Studio: Quadrant Films
Starring: John Marley, Lynn Carlin, Richard Backus, Henderson Forsythe, Anya Ormsby
Directed by: Bob Clark
Running Time: 88 min.
Synopsis: A family welcomes back home their son who they thought died in Vietnam, but they notice there’s not something right with him.
This eerie suspenseful film from the team of Bob Clark and Alan Ormsby is a great work of horror with a good story and a talented cast of characters. Deathdream, which had many different titles such as Dead of Night and The Night Andy Came Home, was one of those films that I heard about over twenty years ago and now just finally seen. Since becoming a hard-core horror fan in 1987, I spent many hours reading books and magazines about many different classic horror films. During the late 80’s and early 90’s I would search video stores for these classic horror films. Some were very easy to find, others took a few years, and some I couldn’t find at all. Some great horror films on VHS were out of print for a while, that’s until the boom of DVD in the late 90’s and into the 2000’s where many of these lost classic horror films would find a new home. After watching Deathdream for the first time, I was very pleased and was happy it turned out to be a good film. There have been many times where I would watch a film I heard about for years and it turns out to be horrible, but with Deathdream, that was not the case.
The movie was filmed in Brooksville, Florida in 1972 after Clark and Ormsby made Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things, which was also shot in Florida in the Miami area. The film directed by Clark and written by Ormsby, has a great opening that is set in Vietnam where two soldiers are running through the darkness of the jungle and dodging explosions after explosions. One of the soldiers is Andy (played by Richard Backus) who witnesses his fellow soldier get shot. As he goes to help him, he is shot as well. The scene becomes very dream like, all out of focus, and a haunting voice of Andy’s mother comes over the scene saying, “Andy, you’ll come back, you got too, you promised.”
Back in the states, Andy’s family waits to hear if their son will come home soon. An excellent cast plays the family. John Marley (mostly known for finding a horse’s head in his bed in The Godfather) plays Andy’s father, Charles. Lynn Carlin plays the mother, Christine and Anya Ormsby (Alan’s wife at the time) plays the sister, Cathy. While sitting down eating dinner they get a knock on the door. What they hoped was it to be Andy coming home, instead it’s a U.S. Army officer telling them their son is dead. The family can’t believe it and their hopes and dreams are shattered.
Later that night, the family is awoken by a strange noise coming from downstairs. Cathy wakes her parents and the three go down to investigate. At first their dog coming in the house startles the three. As the father goes to put him outside again he shuts the door and behind it is his son, Andy. This part in the film was very creepy, because Andy is just standing there like a mannequin. The family is overjoyed to see him and knew that the army had to be wrong about his death. They sit him down at the dinner table and the three crowd around him while Andy just sits there and stares for a minute. Then Andy finally speaks to them in few words with a dead look on his face.
Over the next few days, the family caters to him while Andy just sits in a chair and stares off into space. The father starts to notice that something is not right with his son. He also suspects that Andy might have murdered a truck driver while hitching a ride to their house. What the family doesn’t realize is that Andy did die in Vietnam and now he’s one of the walking dead. Soon they will find out and see for themselves what kind of a monster Andy really is.
They are plenty of eerie scenes throughout this movie and all of them are from the performance of Backus. Just the scenes of him just sitting there staring will give you chills. There’s one part where the postman brings up the friend of Andy’s who got killed and Andy starts to freak out and looks like he’s going to rip the head off the mailman, but all he does is stand up, give him an evil stare, and walk in the house. Other parts that are creepy are just when he’s rocking in his chair upstairs. Then there’s the scene where all these little kids are around him and the family dog keeps barking at him. Andy grabs the dog by the neck and chokes him to death. The kid’s laughter and joy they had when they saw Andy again now turn to tears and horror. It’s a very disturbing scene to watch and probably one of the most horrifying ones in the film.
Clark and Ormsby create a spooky atmosphere just as they did in Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things, with giving each setting a dark mood. The family’s house at night looks as if it’s surrounded by darkness. The graveyard in the town is creepy as hell down to the thick mist and to the tombstones. There’s also some cool make-up in the film that was done by Ormsby with the help of a newcomer named Tom Savini. This was actually Savini’s first film as a special make-up effects artist. After this he went on to do effects for another Ormsby film, the Ed Gein bio-pic, Deranged.
They were actually a few scenes that were written or shot, but not used in the film. One was going to be part of the opening, where it was going to have Andy walking through the jungles of Vietnam after he was killed walking on top of a sea of dead bodies. Another was when Andy is walking through the town and he comes across a V.A. home. He stops and stares at the flag on the building waving in the wind. An old soldier who is blind is on the pouch and senses someone there. There’s an alternate ending on the DVD that has an explosion of a car at the end, kind of like the big explosion they had in the opening of the film.
I was very glad to finally see Deathdream and was very pleased with it. The film has a creepiness to it, with a scary story, while also providing a political message for that time. Both Bob Clark and Alan Ormsby prove to be masters of horror in the 1970’s. The film is a must see for any horror fan and is a great film to come out of the horror genre of the 70’s.