Saturday, January 08, 2005

Bob Clark and Deathdream


Bob Clark is peculiar filmmaker. He's made three very significant films - Black Christmas, Porky's and A Christmas Story - and yet his name is only vaguely familiar to most.

Of those, I'm sure, Black Christmas is the least likely to be a recognizable to most people, but it influenced many, many lesser thrillers (including, with due credit/blame to Mario Bava's Twitch Of The Death Nerve and Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, most movies in the so-called "slasher" genre) as well as John Carpenter's Halloween. It's a compelling, tight little thriller. If you haven't seen it, you definitely should.

I suspect part of the reason so little is made of Bob Clark has never gotten the kind of attention of his peers, aside from the mediocrity of many of his less well-known works, is how little they stand out as the work of one man. Obviously, Black Christmas and A Christmas Story share a holiday in common, and Porky's and A Christmas Story share being period works, in fact both are movies that play on a kind of nostalgic humor.

Somewhere there's room for a discussion of Turk 182, but I'll leave that for another day...

Today, it's time to discuss Deathdream (aka Dead Of Night, The Night Andy Came Home, Night Walk, The Veteran and even Whispers).

Deathdream has long been a footnote for being the first film on which Tom Savini worked as a makeup artist, but hasn't been widely available on video.

It is, however, quite a chilling little movie. Anchored as it is by a near brilliant performance by Richard Backus, I'd say it's ultimately creepier and more effective than Black Christmas. The American Nightmare covered in some depth how Vietnam affected a generation of horror filmmakers. Deathdream, however, is the only one I know offhand that deals so directly with the subject matter.

Much of the commentary is obvious from a synopsis of the story (soldier returns from Vietnam with something very wrong), but the some of the more interesting commentary is more subtle. The town he returns to is very old-time Americana, almost like a version of Mayberry, which shows an interesting contrast. Apparently, screenwriter Alan Ormsby even offhandedly referred to the town as "Pleasantville, USA" in the script.

I dunno. I liked it a lot. I think Bob Clark should leave the baby geniuses be and do another horror movie. He's pretty dang good at it.

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