Dir. Bob Clark, 1972.
USA. 88 min.
He promised he’d come back! Brilliantly directed by Bob Clark (BLACK CHRISTMAS, A CHRISTMAS STORY), DEATHDREAM weaves allegory for Vietnam soldiers returning as PTSD-afflicted heroin junkies with unsettling oedipal conflict by telling the story of a soldier, declared dead, who surprises his grieving family by suddenly returning home. Andy looks and sounds the same, but he isn’t quite right: an emotionless husk, unable to reconnect with his family and friends, and suffering from some unknown physical ailment. Yet it’s not TLC that Andy needs to regain his sense of self, but blood -- preferably fresh, human blood, mainlined via syringe -- and when Andy’s parents have no choice but to face facts, they are horribly divided as to how to treat their darling boy’s affliction.
Often cited as an overlooked genre classic, DEATHDREAM benefits from a smart script, assured direction, and pitch-perfect performances. As Andy, Richard Backus brings an understated menace to his role that strikes a resoundingly creepy note. It’s effectively contrasted by the outstanding performances of John Marley and Lynn Carlin, recent co-stars of Cassavetes’s FACES, who treat the material with dignity, elevating it to the status of a rare horror film that manages to blend graphic gore with almost overwhelming emotional impact. And as in A CHRISTMAS STORY, Clark directs with a familiar sensitivity to domestic situations and the nuances of suburbia. The result, as genre aficionados have long known, is one of the most well-rounded and affecting masterpieces of horror cinema.
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