Tuesday, September 18, 2012

We Regret to Inform You...: "Deathdream" (1974)

In this slight variation on the famous short story "The Monkey's Paw," a Florida family is stunned when they are given the news that their son was killed in combat. They are even more surprised when he shows up alive at home a few days later.

At first, Charles (John Marley) and Christine (Lynn Carlin) are thrilled that Andy (Richard Backus) is home. Cute sis Cathy (Anya Ormsby) eventually gets caught between the two sides. Charles realizes Andy ain't quite right. We find out Andy killed a truck driver he rode with, strangled the beloved family dog, and does nothing but sit upstairs in the rocking chair all day. He only leaves when he starts again, murdering people and using a syringe to drain them of their blood. Christine is in denial about Andy's "problem" until it is too late.

Bob Clark is best known for bringing the "Porky's" series to the screen, but he also made a few horror films like the okay "Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things," and the marvelous "Black Christmas." "Deathdream" would be the lesser of these three films.

Carlin and Marley are two Academy Award nominated character actors who give the feather weight material their all. Unfortunately, they came off as overacting way more than their roles call for. Christine is in hysterics almost from the opening scenes, as Marley mopes and yells. Backus does a good job as Andy, but the best cast member here has some of the least amount of screen time. Jane Daly plays Andy's girlfriend, Joanne, and she is great. She's cute, funny, and only shows up in the last third of the film.

Screenwriter Alan Ormsby has a nice idea here, but the pacing is off. Also, logic never seems to matter. How the hell did dead Andy get from Vietnam (where it is assumed he was shot) all the way to Florida? What about the military angle? If Andy got up and walked away, why wasn't Andy's family notified that his body was missing? Most of the main characters turn their common sense off throughout. Clark's direction is also a little off. Some of the lighting looks like someone merely removed the shade from a nearby lamp. Tom Savini's makeup is okay, there is not a ton of blood or exploding heads, but Andy does rot rather well.

"Deathdream" was obviously done on the cheap, and you have definitely seen worse films. It is a typical two-star effort, but you can take comfort in knowing it was just a warm-up before Clark terrified the world with..."Baby Geniuses." (* *) out of five stars.