Bob Clark 1941-2007

Bob Clark is well known for writing and directing Porky's and A Christmas Story, but his second feature Deathdream (aka Dead of Night) made in 1974 with Alan Orsmby is one of the great lost horror films of the seventies. A family is told of the death of their son Andy (Richard Backus) in Vietnam. Later that same night Andy shows up at the front door. But he is different, detached...And a truck driver has been found dead nearby drained of blood.
It's pretty impossible not to see a deeper subtext within the movie even if you're not usually inclined to that sort of thing. Deathdream was made while the Vietnam war was still raging, so the idea of a blood starved ghoul back from the dead who is a war veteran, becomes a pretty good externalization of both the number of veterans who returned from Vietnam as junkies (at one point Andy uses a syringe to inject blood) as well as for the those veterans so emotionally damaged as to be zombies.
Deathdream also has a desperation that is essential to all good horror stories, both in the "monster" of Andy and played out in different ways through his parents. In is mother who can't accept her son is a blood hungry ghoul and his father (played by John Marley-the the guy who discovers the horse head in his bed in the Godfather!) who is trying to hold things together with what's left. The mother played by Lynn Carlin is both scary and heartbreaking in her refusal to see anything is wrong and her useless effort to make things good. Carlin's performance is hair raising. Richard Backus plays it a little too intense for my liking, maybe a bit too one dimensional, but it grows on you. and as it unfolds you realize the film's focus is more concerned with everything around him and not really that interested in him. There is something about the general setting of the small Florida town, seventies kitchens, and drive-in theaters, that watching the movie today, it can't not drip with a certain odd suburban (i.e. family) nostalgia.
It builds a snowball like momentum as miscommunication and destruction leads to inevitable doom. but its a doom that affects barely anyone. The whole film is focused on a tight family unit creating an intimate tragedy. The last scene of the film with Andy and his mother in a shallow grave surrounded by bewildered onlookers is amazing.
Bob Clark also made Black Christmas, the first modern slasher movie. Fuck you Halloween.

posted by sammy at 9:39 PM

Blogger Milo George said...

hey sammy,

I'm glad to hear you got a lot out of DEATHDREAM -- you've read Jacobs' "The Monkey's Paw," right?

Clark made that handful of near-perfect films, but even a lot of his less-great movies are thoughtful and rich enough to be be worth seeing, like TURK 182, FROM THE HIP, MURDER BY DECREE and TRIBUTE. But then for every movie like that, there's at least one clunker like CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS or BREAKING POINT or RHINESTONE. Clark had an odd career; I guess he's more of a working director who happened to make a few classics rather than a filmmaker who made a lot of studio movies.

12:30 PM  

Blogger Luke P. said...

DEATHDREAM is really good. I want it remade for the remake in Iraq

5:09 PM  

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