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DEAD OF NIGHT (1972)
(aka Deathdream / aka Night Walk / aka The Night Andy Came Home / aka The Veteran)

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"I died for you, Doc - why shouldn’t you return the favour?"

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Director: Bob Clark

Starring: Richard Backus, John Marley, Lynne Carlin, Anya Ormsby, Henderson Forsythe, Jane Daly

Screenplay: Alan Ormsby

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Andy Brooks (Richard Backus) is killed in action in Vietnam. In his home town of Brooksville, his mother Christine (Lynne Carlin) prays for him and talks of him constantly, to the obvious discomfort of her husband Charlie (John Marley) and daughter Cathy (Anya Ormsby). When the telegram announcing Andy’s death arrives, Christine refuses to accept it. During the night, Charlie hears Christine talking out loud to Andy, claiming that he promised her that nothing would happen to him. Soon afterwards, a truckdriver picks up a hitchhiker, a soldier who barely speaks to him. During the night, Cathy is woken by noises in the house. When the family goes downstairs, they find Andy. Christine is overjoyed and wants to throw a party to celebrate, but Andy doesn’t want to see anyone or even have it known that he’s home. The next morning, the truckdriver is found dead with gruesome injuries and puncture marks in his arm. Christine continues to celebrate Andy’s presence, but Andy’s odd behaviour begins to worry Charlie. Christine accuses Charlie of not wanting Andy back. When Charlie’s dog barks and snarls at him, Andy strangles it with one hand. Charlie is furious, and goes out to get drunk. He meets the town doctor, who has performed the autopsy on the truckdriver. When Charlie tells him about Andy, the doctor suspects that Andy was the killer. The two men go to see Andy, whose behaviour confirms the doctor’s suspicions. Andy follows the doctor to his rooms, reveals that he is a dead man, and kills him for the blood he needs. When Charlie hears of the doctor’s death, he is sure that Andy is the killer. He comes home to confront him, but Andy has gone out with his sister, her boyfriend, and his old girlfriend. Andy’s degenerative condition is speeding up. His need for blood is increasing, and so is his homicidal mania.

A clever, low-key re-working of "The Monkey’s Paw", Dead Of Night is one of the few Vietnam-era films which did not baulk at referring directly to the horrors of that conflict. To a large extent, the film works because of its ordinariness: Andy’s family could be any family, his girlfriend is sweet but unexceptional, the town is Anywhere USA. Against this backdrop the anti-war overtones of the film make a valid point: Vietnam was a horror destroying ordinary lives all over America. Andy is allowed to verbalise his bitterness over his "death", while for his family, the nightmare is literally brought into the home. One of the film's numerous alternate titles is The Veteran, and in the strangeness of Andy's behaviour we see a neat metaphor for the difficulties of readjustment. Andy’s not-so-perfect nuclear family gives an extra edge to the story. As played by John Marley (who had a rough year in 1972: here his character shoots himself; elsewhere, he found a horse's head in his bed), and Lynne Carlin, the ongoing battle between Charlie and Christine - antagonistic father and smothering mother - gives the audience a fair idea of why Andy may have enlisted: we have the uncomfortable feeling that these power struggles have been going on since Andy’s childhood. Underlying this, Andy’s increasingly desperate need for injections of sustaining blood contributes a sense of the film as an allegory of drug addiction. (Recently, this aspect of the film has inadvertantly taken on a suggestion of an AIDS metaphor.) But for all these overtones, this is first and foremost a horror film. Although in essence a modern zombie movie, the film’s physical effects - an early effort by a post-Nam Tom Savini (when Tom Savini’s draft notice arrived, he enrolled in a photography course to avoid being sent to Vietnam. He ended up being drafted as a military photographer), wisely play second fiddle to its psychological horrors, which are all the more effective for the film’s refusal to offer an explanation, and for Andy’s full knowledge of his condition. The film’s conclusion, referring back to a mysterious visit by Andy to the local cemetary, is surprisingly touching: rapidly degenerating, chased by the police, Andy crawls into a grave which he has prepared for himself. When his mother begins to help him fill in his own grave, Andy is able to "die" again, this time permanently. Her final acceptance is his release from his nightmare.

The Alan Ormsby/Tom Savini combination later made Deranged (1974), a not-too-far-from-the-truth depiction of the life of Wisconsin psychopath, Ed Gein. Director Bob Clark went on to the even greater horrors of Porky’s (1982) and Porky’s II (1983).