It's a damn shame director Bob Clark never received the accolades for his horror film gems during their original release. The man behind BLACK CHRISTMAS, DEATHDREAM, MURDER BY DECREE, and CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS is currently stuck behind the cameras shooting atrocities like BABY GENIUSES and KARATE DOG (?!). Only in recent years has Clark been commended for creating some of the best horror films of the 70s. One of these classics, DEATHDREAM, has been nigh impossible to see since its original release. Released on an atrocious VHS edition by Gorgon and a slightly better one from MPI, Blue Underground has finally stepped up to the plate to reveal the definitive version of this Vietnam-era chiller.
An awkward family dinner in the Brooks home is interrupted by a telegram delivering the tragic news that son Andy has been killed in combat in Vietnam. His parents, Charles and Christine, are devastated, but Christine simply will not accept that her son is gone forever. And it seems that the telegram was a mistake when who shows up in the middle of the night, but Andy, in his Army uniform and with a grin on his face. But Andy is not himself...he refuses to see any visitors, stays locked in his room rocking in his rocking chair, and is prone to fits of rage, resulting in the murder of the family dog right in front of a group of neighborhood kids! The town doctor soon discovers Andy's secret...and why he needs human blood to stay alive...
DEATHDREAM is a film that cannot be sold by plot synopsis alone. A basically simple premise is infused with a brilliant script by Alan Ormsby, top-notch performances, a bone-chilling score by Carl Zittrer (he of the infamous BLACK CHRISTMAS score), and superb cinematography by Jack McGowan (who also added incredible atmosphere to DERANGED). Ormsby (who also puts in a cameo here) tackles the domestic climate during the Vietnam War beautifully; families and friends fear their loved ones will not be coming back, and those that do return are not the same people as they once were. Helping flesh out the Vietnam analogy is a wonderful cast, headed by familiar character actors and Oscar-nominees John Morley (LOVE STORY, THE GODFATHER) and Lynn Carlin, both of whom had previously played a couple in John Cassavetes' FACES (1968)! Morley loves his son, but knows something is wrong with him and seeks aid from the local doctor and police force, while Carlin is so glad to see her favorite child return home, safe from danger, she overlooks any possible problems surrounding him that she becomes hostile and vicious towards anyone, including her own husband and daughter, who question his odd behavior. Alan's (ex-) wife Anya Ormsby (CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS) is a personal favorite of mine, and even though she is given little to do as the daughter caught in the firing range between family, the camera loves her, as do I (even though her screaming leaves much to be desired). The supporting cast also includes several familiar faces: Jane Daly and Jeff Gillen (co-director of DERANGED) had both been in Clark's CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS, shot the same year as this film. Composer Carl Zittrer makes full use of plucked piano strings, synthesizer, and various odds and ends to create one of the most hair-raising musical scores of the horror film genre. It's almost as good as his work on BLACK CHRISTMAS, and will definitely leave an impression on the audience. If you're a horror fan and you haven't seen DEATHDREAM, you are in for a real treat with this DVD. Upon first viewing of the film on a God-awful VHS tape, I was not that impressed. When revisiting the film via Blue Underground, it has become one of my very favorite horror films of the 70s. And as a bonus, look for a DEATHMASTER poster at the drive-in and Bob Clark as a policeman!
Though the a/v quality of DEATHDREAM is not as gorgeous as one would hope, it's head and shoulders above every other version that has been released. A rare original negative was discovered for the 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer, and while it's very grainy and dark in some sequences, it does not hinder the viewing experience. The audio is also a strong mono.
To compliment this underrated classic, Blue Underground has pulled out all stops in the supplements category. BU has included not one, but TWO audio commentaries with the men behind the masterpiece. The first commentary is contributed by director Bob Clark, who is the usual quiet subdued speaker but has a few good stories up his sleeve. He recalls meeting Alan Ormsby, shooting the film and working with the cast, but overall it's not a very lively commentary and David Gregory has to really pull information out of Clark. I was excited to hear Clark talk about making the obscure SHE MAN, though (!). On the other hand, Alan Ormsby's second audio commentary is packed with more information than you could hope for! He never lets a dead moment pass, telling humorous stories about falling asleep on the set, identifying cast members, explaining the motivation of the script and how the film was originally planned, joking about the script and mistakes in the film, and generally having a superb time discussing the film.
Also included are two featurettes: "Tom Savini: The Early Years" and "Deathdreaming." Tom Savini's featurette is incredibly fascinating; he tells the story of how he became so interested in make-up effects and his experiences working on low-budget feature films from DEATHDREAM (his first film) through MARTIN (his first with Romero). The best parts of this short are the rare outtakes and behind-the-scenes footage snippets from the set of DERANGED. MGM, why didn't you include these on your DERANGED DVD?! "Deathdreaming" interviews star Richard Bacchus ("Andy") about how he landed the part, his recollections of working with the esteemed John Morley and Lynn Carlin, and several near-death experiences on the set!
the completist, Blue Underground has also added for posterity an alternate opening
titles sequence, created for the reissue of the film under its familiar DEATHDREAM
moniker, and an extended closing sequence, culled from the MPI home video version.
The latter has apparently never appeared in any other print the company turned
up! Rounding out the extras is a very in-depth poster and stills collection, separated
into sections for behind-the-scenes photos, posters, publicity stills, U.S. pressbook,
video, and a special credits section. The behind-the-scenes shots are my favorite,
as they show the actors out of character and various preparations for some of
the film's highlight sequences, and also included in this section is the original
shooting script with production notes and Alan Ormsby's make-up concept sketches!
The posters show the alternate titles for the film, including DEAD OF NIGHT, plus
allows us to see foreign art from Italy! The publicity stills are your basic shot-on-set
photos of various key scenes. The pressbook is interesting because it includes
exploitation ideas for drawing patrons into the theater and ads enticing theater
owners to order radio spots for maximum advertisement opportunities. Video art
from the U.S., Germany, Japan, and Belgium are also included. (Casey
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