Deathdream: Collector’s Edition
Directed by: Bob Clark
Run time: 88 minutes
The Lowdown: In 1981, when I was 11 years old, I hoodwinked my father into taking me to see Porky’s, the first of many coming-of-age genre comedies that he and I would later watch in the theater, unbeknownst to my mother.
It was a win-win for Dad and I. He didn’t have to suffer through another Disney animated children’s film, and we both got to see boobs on the big screen.
Porky’s was just one of a string of hit comedies and family films for director Bob Clark, whose career took off in the early 1970s following a trio of horror movies, including Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things, Black Christmas and the wonderfully morbid Deathdream, which was released in 1974 as Dead of Night.
How funny it is now, decades later, at the age of 47, to finally see what is arguably one of Clark’s best, most topical films in his storied career.
Deathdream is essentially a zombie movie that never classifies itself as such. It’s also one of those rare low-budget horror films with a fixed moral compass and something important to say about a timely issue.
The film opens in Vietnam as soldier Andy Brooks (Richard Backus) is caught in a firefight. Back home, his family – mother Christine, dad Charles and sister Cathy – try to avoid talking about Andy, who has failed to write home for more than a month, prompting quiet fears that he may have died in combat.
Sitting down for dinner one night, the Brooks family is interrupted by a knock on the door from a military officer delivering a letter informing them that Andy has died. His mother refuses to believe the news, and it seems the depth of her love and her ritualistic repetition of his name late at night, actually causes a supernatural shift whereby Andy arrives, days later, on the family doorstep in the dead of night.
Clark never namechecks his inspiration here, but it’s clearly a variation on The Monkey’s Paw. While the soldier standing in their living room looks and sounds like Andy, it’s clear this is just a meat suit with something more sinister lurking inside.
Deathdream is taunt, well-staged and unsettling as hell. It presents the pain of military families in a realistic light, and serves as a quiet protest and deliberate condemnation of U.S. war policies.
Clark may have later swapped his love of dark horror for the titillating thrill of teenage sex and, later, BB guns and nostalgic Christmas memories, but Deathdream more than holds up as an excellent horror feature even 43 years later.
Kudos to Blue Underground for dusting this one off, and giving it the HD-treatment it deserves.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Yes.
Nudity – No.
Gore – Minimal.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – There’s something wrong with Andy.
Buy/Rent – Buy it.
Woodshock (Lionsgate, 100 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Woodshock, the directorial debut of fashion designer-famous sisters Kate and Laure Mulleavy is a mind-screw of psychedelic imagery and hallucinatory drug-taking that feels as if it’s too high on its own strange brew to make much sense.
Viewers are left to watch Kirsten Dunst lurch through an exceptional period of grieving by turning to an experimental cannabinoid drug, which further fuels her downward spiral into madness. This is the cinematic equivalent of ingesting a bag of too-old magic mushrooms that you find in the back of your freezer. Sure, you may get a few cool visuals initially, but ultimately the trip itself goes nowhere fast or fun.
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