There are pleasant surprises and unpleasant surprises and Dead of Night 9also known as Deathdream, among other names) was one of the pleasant ones. I have to admit, when I saw it was created by the team of writer Alan Ormsby and director Bob Clark, who also wrote/directed the execrable Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, my heart sank. All the more pleasant then when this turned out to be such a good film!
At its heart, Dead of Night is a scathing critique of the Vietnam War (war in general, really, but that one in particular) and the effect it had on the people who fought it and the people who care for them. Here, a family is told their son Andy has been killed, but then he inexplicably shows up at home, seemingly fine. But before long it’s apparent to almost everyone that something isn’t right. He barely speaks, he’s emotionless and in one brutal sequence he kills the family dog in front of a group of neighborhood kids. Soon, bodies begin piling up and everything points to Andy. Turns out he’s a zombie who needs blood to keep from rotting away and before long the process accelerates to the point where he can’t get what he needs fast enough to stop falling apart.
That brief recap doesn’t really do the story justice, though. It’s remarkably subtle and for much of the film it’s possible to believe he’s not a zombie, but just a shellshocked soldier. Richard Backus turns in an awesomely creepy performance as Andy, which is a big part of the movie’s appeal. The supporting cast plays their roles well, too, but Backus knocks it out of the park. Between him and the direction, the film has a great creepy atmosphere.
Some films are justly forgotten by time and some unjustly. This one definitely deserves more accolades and attention than it’s received. It’s one of the best anti-war/Vietnam pictures I’ve ever seen, a damn fine zombie movie and the most unexpected gem of the marathon. Please see it if you haven’t already.