they shed their tears, talk it over, and eventually wind up in bed.

Later that night, they are awoken by a noise downstairs. Charles grabs his gun and heads down with his ladies in tow, and they discover... the family dog. "But wait!", they say: the dog was outside when they went to bed, so how did it get inside? That is when they see that their son Andy (Richard Backus) has returned home, and he is far from dead. Needless to say, they are ecstatic and make a huge deal about his return; however, they will soon discover that something is different about him now, and they also find that he may be responsible for a string of murders in town. What happened to their boy?

Deathdream is a horror movie with a touch of the supernatural and a few kills, but it is an atmospheric horror movie that relies more on mood than on a body count. This is what hurt the movie for me as a kid, but as an adult who can now appreciate a movie like this, I found that it was incredibly well done. We know from the very beginning that there is something strange about Andy, but we don't know what - all we know is that some creepy shit is going down, and watching the movie slowly shift from "something odd" to "body count" is downright great.

What really makes the movie work is the acting from all involved. Richard Backus as Andy is not a great actor, but he doesn't need to be: his character is a man of few words, and what he lacks in acting chops, he more than makes up for with his amazing body language and facial expressions. This is an actor who can do nothing more than sit in a chair and look at the camera, and that will have said more than some actors could say with half a page of dialogue. Watching him do that sort of thing time and time again was a treat.

Now, he is not the only thing worth noting about the cast. You see, the main aspect of the film is the family's downward spiral into insanity: the mother is willing to overlook her son's acts because he is family, the father wants to know the truth but is also willing to help keep the boy on the good side of the law, and his sister just wants to see him get better. These three actors are all amazing in their roles, and in fact, they are so good that it almost gets a little sad at times. Here we have a monster who is going around killing people, and because his family members are all so perfectly cast, we actually start to feel immensely sorry for them. We're not rooting for the monster, we're rooting for his family. That takes a lot of work in a movie like this.

As mentioned, this is not a movie to pick up if you just want to see a body count. There are a few kills, but they are all rather tame. There is a nice throat-cutting scene here and the effects used for the final "version" of Andy were great, but don't read Savini and think "buckets of blood." You're not getting it here. However, when a movie is this good, you really don't need any of that.

The only negative thing I can say about the movie is that there were a couple of scenes that dragged on a little longer than they should have, but this is a minor thing: there aren't many scenes that I could say that about, and the rest of the movie more than makes up for those few flaws. Deathdream is not Bob Clark's best horror film, but it's definitely up there. 8/10.
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