Wicked Wednesday: Deathdream aka Dead of Night (1972)

“Andy you can’t die. You can’t die. You promised me. You promised you’d come back.”

Deathdream is the second project with screenwriter Alan Ormsby and director Bob Clark. The first, Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Thingswas a light-hearted zombie romp, but Deathdream tackles a tougher subject matter…with a zombie.

The Brooks family is like any other. They live a simple all-American life in their small town while the son, Andy, is away at war in Vietnam. Though one night, the family receive a telegram revealing that Andy has been killed in the war.

The remaining family, Andy’s parents Charles and Christine and their daughter Cathy, are distraught. But Christine begins to deny that her son could be truly dead. Before Andy left for Vietnam, he promised his mother that he would come back home. She insists the the telegram is a lie, and spends much of the night in a rocking chair – waiting for her son.

That night, a truck driver picks up a hitch-hiker. The driver eventually pulls in at a diner to grab cigarettes and coffee. He tells the woman working behind the counter about his hitch-hiker, mentioning that the man is a soldier. He also says that his passenger has hardly spoken a word to him on the journey. But despite the strange company, the driver gets back into his truck and continues his travels.

Later, Charles is woken by his daughter, who says she’s heard something. The family creep downstairs, looking for an intruder. The at first only find the dog, but then discover Andy standing behind the door – seemingly completely alive.

After the initial shock of their dead son being alive, the family gather around the kitchen table to welcome Andy home. Only the boy is quiet and emotionless. They tell him they thought he was dead, to which he replies that he was. The family are creeped out, but he flashes the slowest, shiver-inducing smile that brings his family to hysterical laughter.

The truck driver’s mutilated body is found later the morning.

When brought to the coroner’s, the police and the coroner find an injection mark on the truck driver’s arm. The policeman immediately suspects that the death had to be drug-related, but the coroner is much more hesitant.

The police investigation eventually brings them to the diner where the truck driver was last seen. The workers tell the police about the driver’s visit – and of his soldier passenger.

Back at the Brooks household, Andy isn’t adjusting. Or rather, his family aren’t. Andy is standoffish, doesn’t do anything but rock in the rocking chair or ignore people. He tells his family that he doesn’t even want to tell anyone about his return home. His mom shrugs and says Andy his sensitive. But Charles is skeptical at the change in his son (and so is the dog).

People try to connect with Andy by talking to him about the war. Though any mention of the war or other soldiers just makes Andy walk away.

One day, a group of neighbourhood boys visit Andy and begin to talk to him about the war. The insessant talking sets Andy off, and he grabs the family dog and strangles it to death in front of the kids.

Charles also sees his son, and goes to the pub to drink away his hurt. At the pub, his friend Doctor Philip arrives and sees that Charles is incredibly drunk. Charles tells him about Andy’s return, and the problems they’ve had since that night.

The doctor brings Charles home, and the two decide to sit and have a talk with the boy. While Doc talks to Andy, he quickly makes the connection between Andy’s journey home and the death of the truck driver.

Doc takes Charles aside and tells him of his concerns. He tells Charles that he will be calling the police and alerting them, though he doesn’t think that Andy really killed anyone.

The doctor goes home, but is followed by Andy, who has snuck out of the house. Doc calls the police, but never says a word. After he hangs up the phone, he’s confronted by Andy, who is looking a bit worse for wear. His skin has become wrinkled, and his eyes begin to bulge.

Andy tells the doctor that he actually did die in Vietnam. He then makes the doctor take his pulse and his heartbeat, just to prove that he is actually dead. Only then does he attack the doctor and kill him. Andy then takes a syringe out and takes the doctor’s blood. When he gives himself the blood, he begins to appear more life-like.

At home, Cathy tells her mother that she is planning a surprise double date. She and her boyfriend, Bob, along with Andy and his girl Joanne. The surprise is eventually ruined for Andy, but he reluctantly agrees to go with.

The surprise is also ruined for Joanne, who hasn’t been dating much since Andy went to war. But she’s overwhelmed when she’s told of his return. The four kids go to the drive-in together for their double-date.

Meanwhile, Charles goes to see Doc, but when he arrives at his house, learns of the doctor’s death. Charles decides to divulge information about the soldier who killed the truck driver. Though in the end, Andy’s dad doesn’t give away information about his son, but rather tries to misdirect.

At the drive-in, Bob and Cathy leave Joanne to ‘reconnect’ with Andy. But when she sees he’s decomposing, he attacks her and kills her. When Bob and Cathy return, Andy kills Bob in front of everyone at the drive-in.

Andy steals the car and drives back home. Charles finds his son with Christine, who is in denial about her son’s state. Charles pulls out a gun, but is unable to shoot it. When he sees Andy in his decomposed state, he goes into his bedroom and shoots himself.

Christine takes Andy into the car as police arrive. As Christine drives, her son continues to decompose rapidly. He directs her to the cemetery, where the car crashes.

Andy falls into a grave he has been digging himself, with a tombstone he’s carved with his name and the years of his birth and death. Christine mourns her son as he finally dies the death he should have.

Much of Deathdream is a not-so-subtle reference to the severe PTSD many of the soldiers suffered upon their return from Vietnam. The war was unlike the great wars before them, and Ormsby’s script beautifully illustrates the difference between the two generations.

While I enjoyed Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead ThingsDeathdream is head and shoulders above it. It’s a thoughtful, interesting bit of horror that I really recommend.

Who can turn the world on with his smiiiile? 

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