Saturday, July 23, 2016



"It Wrings The Victims Out.. And Hangs Them Up To Die !!!"

      Although best known to mainstream audiences for PORKY'S and A CHRISTMAS STORY writer/ director Bob Clark was responsible for several interesting low budget horror movies during the 1970's including CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS (1972), BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974), along with the best Jack the Ripper movie ever (1979's MURDER BY DECREE) and this fascinating low budget oddity from 1974. Taking the basic concept of the classic horror short story "The Monkey's Paw" it was often lumped in the coming decades zombie movies, but while it contains horror elements, at its core is a story of the breakdown of of a family along with (in it's low budget drive-in horror sort of way) is one the first movies to address the problems of returning Vietnam veterans and for some of them their tragic dependency on narcotics. 
    An early make-up credit for Tom Savini (who himself had just returned from Vietnam), the film is also blessed with an excellent script by Alan Ormsby that while touching on many social and family issues of the time never loses sight of it's horror roots. It's also helped immensely by some excellent work by it's cast including John Marley (THE CAR  and best known as the recipient of the horse head in THE GODFATHER) and Lynn Carlin as the father and mother along with Anya Ormsby (Alan's then wife) and Richard Backus. Playing for several years under various titles, it showed up frequently on late night TV in the late 70's and early 80's (where I first caught it) and finally was given an authorized DVD release by Blue Underground in 2004. 

    Although they've been notified that their son Andy (Backus) has been killed in Vietnam his mother Christine (Carlin) clings to belief that he's alive which causes concern for her husband Charles (Marley) and daughter Cathy (Anya Ormsby) as her relentless conviction seems to be affecting her mental state. One night after hearing a noise in the house the family surprisingly finds Andy standing silently in the darkened entryway. Although they greet him warmly, its obvious that something is amiss as Andy is alternately sullen or smiling darkly. 
    At the same time of Andy's of return a truck driver has been found nearby brutally murdered and his father begins to have suspicions concerning his son who spends most of his time silently rocking back and in forth in his upstairs room. A family doctor attempts to intercede and confronting him he's killed by the increasingly psychotic Andy who has a need for blood in order to sustain himself. The blood craving while initially seen as a vampire type affliction is played out more as an addiction as he uses a syringe to infuse the blood. Screaming at the doctor "I died for you, now you can die for me", Andy seems along with his need for blood to be also lashing out at a society that forget him and other veterans and left him for dead. 

    His sister organizes a double date with herself and her boyfriend  along with Andy and his old girlfriend which descends into a night of horror as just like the fracturing of the family unit, Andy's decent into a zombie like figure fully manifests itself at the all- American pastime of the drive-in. His by now fully developed monster incarnate is driven into the arms of his still sympathetic mother and ends in one of the more touching sequences in 70's horror.  
    Although some of the Vietnam allegories are a bit heavy handed (such as the WWII vet postman) DEATHDREAM remains a very rewarding experience bringing a sense of depth to the characters and making the family drama aspects of the story just as intriguing as the horror elements. Because of that depth and well written characters, along with a straight-forward narration and a simple yet striking shooting style the movie's horror elements almost seem plausible as they neatly dovetail into the plot.
    Backus (who beat out a young Christopher Walken for the role) is superb as the tormented Andy alternately evoking both terror and sympathy and Marley and Carlin are quite believable as the father and mother with Carlin showing a desperate mother trying to hold on to the son she remembers. Alan Ormsby (who worked un-credited here on the make-up) had previously worked with Bob Clark on the interesting CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS in 1972 and would collaborate on the excellent DERANGED (with Clark as an un-credited producer) in 1974. 

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