Bob Clark was such a fantastic and visionary filmmaker during the early 70’s and directed no less than three very important and hugely influential horror movies in a row. Unfortunately, he reverted to making lame & mainstream comedies during the 80’s and 90’s and – even more unfortunate of course – was his untimely death earlier this year 2007 as a result of a car accident. But back then he definitely was the man, because he was single-handedly responsible for one genre-defining slasher (“Black Christmas”), one playful yet creepy zombie classic (“Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things”) and then this one: a unique and genuinely intriguing horror-sleeper. “Deathdream” is primarily an unsettling shocker, but it definitely also qualifies as a subtly powerful anti-war protest and even as a depressing middle-class family drama. Right from the excruciatingly sober opening credits, showing the frozen image of a soldier dying in agony after taking a bullet in the chest, you immediately realize this won’t become just another outrageous splatter flick with zombie-soldiers and gratuitous massacres. Rightly so, because the story then cuts to the dinner table of a seemingly random American family who are very busy making plans for when their son Andy returns home from Vietnam, and you literally sense tragic news is about to knock them down. Andy is indeed reported killed in action shortly after, and the drama affects both the parents differently. Especially the mother refuses to accept her beloved son’s departure and stays up entire nights, praying & wishing for Andy to come home. And then suddenly he DOES come home … but not as his family and friends remember him. Andy doesn’t talk or eat, he spends the whole day in a rocking-chair whilst staring in the distance and his body rapidly starts decomposing if not regularly supplied with fresh doses of human blood!
Andy Brooks isn’t just a pitiable character in a 70’s horror gem. No, he presumably represents every young soldier who reluctantly enlisted to serve in Vietnam, only because their fathers and the small-town communities they lived in expected them to. Rather than to feast on the blood of innocent bystanders, Andy returns to raise feelings of guilt and anguish among his former friends and particularly his dad. “Deathdream” clearly features some harsh social undertones, and they’re magnificently supported by the realistic characters (and, respectively, the terrific acting performances). The relationships between Andy’s mother, Andy’s father and Andy himself are perhaps the best achievement of the entire film. The pacing is quite slow, but it works efficiently, and the overall ambiance of “Deathdream” is very creepy. The images of Andy in his rocking-chair (complete with screeching sound) and his grimaces when chocking the family dog in front of several young children are unforgettable. Considering the main themes and, undeniably, the budgets Bob Clark disposed of, you shouldn’t expect a lot of gore, but still there are some nasty and convincingly unsettling make-up effects to enjoy. If they weren’t interested just yet, all horror fans will unquestionably want to see the film because it marked Tom Savini’s debut as a SFX-guru. In my humble personal opinion the ending could have been a bit better and less abrupt, but that’s just a small detail. This film ranks high amongst the best genre achievements of the 1970’s and it’s fundamental viewing for all fans.