Deathdream [Blu-ray 4K]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Blue Underground
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (18th May 2024).
The Film

When the Brooks family receive the fateful telegram informing them that their son Andy (The First Deadly Sin's Richard Backus) has been killed in Vietnam, his father Charles (The Dead Are Alive's John Marley) takes to the bottle, sister Cathy (Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things's Anya Ormsby) is devastated, and fragile mother Christine (Superstition's Lynn Carlin) refuses to believe that he would not keep his promise to come home. When Andy turns up on their doorstep that very night, his family's joy is diminished by his deadened emotions, his unwillingness to talk about his experiences or see family friends, and his request that they put off telling people about his return. While none of this may seem surprising from shell-shocked soldiers, his sudden outbursts of violence including his brutal murder of the family dog leads Charles to seek the advice of Doc Allman (Chances Are's Henderson Forsythe). Also the town's coroner, Allman starts to suspect that Andy was also responsible for the murder of a truck driver who completely was drained of blood on the night Andy came home.

A Florida-lensed, Canadian-financed follow-up to Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things, the film carried over many of the same cast and crew on both sides of the camera, from Jane Daly as Andy's girlfriend, Jeff Gillen as a bartender, director Clark as a bumbling police officer, and Alan Ormsby who scripted the film and created the film's make-up effects assisted by a young Tom Savini (Dawn of the Dead) and would use some of the same crew members on his directorial follow-up Deranged. Carl Zittrer's score includes some piano echo chamber effects that anticipate his work in Clark's next film Black Christmas. While the horrors of the Vietnam War could be said to have informed the genre works of George A. Romero, Deathdream was one of the few and the earliest horror films that addressed them explicitly (shell-shocked Vietnam vets would be more popular in the late 1970s and 1980s as both serial killers and vigilante heroes in action films) with Andy a pseudo-Gothic living dead revenant returned to remind Middle America what it has sacrificed by "haunting" his own family home - as Andy stabs one victim, he says "I died for you [...] why shouldn't you return the favor" - and his desperate need for human blood to maintain some semblance of life touching upon the issue of substance abuse among returning soldiers.

Since the only emotion Backus' Andy can show is seething anger, Marley, Carlin, and Ormsby do the emotional work as a family fractured by Andy's absence when alive. His mother accuses his father of pressuring Andy to enlist while his father says he wanted to enlist to prove he was not a mama's boy, and Charlie's anger almost seems to stem from frustration that he is being deprived of the opportunity showing off his war hero son to the neighbors. The joviality of the opening scenes and those after Andy's return feel less amateurish than "forced" and the would-be idyllic scenes on the lawn really do feel underlined by Andy's seething resentment at being put on display. The interruption of Andy's death scene with a freeze frame by the opening credits suggests an unacknowledged reference to Civil War veteran Ambrose Bierce's "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" how appropriate it would have been had the Deathdream reissue title appeared there rather than tacked to the head of the film in this case and the idea that this all might have occurred in Andy's mind in those last moments, which might possibly make Clark's film an influence on Jacob's Ladder (although there had already been a couple adaptations of that story including a Twilight Zone version).


Released theatrically by Europix International (for which Ormsby had designed the ad campaign for their "Orgy of the Living Dead" triple bill of cut, retitled prints of Kill, Baby... Kill!, The Murder Clinic, and Malenka, Niece of the Vampire) under the title "Dead of Night" not to be confused with the Ealing Studios' 1945 anthology or Dan Curtis' 1977 anthology TV film which also featured a creepy story of a child called back from the dead by its mother the film was released on VHS by Gorgon Video under the reissue title Deathdream by which it is more popularly-known. Blue Underground's 2004 DVD returned to the "Dead of Night" title onscreen while still using the reissue title on the cover, and the anamorphic transfer was an improvement even though it was missing a line of dialogue from the final scene that had been present on some earlier versions. The film made its Blu-ray debut in 2016 through German company Subkultur's edition, and was quickly followed by Blue Underground's original Blu-ray/DVD combo from a 2K scan of the original camera negative.

Their much-delayed 4K UltraHD/Blu-ray combo under review here also available in a Blu-ray only edition comes from a new 4K scan of the negative. Apart from the bump-up in resolution and ever-so-slightly deeper blacks in Dolby Vision limited by the underexposure of Jack McGowan's cinematography there is not a ton of difference between the two transfers with regard to the grading as the new transfer is quite faithful to the older one apart from an added touch of warmth in the daylight scenes that make Anya Ormsby less pallid than Andy (whose skin tone changes in different shots during the night walk and his first visit to the cemetery). The drop in quality during the final line of dialogue from an inferior film source is more apparent since it looks even coarser than the credits opticals that follow it. The presentation opens with the Europix International logo.


The original mono mix is rendered in DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 track in which sound effects sound a bit more recessed in comparison to the voices and Zittrer's scoring. Optional English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles are also provided.


Carried over from the 2004 DVD are a pair of audio commentary tracks. The first is an audio commentary by director Bob Clark, moderated by David Gregory in which Clark reveals that Ormsby's script was one of the few that he directed with which he had no involvement, and that the Vietnam sequence was one of his few additions (he also notes the presence of Vice Squad's Gary Swanson in the prologue as Andy due to Backus' unavailability). The wide-ranging discussion includes the Vietnam war sentiment at the time, shooting in KKK stronghold Brookesville, Florida, and the ways in which images from the film anticipate similar ones in John Carpenter's Halloween (with Clark revealing that the idea for that film came out of him telling Carpenter his concept for a sequel to Black Christmas, although he admirably regards the film as Carpenter's own work).

The second track is an audio commentary by screenwriter Alan Ormsby, moderated by David Gregory Ormsby discusses the inspiration of his screenplay "The Veteran" in "The Monkey's Paw", a Bertolt Brecht poem, and the Irwin Shaw anti-war play "Bury the Dead" about six dead soldiers who refuse to be buried. He discusses his casting intentions, noting that he wanted an actor for the father who embodied a sense of macho John Wayne-ism in pushing his son to enlist but is satisfied with Marley's performance and notes that Wayne's pro-Vietnam film was a flop and notes that the masculinity in question in the film is actually the father's rather than "mama's boy" Andy (while Gregory suggests that Marley more than Carlin is the emotional core of the film). He is frank in his assessment of MacGowan's cinematography, although he does note when MacGowan gets it right with some of his low-lit images. He also discusses his make-up effects work with Savini (also reveals that cinematographer MacGowan was upset to discover his son covered in blood doubling for the truck driver in the morgue scene). Gregory observes that not only does Andy's need for blood anticipate the prevalent drug problems among veterans but also anticipates Romero's Martin on which Savini also worked.

New to this edition is an audio commentary by film historians Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson who discuss the "horror credentials" of the unusual casting choices, various tellings of "The Monkey's Paw" from Amicus to The Simpsons, the trajectory of Clark's career from Florida to Canada and his decision to move away from horror into comedy and more mainstream work, as well as the addiction metaphor and the Romero connections. They also note that the film was edited by David Cronenberg regular Ronald Sinclair (the film had Canadian producers and its post-production was done by Clark up north as he was prepping Black Christmas). Both reference the content of the other two commentary tracks and earlier extras throughout for topics of discussion since Clark is no longer with us and presumably Ormsby and the surviving cast have said all they can about this film in the disc's extras and those of the previous Clark film.

Also carried over is "A Recollection with star Anya Liffey and writer/make-up artist Alan Orsmby" (29:29) in which they discuss their time in the drama department at the University of Miami, its small, burgeoning film department, and comparing the experiences of working on Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things and Deathdream.

In "Notes For A Homecoming" (19:08), composer Zittrer recalls that Clark came to the attention of the Canadian producers Peter James (Shivers) and John Trent (Blue Blood) when they viewed a 35mm print of Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things that Zittrer brought along for prospective employers to hear his scoring work in context.

"Flying Down To Brooksville" (5:21), an interview with production manager John "Bud" Cardos (Kingdom of the Spiders) seems to be an extract from a longer interview produced by Severin Films possibly from the same interview sessions of Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life & Ghastly Death of Al Adamson in which he recalls using his Cessna to transport crew, film, and equipment to and from the location, supervising the stunt and pyrotechnic work, and engaging with the local toughs.

In "Tom Savini: The Early Years" (10:00), Savini discusses being inspired as Ormsby was by Lon Chaney via the biopic The Man of a Thousand Faces, and his "start" in a magician's stage shows as Dracula, the "anatomy lesson" that was his tour as a combat photographer in Vietnam, and being recommended to art director Forest Carpenter (The Female Bunch). In keeping with the featurette title, the discussion also includes Ormsby's Deranged, Martin, and Dawn of the Dead.

"Deathdreaming" (11:42), an interview with Backus who recalls his audition in New York consisting of being able to show anger without words, working with Marley, Carlin, and soap star Forsythe who the Brooksville locals recognized rather than Marley as well as the hours of effects make-up and some dangerous pyrotechnics.

New to the disc is "The First Andy" (12:23) in which Swanson recalls auditioning for the film with some cutaways to his screen test and his reaction to it and realizing his inexperience and that he was "completely reliant upon" Clark during it. He also recalls discovering that the exercises Clark had him go through during the test were what he would learn subsequently when he started studying acting. Although he did not get the role and only appears in the Vietnam footage, he is proud to have been given the opportunity during the screen test to play Andy while he was alive (that is, Clark's exercise of providing him with a box of props from which to build his conception of the character before he goes off to war).

Also ported from the earlier edition is the Gary Swanson Screen Test (12:31) from which clips in the new interview were derived, and here includes line readings with Anya Ormsby and Gary Goch who recorded sound on the film, some action with Ormsby's son, and some close-ups on his face under different lighting conditions.

Alan Ormsby's student film 3:45 P.M. (10:12) is an adaptation of a William Faulkner story in which a spinster (Anya Ormsby) accuses a black man of rape.

The disc also bumps up the earlier edition's poster and still gallery to eight separate galleries of posters & ads, the U.S. pressbook, publicity stills, behind-the-scenes, make-up effects, video, Alan Ormsby's movie monsters, and Alan Ormsby's creations, and also includes the Deathdream alternate opening titles (3:28) which positioned the title at the head and then cut from the Carlin's above the title billing to Forsythe's credit where the title was once in between along with the Dead of Night theatrical trailer (3:49).


The set comes with a reversible cover while the first pressing also includes a slipcover.


Quite a departure from director Bob Clark's previous film Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things, Deathdream is a pseudo-Gothic take on the horrors of Vietnam come home to roost, anticipating not only subsequent cinematic treatments of the American aftermath of Vietnam but also some of its real world issues.


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