In Vietnam, a young soldier called Andy is gunned down and killed. His family receive a letter informing them of his death, but his mother completely refuses to believe the news. Later that night Andy's mother rocks back and forth saying she knows he's still alive, as he promised he wouldn't die. The family wake in the middle of the night when they hear noises coming from downstairs, they soon discover Andy has come home apparently unharmed. Putting the letter of his death down to a clerical error, they celebrate his return. Over the next few days, it starts to become clear that something is very wrong with Andy.
Richard Backus is chilling as Andy, he's so cold and detached it's disturbing. This was his very first acting role and it's hard to imagine anyone else in the role, though I believe Christopher Walken was the director's first choice. For some reason he didn't have a particularly good career, and seems to have gave up acting in 1992. John Marley adds some real star quality as Andy's father, Charles. It's his character that first starts to suspect that something's wrong with Andy, he's torn between the love he has for his son and the horror of what he's becoming. Marley was nominated for an Oscar the year before for his performance in Love Story, he also appeared in The Godfather earlier the same year as Deathdream. Lynn Carlin is also excellent as Andy's mother, Christine. No matter what Andy does, she absolutely refuses to believe that anything is wrong, this leads to some really good scenes between herself and Marley. Carlin was another who was Oscar nominated for her film debut in 1968 called Faces, a film in which she starred along side her Deathdream co-star John Marley. Deathdream is brilliantly directed by Bob Clark, this was his second film in as many years that he made from an Alan Ormsby screenplay, the first being the rather boring but entertaining Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things. A few years later Clark would go on to make his masterpiece, the outstanding horror film, Black Christmas. He later made the Sherlock Holmes/Jack The Ripper classic Murder By Decree, the teen sex classic Porky's and one of the most loved Christmas films of all time with A Christmas Story. He then made the Dolly Parton/Sylvester Stallone film Rhinestone, it's a terrible film and was a huge flop and almost ended his career. He never recovered and sadly was making films like Baby Geniuses and The Karate Dog before his untimely death in 2007 when he and his son were killed in a car crash. I believe Clark is one of the most underrated director's of the 70s and early 80s, and Deathdream is one of his best.
The music is fantastic in Deathdream, very few horror film scores have been as effective as the one here, his following film Black Christmas also had a great score. The music composer was Carl Zittrer and he did the music on most of Bob Clark's films up to and including A Christmas Story in '83. There isn't much blood and gore as the film chooses to build the atmosphere through great acting and music, but when effects are needed as the film reaches it's conclusion, they're done extremely well. The makeup department on the film consisted of screenwriter Alan Ormsby and a very young Tom Savini who had just returned from Vietnam as a combat cameraman. Savini is one of the great makeup artists and special effects men around, Deathdream was the film that gave him his first shot and he soon went on to achieve a great level of fame and success, especially for his work with George A. Romero. Deathdream also has quite a bit of humour in it, Black Christmas did the same thing but was more successful in using it. It sometimes feels a little forced at times and over the top, but the rest of the film is so bleak and chilling that it's definitely needed just to break the tension now and again.
The dvd from Blue Underground is very good, the picture quality isn't as good as a lot of their films, but that'll be down to the source material rather than a fault from Blue Underground. It's very grainy in parts of the film, in other scenes there seems to be some type of pulsating where it goes lighter to darker, there's probably a name for it but i'm not the most technical of viewer. It looks absolutely fine most of the way through, now and again it even looks superb. The dvd is region free so will play on UK machines, why Amazon can never list the actual region code on US dvd's is very annoying. The film has some good extras, there's a 10 minute interview with Tom Savini who always gives entertaining interviews, a 12 minute interview with Richard Backus which was good, alternate opening titles, extended ending sequence, theatrical trailer, and poster & stills gallery. The real stand out is the 2 commentary tracks, the first from director/producer Bob Clark, the second with screenwriter Alan Ormsby. Both are very informative and a good listen. Despite all the extras there are no subtitles.
Deathdream was unavailable in the UK until recently when it was relesed under the title Dead Of Night, it's been released as a double feature with Clark and Ormsby's earlier film Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things. That doesn't have any of the extras that are on this version, so this would be the version to go for.