Written by: deadhorse13
Deathdream is a chilling variation on the 1902 classic literary short “The Monkey’s Paw” directed by Bob Clark from an Alan Ormsby script. (for more info on these two read my Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things review) The original story involved a mysterious paw that had the power to grant three wishes with disastrous results. In this film, a grievous mother refuses to accept her son’s demise but finds that death is favorable to certain fates that may lie beyond.
The story opens briefly with some Vietnam war footage. Then we watch as a small suburban family receives news that the conflict has claimed yet another casualty, their son Andy. The mother, in her endless devotion, refuses to accept this and insists that they must be mistaken. Their sorrow soon dissolves however, when Andy mysteriously appears downstairs one night, although he doesn’t quite seem like himself. Assuming that the news must have been a mistake they embrace the soldier and welcome his return. His somber tone unnerves the father, but the mother is too overwhelmed with relief to realize that something’s amiss.
Andy acts abnormally bizarre - he refuses to celebrate his homecoming or to notify friends of his return. Something is obviously very wrong with the veteran as he isolates himself in his room and says very little. The father, a vet himself, loses his patience with Andy’s disposition, while the mother just chalks it up to his sensitive nature. He remains nearly catatonic with sudden bursts of aggression. In one surprising scene Andy strangles the family dog in the company of neighborhood children.
The local authorities eventually question Andy in relation to a truck driver’s death that occurred the same night of his arrival. He admits to hitchhiking but claims that the trucker was still alive when they parted. The family doctor soon makes a house call by the father’s request and finds Andy’s suspicious behavior alarming. When the doc gets the axe (actually the needle, in a very revelatory scene), the father is convinced of his son’s guilt and finds that it is too heavy a cross to bear leading to the moving and sad conclusion.
Made in 1972 when the war protest was in full swing, Deathdream (also known as Dead Of Night) is steeped in allegorical symbolism. Comparisons to the awkward treatment of returning soldiers, the psychological problems that can emerge, the effect it can have on family and friends, societal unease and generational differences can all be made. The film doesn’t focus so much on what Andy is but more on the emotional implications of all those involved.
The film’s modest budget does not distract from the presentation, in fact it gives the film an off-kilter sensibility. It’s skillfully directed and well acted. Andy is suitably creepy and the parents both give believable performances. A young Tom Savini, in his first makeup assignment, handles the various shock pieces capably which adds to the suspense. Thoughtful in its delivery, Deathdream immerses you in a tense nightmare that speaks volumes through minimalism and ultimately leaves the viewer to interpret the narration as they see fit.