The Brooks family lovely pot roast dinner is interrupted by a knock at the door from a military police officer bearing an ominous telegram which states that their only son Andy has been killed while serving in Vietnam. The following night it comes as an even bigger surprise to the family when Andy (RICHARD BACKUS) appears in the living room, seemingly alive and happy to be home. Mom (LYNN CARLIN) is super stoked to have her boy home, but Dad (JOHN MARLEY) has some serious reservations about Andy’s oddly antisocial behavior. Andy refuses to speak unless spoken to, refuses to eat or drink anything, and would prefer to spend his days and nights manically rocking in his rocking chair ala Mrs. Bates. Andy also has major problems with the family dog Butch, and doesn’t think twice about strangling the little mutt in front of a pack of horrified neighborhood kids. Before tearing off to the local bar to drown his miseries in a bottle of scotch, Dad accuses Mom of turning his son into a “Momma’s boy” with her non-stop doting. What they both fail to realize is that Andy is acting super strange not because of over-mothering, but because he is a zombie and not the type that needs to eat brains to survive, but rather one who requires intravenous needle injections of fresh blood. The town doctor comes to realize this too late after performing a check-up on Andy and becomes his second victim (a truck driver is dispatched earlier in the flick). As with most undead needle users, Andy’s complexion begins to shows signs of strain and chunks of skin begin falling off his hands. To disguise this, he dons mirrored sunglasses and black riding gloves before going on a double date at the drive-in with his former sweetheart, his sister, and her beau. Naturally, his addiction gets the best of him, and let’s just say that his sister is the only one who makes it out of the double feature alive. Andy returns home covered in blood and into his Mom’s waiting arms. Dad whips out the family gun, but ends up turning it on himself after Mom tactfully reminds him that you can’t really kill the undead. The cops eventually show up looking for Andy, and one of the best mother/ undead son flaming car chases ensues around the town square and through the gates of the local cemetery.
Written by ALAN ORMSBY (CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS) and directed by BOB CLARK (BLACK CHRISTMAS), DEATHDREAM (originally released under the title DEAD OF NIGHT) can be seen as a social commentary on the effects of war on man. Andy’s needle usage is interesting twist on the plight of veterans who returned from the war hooked on heroin. Likewise, it also works as pretty unique examination of the bond between mothers and sons. The Mom point blank tells the daughter that she really never cared for her, and it’s all about her little boy Andy. Even though her brother is the walking dead, sis still places a distant second in Mom’s book. Released the same year as BLACK CHRISTMAS, fans of CLARK will enjoy his trademark use of exterior camera shots focusing on the action happening inside the windows of the house. This voyeuristic point-of-view removes you from the immediacy of the events and makes it seem all the more alien, just as it must seem from Andy’s undead perspective.
Andy throttles the dog
The doctor examines Andy to learn he has no pulse and audible heartbeat
After killing his sweetheart, and sis’s boyfriend, Andy plows over an innocent kid
Did I already mention the mother/undead-son flaming car chase?