‘Everybody changes eventually….’

Occasionally a film creeps up on you, slowly reeling you in, only leaving you to realise you were truly hooked when it draws to a conclusion.

And boy is Deathdream (or Dead of Night, or The Night Andy Came Home or one of the myriad titles this flick has) one of those titles – a little-known gem that deserves to be shouted from the rooftops.

I must admit I only picked this DVD up originally back in 2004 when I realised it was an early directorial effort from Bob Clark, who went on to helm one of my favourite all-time movies, the original Black Christmas (1974).

But was I glad I made the purchase after sitting through this neat, effective little chiller that ticks all the right boxes.

Taking the classic tale of the Monkey’s Paw as inspiration, the film opens in Vietnam, with an American soldier being shot (seemingly dead) at close range.

The action swiftly cuts back to smalltown USA, where a family are enjoying dinner.

That feast is interrupted though by a knock at the door, a visit from the military to tell the Brooks family that their son, Andy, has perished in combat.

Naturally the news hits father Charlie (John Marley) hard, but wife and mother (Lynn Carlin) refuses to believe Andy has passed away, electing to stage an all-night candlelit vigil where she wills her son to return home.

And, wouldn’t you know, the next night the soldier does just that – turning up unannounced on their doorstep late at night (after offing a truck driver on the way of course).

Everyone is ecstatic about Andy’s return – all that is, except Andy himself, who has become withdrawn, sullen and elects to spend most of his time sat in a rocking chair in his bedroom.

It quickly becomes obvious that Andy is no longer Andy, but in fact a zombie of sorts, devoid of his previous soul and personality and needing fresh blood on a regular basis to survive.

Naturally people begin to suspect something is amiss – not surprising if you elect to strangle the family pet to death in front of a bunch of kids.

But Andy has a simple plan for those who are closing in on him – he kills them (as you would).

Despite that, the net inevitably tightens around the combat veteran, allowing the film to play out to a climax that packs an impressive emotional punch – but to explain it all would give too much away.

Deathdream clearly has a very low budget, but that in no way hinders the production.

In fact the ideas, direction, performances and all-round vibe are far elevated from what you usually expect in a film of this ilk.

Richard Backus is quite simply sensational as Andy – sure he has little to do other than stare vacantly, say his lines very slowly and occasionally look angry, but his display anchors the movie superbly.

Marley and Carlin are excellent as the bickering parents at odds over what to do with their son, and Henderson Forsythe adds solid support as a local doc.

It is the classic warning of ‘be careful of what you wish for’, with the movie a quietly disturbing look at just how much friends and family are willing to overlook when it comes to the actions of their loved ones.

There is also subtext here, namely in the PTSD suffered by so many US combat veterans, as well as the reaction of regular Americans to those returning home (as writer Clark and Alan Ormsby readily admitted).

Indeed, a fascinating scene has Andy questioned by the town’s postman, himself a veteran of WWII combat, eager to trade stories about their ‘glorious’ exploits, who leaves somewhat disgruntled when Andy refuses to join in.

There are also extra treats in the shape of the some early work from effects guru Tom Savini, and a stirring score from Carl Zittrer (that echoes the later Black Christmas work).

Clark’s direction is also above-par, keeping the movie ticking over nicely and orchestrating a couple of very well-handled jolts.

Now available on Blu-ray etc,  I urge all horror fans to track down this unheralded classic – you will not be disappointed.

About The Author

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Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written three books - on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014), the history of the character Norman Bates (2015) and the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker (2017). He is currently working with director Richard Loncraine to explore all avenues in a bid to orchestrate the re-release of 1978 Mia Farrow chiller Full Circle