Also known as Dead of Night, Deathdream starts out with a bit of a shock as a soldier is killed by a sniper in Vietnam and who while dying, hears his mother calling out for him. Cut to the present where a family receives notice of their son Andy, that same soldier, having died in the war which breaks their hearts completely. Later that night, somebody is knocking at the door though and it turns out to be Andy himself, so maybe the War Office got it wrong they think. Whatever the case, they are happy to have their son back home, though it is not too soon after that they start to realize that there is something wrong with Andy. He kills the family dog, never eats, never sleeps and as things get stranger still, his father Charles decides that something must be done because this Andy is not his son.
Directed by Bob Clark and written by Alan Ormsby, Deathdream is a suspenseful little chiller filled with horror that is subtle at first and as the film goes on, becomes fully realized by the protagonists. It is quite fun to see just how sinister the movie becomes during the last act, especially as it seem so unassuming at first. Most of that can be attributed to the cast who are portrayed like your everyday family and they do a good job of bringing that across to the viewer. They are genuinely good people and you feel for them when they receive the notice of their son’s death. John Marley does a great job as the father who becomes increasingly distraught over the actions, or lack of action from his son. He knows that something is wrong and the moment when Andy strangles the dog, that is when it is finally cemented in his mind that he knows this Andy is not the boy he knew, that Andy really did die over in Vietnam. Driving this all home was Richard Backus who would play Andy, with shades of Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in his performance. Backus plays it straight at first, anything that is different with the man being chalked up to PTSD or what have you and as things progress, Backus slowly lets on that Andy has changed and continues to do so, needing blood to live. What is Andy exactly and how did he come back? It is never explained and is one of the mysteries that the film never reveals.
At times, the movie does seem like it could have been made for television as it is pretty tame, aside from the murders that is. It has such a feel-good charm about it at first, you could be watching a family drama, albeit one tinged with tragedy. What is quite wonderful about it all is that it all soon changes and you really have no idea just what was going to happen, as it goes from that charming feeling to one of unease to one of horror. Deathdream is not the greatest movie, but a nice little discovery waiting to happen if you should ever catch it at some point.
3 out of 5