DEATHDREAM (1974) Blu-ray/DVD combo
Director: Bob Clark
Blue Underground

"Something unspeakable has come home" when Andy comes marching home in Blue Underground's Blu-ray/DVD combo release of Bob Clark's DEATHDREAM.

When the Brooks family receive the fateful telegram informing them that their son Andy (RYAN'S HOPE's Richard Backus) has been killed in Vietnam, his father Charles (John Marley, THE GODFATHER) takes to the bottle, sister Cathy (Anya Ormsby, CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS) is devastated, and fragile mother Christine (Lynn Carlin, SUPERSTITION) 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 (AS THE WORLD TURNS' 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.

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 living dead revenant returned to remind Middle America what it has sacrificed (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. 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.

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 – 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. Blue Underground's 2004 DVD returned to the former title, 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. Beating Blue Underground to the punch for the film's Blu-ray debut was German company Subkultur's edition from earlier this year, and Blue Underground's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 is similar in regards to the completeness in restoring the final line of dialogue from an inferior film source (a drop in quality for perhaps twenty seconds). While detail is improved, this is really only a matter of having access to the original camera negative and scanning it in 2K as Jack MacGowan's lighting is more creative than in CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS but still grainy with underexposed shadows; although a greater reliance on daylight scenes and well-lit interiors means that detail only suffers in these latter sequences when the focusing lags ever-so-slightly behind the performers. The enhanced detail does call attention to some incidental details like the G.I. bill advertisement in the bottom corner of the frame during the scene at the café. The sole audio option is a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono 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 is a pair of audio commentary tracks. On the first, Clark (moderated by David Gregory) 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 HALLOWEEN as fully writer/director/composer Carpenter's own work). On the second track, Ormsby discusses the inspiration of his screenplay "The Veteran" in "The Monkey's Paw" and the Irwin Shaw anti-war play "Bury the Dead" about six dead soldiers who refuse to be buried. He also discusses his make-up effects work with Savini and his opinions on the film.

Also carried over is "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. In "Tom Savini: The Early Years" (10:00), he 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 DEATHDREAM by art director Forest Carpenter (THE FEMALE BUNCH). In keeping with the featurette title, the discussion also includes Ormsby's DERANGED, Romero's MARTIN, and DAWN OF THE DEAD.

Ormsby also shows up on camera with ex-wife Anya Liffey in a new retrospective piece (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 (BLUEBLOOD) 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. Also new to the Blu-ray is a reel of actor Gary Swanson's screen test (12:31) which includes line readings with Anya Ormsby and CHILDREN's Gary Goch (who did sound on DEATHDREAM), 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.

"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 either as a supplement to one of their future Al Adamson releases or the documentary they have produced about him. 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. The "Deathdream" alternate opening titles (3:27) are also included which position 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 (3:48), as well as a poster and still gallery. The disc set also comes with a reversible cover and a booklet with an essay by critic Travis Crawford. (Eric Cotenas)