Thursday, 8 August 2013

Dead of Night (Deathdream) - review

1972 (Canada/UK)

Wow, what a bit more time and money can do. Six months after Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things was completed director Bob Clark and many of the returning cast began production on an altogether more technically and artistically ambitious zombie title and the extra time, money and experience is clear from the opening scenes. Children Shouldn't Play was charming and funny and I liked it a lot, but it was undeniably amateurish and resembled more the work of a film studies student than a seasoned director. Dead of Night is an altogether different proposition; with a mature thought provoking and coherent story, confident direction and production and minimalistic, in style, dialogue delivered convincingly.

Andy Brooks (Richard Backus), a war weary young Vietnam soldier has returned home to his doting mum Christine (Lynn Carlin), father Charles (John Marley) and sister Cathy (the returning Anya Ormsby). Numb, hollow and angry at the world Alan finds it hard to reintegrate with a family that expected the same loving son that left to return, as they struggle with how they should respond and react to someone who is obviously scarred from the experience. It's powerful stuff with complex fully realised characters and all the unspoken complicated interpersonal relationship hangups you'd expect.

Alan spends his time rocking back and forth alone in silence on the chair in his bedroom and all attempts to cajole him back to life by his increasingly desperate father and sister all fall flat. He won't eat, refuses to see his old girl friend Joanne (Jane Daly) and begins to behave in increasingly antisocial ways that scare his family who become polarised in how they should respond.

On the surface what we have is a personal drama of the war weary veteran struggling to reassimilate with family, friends and society; it's the allegory of the damage the horrors of war does to those that survive it. But it's more. You see Alan is not only metaphorically dead, but is actually dead. Whether it's the passion from a mother who refuses to accept he won't return or the power to have vengeance on a society that sent him to die, either way after being shot in the line of duty here he is reanimated and returned home.

Andy is an altogether different kind of zombie. I've reviewed films in which infected people behave like mindless zombies, like 28 Days Later and The Crazies, but this plays out more the other way round. He's definitely dead, with no pulse, no heartbeat and decaying flesh but he can talk, he can drive a car and seems to have self awareness and both the instinct and appetite for self preservation. As a returning emotionally drained war veteran it's a brilliant duality, a brilliant metaphor and perfectly realised. In many ways he reminded me of the undead from The Last Man on Earth; he knows what he is and he knows who he was, he's the same but different.

Let's not forget that this is still a horror film though. Alan requires blood to maintain the illusion and his self preservation instinct drives him to kill for it. Without blood which he seems both happy to get direct from the source, so to speak, by tearing into people or from extracting and injecting it, he soon deteriorates, his flesh falls off and begins to resemble the ghoul that he is. Like The Last Man on Earth Alan isn't quite the zombie in the traditional sense, yet he's also not a vampire or revenant; it's unique and complex.

Dead of Night is a very good film. Each scene is powerful yet simple with the quality of the script and acting allowed to be front and centre and dictate the pace. Clark also demonstrates extreme confidence in his directing, filling the film with long meaningful gaps and silences and letting a very deliberate pace dictate the tension as much as the narrative does. The film works on many levels, a provocative anti-war film, a dark subdued horror and a complex family drama; there's a lot going on and everything works together beautifully. Powerful, mature and expertly delivered; recommended, 8/10.



  1. LOVE this film. Solid review, I like the comparison to Last Man on Earth... tables are flipped though, in that the undead is alone in a see of alive, as opposed to Vincent Price's BRILLIANT portrayal of an isolated alive person.

    1. Thanks, I really didn't expect much from this Bob Clark double bill but came away quite smitten with both of them.