*** (out of 4)
Bob Clark's somber horror tale about parents Charles and Christine Brooks (John Marley, Lynn Carlin) who learn that their son Andy (Richard Backus) was killed in Vietnam. A short time later they are shocked to see that Andy has returned home. The mother accepts her son but the father seems to think that there's something not quite right.
Clark's DEAD OF NIGHT, also known as DEATHDREAM, is one of the more unique horror films from this era because not only does it work as a horror movie but it's also quite effective as a drama. Obviously being 1974, the Vietnam war was still a hot topic and the film's screenplay by Alan Ormsby perfectly borrows from The Monkey's Paw story while also throwing in a few twists and of course there's the updating of the setting.
I think Clark deserves a lot of credit for the visual style and atmosphere that he created for the film. The film really does a great job at capturing this small town and I really loved the dark look that he gave it. Obviously this is a fairly sad story about a dead soldier returning home to his parents and Clark's direction is right on the mark. The story is told in a rather slow fashion but this too really helps build up the atmopshere and the overall look of the film.
Another thing that really works well is the drama. Seeing how this dream come true of having their son return to them turn into a nightmare as it slowly rips the family apart is perfect drama and every bit of it works. Even better is the fact that we're treated to some really fine performances including both Carlin and Backus as the mother and son. The real standout is Marley who is simply wonderful as the father who knows that the person living with them isn't really his son.
DEAD OF NIGHT certainly has some flaws as it's not the perfect movie but, considering the budget, Clark was really able to build a rather dark and twisted tale.