Deathdream review by The Grim Ringler

Wars are never going to be something people will be able to easily talk about, to easily detach themselves from enough to look at, and the closer you are to any given war, the harder it will be to face it. Many films have dealt with the Vietnam War, many of them in the late eighties oddly enough, but some brave filmmakers did tackle this very weighty issue before many were ready to face it on their own, and one suck filmmaker was Bob Clark, a man known more for one marvelous horror film (Black Christmas), one silly Christmas classic (Christmas Story), and some very bawdy sex comedies (Porky’s), but who, with the help of screenwriter Alan Ormsby created a very grim and very thought-provoking film about the horror of war.

A family has lost contact with their son who is doing a tour of duty in Vietnam and they fear the worst, though none dare say as much. When a military man arrives on their doorstep with a telegram announcing their son’s death the family, which was barely holding itself together as it was, shatters. The mother is heartbroken, the sister in shock, and the father silent with grief. It was as they’d feared all along – they have lost their son. Later that night though the family is awakened by the sound of someone downstairs, and when they investigate they find their son waiting for them hiding behind the opened front door, waiting to surprise them. The family is baffled but ecstatic to have their son home and don’t bother to ask him what happened in Vietnam, though when they tell him that they’d been told he was dead he only looks at them and tells them emotionlessly – that he was, a dark smile crossing his lips a few moments later. Happy as the family is to get their son back, they can’t shake the feeling that something is wrong with him now, he has changed. He is sullen, withdrawn, and there is an air of suppressed rage about him. They can understand that he is suffering from his tour of duty, and that he has shut his emotions off and must re-adjust, but they cannot shake the chill he gives them, nor can they understand his desire to keep his return secret. Things take a turn for the bizarre though as the news hits the town that a trucker who had picked up a hitchhiking soldier has been found murdered the day after Andy returned home. No one in the family seems to think anything of this news…at first, but when Andy lashes out at the family dog in a rage and strangles it to death in front of some neighbor children the father realizes that something is horribly wrong with his son. How very wrong their son is though only becomes obvious though when he begins to suddenly rot away if he doesn’t have fresh blood injected into his system, something he has become addicted to, as some others became addicted to heroin in Vietnam. And now the question becomes for the family – do they love Andy enough to protect him from the police who are looking for a murderer who has killed two, if not more, people, or do they love him enough to help him to finally die.

I had heard of this film years and years ago but had never had an interest in it, but now that is has been released in a gorgeous special edition by Blue Underground I had to get it, and boy am I glad I did. Taking the harsh reality of war and the emotional scarring it leaves and using that as a launching point for a horror movie is a very risky venture. If you overplay the emotional war wounds you lose the horror and the film becomes a political statement. If you over-emphasize the horror you create another exploitation film. What Clark and Ormsby have done though is use the horror of war and the emotional detachment soldiers go through and have created a stark, horrifying tale of what horrors war and alienation hold. Because yes, this is a horror film, and yes, it’s sort of a zombie/vampire film, but what you really get from Deathdream is the feeling of loneliness emotional isolation (in this case caused by war) can create. A feeling that is like being the living dead. And instead of going for cheap scares and gore, the filmmakers created a slow, thoughtful film that moves at its own pace and leaves the final horror for the end, an ending that gave me a bit of a chill when I saw it.

If you have seen any of director Clark’s other films you can see his style very clearly – panning away from a home as people live their lives inside, isolated from the rest of the world; first person ‘stalker cam’ shots; and the use of a stark, chilling score that serves more to jangle the nerves than anything else. The acting here is top-notch and you really feel for this fractured family who can’t seem to keep themselves together, as if Andy was the glue for them all. The standout may be Richard Backus as Andy because he must create a character out of nothing, out of blank stares and monotone replies, yet he pulls it off and creates a man that is more ghost than man. I also loved the pacing of the film, which doesn’t rush things – something Clark nailed early on in his career – and lets the story play out in its own time.

The DVD looks beautiful and is from a pristine print, the sound being mono but clear and easy to hear. The extras are all very interesting and are but icing on the cake as this film is well worth the purchase price alone.

I managed to find Deathdream for about sixteen bucks brand new so this isn’t a terribly pricy film, thankfully. A dark and heartbreaking horror film which broke a lot of ground and took on a very heavy issue for the time, this is a great little film. I am sure some out there will find it outdated and hokey but for me it was a refreshing reminder of how great horror films can be when done thoughtfully, and done right.


8 out of 10 Jackasses
blog comments powered by Disqus