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Blue Underground presents
Deathdream (aka Dead of Night) (1974)

Charles Brooks: They actually sent me a telegram that said my son was dead.
Andy Brooks: I was.

- John Marley, Richard Backus

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: July 15, 2005

Stars: John Marley, Richard Backus
Other Stars: Lynn Carlin, Henderson Forsythe, Anya Ormsby, Jane Daly, Michael Mazes, Arthur Anderson, David Gawlikowski
Director: Bob Clark

MPAA Rating: R for (horror violence)
Run Time: 01h:28m:00s
Release Date: June 29, 2004
UPC: 827058106191
Genre: horror


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- A-BB A-

DVD Review

Director Bob Clark is best known for the perennial classic, A Christmas Story, but between 1972 and 1974 he helmed three distinctive horror films—Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things, Dead of Night and Black Christmas—that have all held up extremely well all these years later. The least known of this trio was probably Dead of Night (1974), and it came to be known by a plethora of alternate titles over time, including The Night Andy Came Home, Nightwalk, Whispers and as it's known here: Deathdream, complete with the horribly misguided cover art that make this seem like something it isn't. Blue Underground has issued this well stocked special edition as Deathdream, though the print itself still contains the original Dead of Night title sequence.

All that marketing jibjab aside, Deathdream remains a rare bird among horror films (almost a Clark signature), one that at its heart is a strongly anti-war story that seems peppered with elements of gore simply to make it seem like a genre title. Written by Alan Ormsby (Cat People) and featuring some early work by makeup effects artist Tom Savini, Deathdream follows the emotional destruction of an American family left to deal with the death of their son in Viet Nam, and how the strength of a mother's love to have him come home makes for a classic "be careful what you wish" for storyline. Essentially a variation of The Monkey's Paw, Ormsby's screenplay has the obviously quite dead Andy Brooks (Richard Backus) returning to his smalltown home, much to the relief of his father (John Marley), mother (Lynn Carlin) and sister (Anya Ormsby), but of course not quite the same way they remember him.

As Andy, Backus is a man of few words, choosing to spend most of his time staring blankly into space while forever rocking back and forth in a squeaky chair. By definition, he's supposed to be the film's villain or monster, but the story paints him in a such a way that even when he strangles a dog in front of a bunch of young children we get the implied message that whatever bad things that happen are not necessarily his fault. A genre title like this requires that he kill a few people (he does), but the underlying need for these actions only serves to reinforce the anti-war theme that permeates Deathdream.

John Marley—he woke up with a horse head in his bed in The Godfather—manages to basically draw the attention away from Andy, and his slowly unraveling father is the kind of performance usually not found in low-budget horror, driven by love for his son despite the increasing pointers that seem to scream something is very wrong. Marley's scenes with his onscreen wife Lynn Carlin—she of the "let's not talk about it" school of keeping it all bottled up—are well acted moments of sadness and rage, again something not always found in what was marketed as a zombie soldier story.

This is still a tough film to categorize, and the cover art for this release just makes me cringe. It sends the wrong message about what Deathdream is all about, and makes it look like any of a thousand forgettable horror films. Bob Clark and Alan Ormsby wave the anti-wary flag rather proudly here, and the performances by John Marley and Richard Backus are well above the bar.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer from Blue Underground, while not perfect by any means, certainly represents the best this gem of a film has looked in a very, very long time. Grain is evident, and age-related issues like specking and some flicker—especially during night scenes, such as the moment where Andy wanders the streets and spends a few minutes peering in the window of his girlfriend. Colors, however, look very natural throughout, with fleshtones retaining lifelike hues that often are lacking in films from this period.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Audio is presented in Dolby Digital mono, and while the mix is a bit flat, dialogue is clear and discernible at all times. No major hiss issues to contend with.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Alternate Endings
4 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by David Grimley, Bob Clark, Alan Ormsby
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo Gallery
Extras Review: There are two interesting commentaries on this release, both moderated by Blue Underground's David Grimley. The first track features director Bob Clark, and he spends his time being very soft-spoken answering Grimley's line of questioning about the production. Clark is a tough nut to get talking, and Grimley works him gently to pull out some good anecdotes along the way, and there's some good info here, even if the energy level is a little low. This is in direct contrast to the second track from writer (and uncredited makeup artist) Alan Ormsby. Far more talkative and effusive than Clark, Ormsby also makes some more pointed jabs at the project, admitting he wouldn't have cast John Marley if it was up to him, or wishing he had the opportunity to have toned down some of the film's early humor.

Next up is Tom Savini: The Early Years (10m:00s), a brief interview with the legendary makeup effects wizard, who talks about learning secrets from the great Dick Smith. Deathdreaming: Interview With Star Richard Backus (11m:42s) has the actor recollecting how he got the role, and culminates with footage of Backus attempting to recreate that infamous dead stare he did as the not-quite-alive Andy.

Alternate Opening Titles (03m:28s), using the Deathdream title, are included, as is an Extended Ending Sequence (03m:00s) that is a little less blunt and slightly more dramatic than what was eventually used.

Rounding things out is a theatrical trailer and an extensive Photo Gallery, broken down into Behind-The-Scenes, Posters, Publicity Stills, U.S. Press Book, Video and Credits sections. The disc itself is cut into 20 chapters.

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

One of the great unsung (and unusual) horror films of the early 1970s, writer Alan Ormsby's anti-war message is barely disguised in a story that is really less zombie and almost more of a tear-jerker family drama (albeit one with a decaying dead guy). Great performances by John Marley and Richard Backus play at opposite ends of the emotional spectrum, and the ending sequence is a real heartbreaker.

Highly recommended.

 


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