May 17, 2024

DEATHDREAM (4K): An Upgrade in More Ways Than One

1974 / 88 min
Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat🙀

Everybody has to start somewhere. Take Bob Clark for instance. Like a lot of directors, he cut his teeth in the horror genre, his first effort being Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things. Muddy, meandering and a little amateurish, the movie nevertheless became a minor cult classic…largely because of the title, I suspect.

But Clark got better - real fast - with his next film, Deathdream. Once again collaborating with Dead Things partner-in-crime Alan Ormsby, Clark’s second horror film is a huge improvement in every way…it’s more atmospheric, has a better screenplay and is definitely darker in overall tone. Despite a low budget aesthetic that initially dampened my enthusiasm, it wasn’t too long before I was thinking, Hey, this is actually pretty good.

While not another grassroots classic on the level of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Deathdream maintains a creepy vibe throughout its running time. Much of that is due to a quietly menacing performance by Richard Backus as Andy, a soldier killed in Vietnam who returns from the dead and comes home. Taking a cue from “The Monkey’s Paw” (an acknowledged influence), Andy’s not quite his old self. In fact, he starts to violently murder people and uses their blood to sustain himself. 

"It's normal for boys your age to get those urges. Just close the door next time."
Though Andy’s father, Charles (John Marley), begins to suspect all ain’t right with the boy - especially after he strangles the family dog - his mother, Christine (Lynn Carlin) turns a blind eye and grows increasingly unhinged while protecting him. It’s also suggested that she was the catalyst for Andy’s resurrection in the first place. Meanwhile, Andy becomes progressively (regressively?) monstrous, slowly resembling the walking corpse he’s been since returning home, aided by pretty impressive make-up effects considering the budget.

In addition to sure-handed direction by Clark, Deathdream benefits from good performances by most of the cast (excepting a few distractingly bad supporting actors). Morley and Carlin are especially good as Andy’s parents. Their characters are not entirely sympathetic, but at least they earn our empathy. In addition to an engaging story, Ormsby uses the basic premise as an opportunity to inject a little social commentary on the Vietnam War.

Deathdream may not be a cult classic, but it’s arguably the best of Bob Clark’s early-career horror films. He would go on to bigger things, of course, but here is where his work started to get interesting. This 4K UHD from Blue Underground offers a considerable video upgrade from their previous Blu-ray release, along with a big batch of new and vintage bonus features (mostly the latter).   



FEATURETTES - Notes for a Homecoming is a 20 minute interview with composer Carl Zitter; A Recollection with Star Anya Liffey and Writer/Make-Up Artist Alan Ormsby features the former couple looking back at making the film, as well as their careers leading up to it (arguably the best of the bonus features); Flying Down to Brooksville is an interview with production manager John ‘Bud’ Carlos; Tom Savini: The Early Years is a short interview with the make-up legend, who discusses how he started (Deathdream was the first film he worked on); Deathdreaming is an interview with Richard Backus; The First Andy is an interview with actor Gary Swanson, who obviously didn't get the job..

3 AUDIO COMMENTARIES - 1) By critics Troy Howarth & Nathaniel Thompson; 2) By director Bob Clark; 3) by writer Alan Ormsby.

SCREEN TEST - Actor Gary Swanson, auditioning for the role of Andy. 

GALLERY - A big collection of promotional material, artwork, notes, photos, etc. 




No comments: