In Vietnam, US soldier Andy Brooks is shot by a sniper and falls to the ground. As he dies, he hears his mother’s voice calling out, “Andy, you’ll come back. You’ve got to. You promised.” The voice becomes sinister and muffled as Andy’s eyes close. Sometime later, his family receives notice of his death in combat.
Back home, Andy’s father, Charles, and sister, Cathy, begin to grieve, but his mother, Christine, becomes irate and refuses to believe that Andy has died. Hours later, in the middle of the night, Andy arrives at the front door in full uniform and apparently unharmed; the family accepts the notice of his death as a clerical error and welcomes him back with joy.
Over the next few days, Andy displays strange, withdrawn behavior, speaking only rarely, dressing in an unusually concealing manner, and spending his days sitting around the house listless and anemic. Meanwhile, local police investigate the murder of a local trucker, who was found with his throat slashed and his body drained of blood after telling diner patrons that he’d picked up a hitchhiking soldier.
Charles attempts to confront Christine about Andy’s erratic behavior, which causes tension between the couple. Christine insists that Charles was too withdrawn and authoritarian toward Andy; Charles counters that Christine made Andy too sensitive by smothering him. Andy continues to display unusual behavior: he attacks a neighbor boy who attempts to demonstrate his karate skills, then kills the family dog when it tries to protect the child. At night, Andy becomes inexplicably lively and animated, wandering the town and spending time in the local cemetery.
Charles brings home a doctor and family friend, who offers Andy a checkup. He later tells Charles about the truck driver and says he needs to inform the police about the suspicious coincidence of Andy’s return. Andy visits him in the middle of the night demanding a checkup, but the doctor can’t detect a pulse or heartbeat. Andy tells him, “I died for you, Doc. Why shouldn’t you return the favor?” He attacks and kills the doctor, then uses a syringe to inject the doctor’s blood into his arm. It’s clear that Andy is some kind of vampire or zombie who needs the blood of others to reinvigorate his decaying body.
The next day, Charles becomes convinced his son is responsible for the deaths. When Christine tells him that Andy is on a double date with his high school sweetheart, Joanne, his sister and his best friend, Charles gets his gun and goes looking for them. At a drive-in cinema, Andy visibly decays due to lack of blood. He attacks and kills Joanne and his friend. The other patrons witness the attack. Andy flees before he can inject his victims’ blood, running over and killing one of the patrons.
Andy returns home, where his mother protects him from his father. Charles commits suicide when he sees what his son has become. As Christine is driving Andy away, he is shot at by police. They pursue him, and the chase ends at the graveyard where he had been spending his free time. They discover Andy’s decayed corpse writhing in a shallow grave beneath a tombstone on which Andy himself had scrawled his own name and the dates of his birth and death. Christine sobs as she tries to cover the corpse with dirt.
The original script title was THE VETERAN, but investors thought that might be too controversial.” In the times when drive-ins and independent theaters flourished, low budget “B run” features would often be retitled and rereleased with different ad campaigns with the hopes of clicking with a better ad approach of hoodwinking audiences into seeing an old film again, or both. The film Alan wrote and Bob directed would be alternately known as DEAD OF NIGHT, WHISPERS, NIGHT WALK, and THE NIGHT ANDY CAME HOME, but became known to most as DEATHDREAM.
The result was a classic mix of realistic soap opera family drama with great horror shocks. When Andy (Richard Backus) is killed in Vietnam as the opening credits roll, we are introduced to his parents, his high strung, overprotective mother. Mom goes into shock and denial, believing her son is still alive and praying that he will come home soon. Her prayers are finally answered as Andy hitchhikes home: a confused, emotionally withdrawn corpse with a taste for blood, especially that of those who encouraged him to enlist. The film’s climax has Andy’s cover blown on a drive-in double date as blood begins to run from under his ever-present shades. And they all thought he was just acting strange because of the war. The underlying anti-‘Nam theme is strong for a horror film, with Andy’s idyllic middle class family and friends laughably pathetic in their attempts to relate or sympathize with his war trauma. At one point amidst the bloodshed, zombie Andy asks one of his victims, “I died for you! Why can’t you return the favor?”
“Clearly we had a political idea in mind,” Clark explains, “but we didn’t want anyone to be able to say it was an obvious preachment. We wanted to stay within the horror movie conventions. But when you have a film where the hero/villain is a soldier who shoots blood like a dope fiend to keep himself alive it’s obvious what the metaphor we’re going for is. Americans at the time were oblivious of this, but it was the French who picked up on it right away, and the film made quite a splash over there.”
Not only is Deathdream a grim, macabre shocker in the best tradition of ’70s low budget horror, it was one of the first American films to deal with the real-life honors of Vietnam, and the agony of the soldiers returning home from that disastrous conflict. Although the war is never explicitly named in the movie, the period and setting all make the connection unmistakable, as does Andy’s condition his return from death, in a zombified state and needing injections of blood to survive, painfully echoes the plight of vets who came home shattered by their experiences in the jungle, many alienating themselves from family and friends or turning to drugs to cope with what they had seen or done.
“I was intrigued with the idea of a very subtle anti-war film—not so much anti-war, but anti-misunderstanding of what the war was doing,” says Clark today. “I was not in favor of the war, but I also was not in favor of the approach to the soldiers, which was a different phenomenon.
There were very subtle ideas working in there, and Alan and I were both determined not to hammer them, and just let the story do its own thing. So it was both an intellectual and pure aesthetic horror film challenge.”
Deathdream was given the green light as a result of the success of Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things. “Children was a little movie done in eight days for $40,000, and it was picked up by a Canadian company called Quadrant Films which did very well with it, so they said they’d finance another movie of ours,” recalls Clark, “Alan had been talking about Deathdream and wanting to create it, and I encouraged him to do so. When he finished the script, I thought it was quite splendid and intelligent and scary, and that we could do it within the budget range Quadrant had allowed us. They gave us $200,000, and we set about to do the film.”
While both Clark and Ormsby did not want the movie to hit viewers over the head with its message, there was no doubt where its intentions came from. The Script was written out of anger about the war.” Ormsby says. And Vietnam seemed like the perfect subject for a horror film. The story was my own invention, with echoes of ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ by W.W. Jacobs and Irwin Shaw’s anti-war play, Bury the Dead. It was written in about two weeks. When I sat down at the typewriter, I knew exactly where the story was going and how to get there. Which was good, since it was a manual typewriter and I did not have the stamina for a second draft.”
Both men knew they were tackling a sensitive subject. In 1972, the war was coming to a close, but the United States was still scarred from the passionate and sometimes violent emotions the conflict had riled up. I wanted it to be shocking and controversial, says Ormsby. “Films in the ’70s were more open to ‘taboo’ subjects than they are now.”
“This was 1972 when we were shooting, and the war was over, but the pain of it was not,” says Clark. “But I didn’t care about it being a sensitive topic. There was nothing wrong with that. It was a subtle statement at any rate, making a point that there is a core human quality to a war, which is the people who fight it, especially if they are believers and passionate people. That’s why we chose small-town America and an average sort of young man to portray that idea. But I’d been through much more controversy in the ’60s, when things were much more vocal and physical. This needed to be said and I didn’t expect any huge repercussions from it. It was open territory.
The filmmakers’ biggest challenge was making the movie work in such a way that audiences could enjoy it as a straight horror shocker without feeling like they were being lectured. “We wanted to not make statements. We wanted to be in a clear, definitive horror mode, a leitmotif that fit the horror genre, and I believe we succeeded, the director says, “But of course, you could not help but draw conclusions about who (Andy was, and what had put him in this state and this upturning of small-town values, many of which I do appreciate. I don’t dismiss small-town America and its values. But this war was interesting in that people were even saying ‘no’ to it in the first place. Not that the Vietnamese were right-didn’t believe that either, There was no right or wrong.
“Andy symbolizes the all-American boy, raised on the American dream, who went to Vietnam and comes back changed into the American nightmare”, concurs Ormsby, who says very little of his script was changed during production. He lost his life in a meaningless war and now he’s on a mission: He wants retribution before he disintegrates and surrenders to the grave. His rage, and his mother’s psychic force, keep him alive. Or he might be the manifestation of his mother’s buried resentment against her husband for encouraging their son to go to war, or of his father’s guilt for sending him.
This delicate balance of social consciousness and atmospheric horror could not have been successfully achieved without a strong performer in the crucial role of Andy Brooks. Enter Richard Backus, a young native of New Hampshire who had been making a name for himself on Broadway at the time when he got a call to audition for what would turn out to be his first film role:
“I had a certain high visibility in New York at the time, so I was sort of the “new young man”, “Says the soft spoken Backus, who now writes for the daytime drama One Life to Live. As a result, my agent set me up for a bunch of different film projects, and Deathdream was one of them. I remember going to this street-level office on 70th Street, and the woman who was casting it told me a little bit about the movie and asked me to look at a lamp next to her, and focus as much anger and rage as I possibly could on it. And when I felt I’d gotten as angry and intense as possible, then she wanted me to turn and put the anger on her. That’s what I remember from the audition: I don’t remember meeting with Alan and Bob before being cast.”
Clark recalls that he had seen another performer as well whom he almost cast in the part, which might have made Deathdream a radically different film. It was interesting, because when I went to New York and saw people, I had another actor in mind, I had almost made my mind up to go with Christopher Walken, but in the end I thought he was just too powerful, Richard had an unusualness about him, and also that “average Joe’ common-fellow quality. When he went into his state’s of being zombielike, he actually became quite creepy. Richard came out on top because of that, and it was the right choice.
Meanwhile, the little film landed a major casting coup with the signing of The Godfather’s tough-guy Hollywood producer, Marley, in the role of Andy’s emotionally torn father. “We just called his agent and said, “This is a film we believe in passionately, can we send the script?” ” Clark remembers. John responded very strongly to the material himself, and said yes, I was floored and thrilled he had just gotten an Academy Award nomination the year before. John went on to be a dear friend for the rest of his life.”
With the rest of the cast in place, including veteran actress Carlin as Andy’s mother and (Ormsby’s then-wife) Anya Ormsby as his sister, shooting commenced in late summer 1972, in the small central Florida town of Brooksville on an eight-week schedule. Backus recalls being intrigued with the challenge of playing a character like Andy.
Again, Ormsby did the makeup, this time ably assisted by a young Tom Savini on his first professional film assignment.
One challenge facing the young actor was the makeup he had to wear during the film’s final third, when Andy begins to rapidly decompose without any fresh injections of blood to sustain him. When we got into the really heavy-duty makeup. it took forever,” Backus says. I’d start at 6 a.m., and I wouldn’t be ready to go to the set until noon—it’d be six or seven hours of makeup. And the first few days, I realized that my temper ran short very quickly. But if I just zoned out and didn’t try to interact, got real quiet and went off Into my own space, the six hours went by and I didn’t get testy.
The most difficult part was the lenses they put in my eyes, which had been made to fit my eyeballs pretty tightly and meant that they couldn’t breathe. We’d been told that I could not keep them in for more than 45 minutes, maybe even less, so they had to go working on in right before the take, which made everything kind of pressured.” As he did on Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, Ormsby created the film’s makeup FX, but this time he had help from a young artist named Tom Savini, Deathdream was Savini’s first feature film job, commencing his legendary and well-documented career in horror cinema, “Tom was my full-time assistant, hired on the recommendation of the art director, Forrest Carpenter,” says Ormsby. “Tom applied and built prosthetics and did whatever else was necessary. He was also the official photographer on the movie, he’d been a photographer in Vietnam. He used. his motel room as a darkroom and as lil den of iniquity to lure unsuspecting young women. He was enthusiastic, funny and very ambitious. It’s not surprising that he went on to become well-known.”
For Savini, the job was a dream come true” as he graduated from doing local theater work to the world of movies. “There are Important things that happened to my career, that propelled my career, that might not have happened if I hadn’t had my portfolio in my car,” says Savini, who had himself returned from Vietnam not long before. I was painting and delivering signs and I met Forrest Carpenter, I had my portfolio in the car, showed it to him, and he hired me!”
Different Stages of Andy
Although Ormsby was in charge of the makeup design and application (“He did Some brilliant stuff,” says Savini), the future mastermind behind the FX of films like Dawn of the Dead and Friday the 13th did suggest something that Ormsby went for, although it ultimately didn’t make the final cut. “That was when Andy gets shot in the head,” Savini remembers. “We pulled a piece off his head, and I suggested that we use an air gun and blast his hair up at the same time. I created the piece that got yanked off while I did the air gun blast, to make it more like a concussion, like there was real force hitting his head. Aside from that, all I basically did was assist Alan, with latex and application and so on.”
Rejected Final Version
Savini, whom Ormsby later hired to do makeup on Deranged, says his first feature experience was thoroughly enjoyable. “I loved Alan Ormsby and Richard Backus, he raves. They were both smart as a whip, and I enjoyed talking with them. They were always playing chess, although I didn’t play. But we just talked movies.
Alan and his wife Anya were both theater majors, so at parties, we would do mine and sense memory exercises-all these little actor things, which I just loved. I mean, I was a soldier in the Army in North Carolina, and suddenly I was plopped into the middle of this movie set, so I enjoyed the hell out of it.”
Dead of Night Pressbook
Like many movies of its time, however Deathdream, for all its ambition and artistic success, found little fame once it passed from the filmmakers to the distributors. “It was released by a tiny company out of Reno I’ve forgotten the name and got very little exposure in the United States,” sighs Clark. “It went to the Berlin Film Festival, where Alan won the Best Screenplay award, and it went to some festivals in France, and they did do fairly well with it in Canada, where it had a good, solid distribution company. But in the U.S. it was very sporadic, maybe a week here and there around the country.”
Bob Clark Interview
How did that film lead to Deathdream?
CLARK: Some people in Canada saw Children and really liked it, and liked what we got for the money. So they wanted Alan and I to make a film for them. Alan wrote it and I directed. The original title was The Veteran. But the investors thought that was a little controversial.
Were you trying to make a strong statement about Vietnam?
CLARK: Oh, yeah. The shell-shocked soldier. The soldier shooting up. The denial that goes on in the soldier’s family. It was all there on purpose. But we wanted to be very subtle about it. No one ever refers to war in the film, or denounces it. We wanted people to see it and have no idea what we were getting at. Of course, then it opened in France and they picked up on it right away. They often overreact to such subtleties, but they quite correctly picked up on all that. It was a huge hit there.
Where were the opening Vietnam sequences shot?
CLARK: The whole film was shot in three weeks in Brooksville, Florida, for about $250,000.
Deathdream again used comedy with violent horror. That’s in all your early work.
CLARK: It’s in all my work, period. I always combine comedy with action and horror. I think it reflects life as it is. That’s something Alan and I share.
“The whole blood thing was a clear drug metaphor,” We tried to be subtle about the metaphors and the social parallels we were drawing. But the French picked up on them immediately.” – Director Bob Clark
Interview with Alan Ormsby from DEAD OF NIGHT UK VHS (1999) Exploited label
Interview with actor Richard Backus
How did Deathdream come your way?
RICHARD BACKUS: By 1972, I was getting established in New York theater circles and had a little buzz behind my name, having appeared in a Broadway comedy called Promenade, MP I had also been fortunate in landing a top theatrical agent. It was enough to get me into an audition for what was then being called The Night Walker. Jessica Levy was the casting agent, and she asked me to stare at a lampshade and focus all the malevolent and vicious anger I could on it, and then transfer that look of hatred to her. That’s all I really remember about the audition. I’ve heard rumors that I beat out a young Christopher Walken for the role. I have no idea if there’s any truth to that, then it was a case of winning the battle but losing the war!
What were your first impressions of Bob Clark and Alan Ormsby?
BACKUS: After being cast, I was flown down to Florida, where I met Alan, and his then wife Anya, so he could make a plaster cast of my head for prosthetics purposes. I liked him immediately. Alan also took me to an eye doctor for scleral lenses and to a dentist for teeth prosthetics. I have no recollection of my first meeting with Bob, but he was charismatic, with brilliant blue eyes, and seemed very clear about what he wanted from the film and us actors. Also, he did not seem to have any overly inflated ego, I recall him asking me to read a script he was working on and give him my opinion, which was very flattering for me.
Do you remember what the on-set atmosphere was like?
BACKUS: Bob was very easy to work with. I don’t recall him ever losing his temper, although he must have at some point, don’t you think? He, Alan and Anya, along with many others on the crew, had done Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things together, so there was an established rapport and also the excitement of working on a higher-budget film. I know it doesn’t make good copy,” but my recollection is that there was a mood of happy work without a whole lot of off-camera drama. Lynn Carlin was great fun to work with and joked around a lot which made Anya [who played Andy’s sister Cathy] a little unhappy because she liked to withdraw and get into character,” and Lynn would tease her and made that hard to do. But they liked each other and certainly got along well. When John Marley [playing Andy’s father] first arrived, he was in a foul mood, and I thought, Oh boy, this isn’t going to be fun working with him.” But he was apparently just tired from his flight and upset about the lodgings they had found for him. They quickly got him a hotel more to his liking though further from the location and he was great from then on and extremely helpful to me. When we were doing the scene in the backyard where he keeps trying to get me to eat something and participate in the family, to no avail, he turned to me between takes and joked, “You could be the next Steve McQueen; he never says anything either.”
As regards filming, the biggest shock for me was how few takes they did. I had always thought they just took take after take until the scene was perfect. Well, I guess Stanley Kubrick could afford to do that, and undoubtedly some big stars could demand it, but small-budget films and TV were “Get the shot and let’s move on.” After a take, the director would say, OK for camera?” And the camera operator would respond, OK for camera.” Then he would ask the same of sound. No one ever said, “OK for the actors?” I was naturally eager for positive reinforcement, At I tried hard not to ask the director, “Was that all right?”
Taking into account the makeup you had to wear and the intensity of the role itself, was the part of Andy a tougher challenge than you expected?
BACKUS: Yes, definitely. That was partly because of there being almost no retakes, as I mentioned above, but also because it required such concentration on my part, which had to be summoned up in all its vividness for a shot or two after hours of waiting around for the setup to be completed. But that’s film work for an actor, as I came to learn. Also, there were many moments shot that never made it into the movie. There were scenes of Andy wandering around town, seeing what he’d barely noticed as a young man and was now lost to him forever. There was one shot of a veterans’ home with two blind, I believe, veterans sitting on the porch in front of a huge American flag. It was a real iconic kind of scene. Andy stops in front and stares at them and they ask, “Who’s there?” but he says nothing and then moves on. I’m sorry that didn’t make it into the final film. Actually, the very first day’s filming involved Andy’s night out with his former girlfriend, his sister and her boyfriend, which ends at the drive-in. We were filming in a burger joint around a table. Jane [Daly] and Anya knew each other from Children, but Michael [Mazes] and I were meeting each other and the two women for the first time. Bob was frustrated that we couldn’t get the sense of old friends who knew each other well. I, of course, being Andy, couldn’t contribute to any of the supposed camaraderie, so I was no help at all.
Bob never got the scene he wanted, and it was tossed. I had another scene where Tom Savini, I think, working with Alan, put actual maggots under some mortician’s wax so it would crack and the maggots would come out, and I would notice this as I looked in a mirror. Again, never made it into the film. I’m probably one of the few actors who has ever done a scene with maggots as his acting partners. Originally, the ending was supposed to include a shot of my father finally realizing what a monster his son is and shooting me twice, only for the bullets to have no effect on me, since It already dead. Production manager John “Bud. Cardos taped two squibs to my body over chest protectors and ran wires down my costume and out my pant legs to a battery. I tried to get him to tell me exactly what was going to happen, but he preferred to “surprise’ me. I was a little scared, but did trust Bud. It worked fine, but they cut that scene too. One night while we were filming in the cemetery, the single Apollo nighttime liftoff was scheduled. They ran a TV off the generator so we could watch it, then we tamed and watched the actual rocket’s glare as it lifted up into the night sky. It was thrilling.
Were you at all concerned with the Vietnam aspect of the story, considering the war was still raging at the time of filming?
BACKUS: Concerned that it might be perceived to be “political. and become controversial? No, I guess I wasn’t. I thought it was a brilliant and dramatic way to show how the war was being “brought home.” It’s a horribly painful film, and certainly a metaphor for all the horror and pain of Vietnam coming back to haunt America. The destruction of the family is also a metaphor for what was happening during that era, with generations turning against each other and some guys going off to war believing in it while others demonstrated against it. It tore the country apart. It’s also a terrifying depiction of PTSD, with Andy coming home utterly scarred by his experience. You could almost do the exact same film with Andy not being dead, don’t you think? I think of all the Vietnam veterans who were not able to readjust to daily American life, who became hermits or alcoholics or wound up acting out in scary ways. There is something grimly truthful at the heart of the stow, and I think that is in large measure why it has resonated with people over the years and continues to find an audience.
Did you attend the Tampa premiere in August ’74, and if no, do you remember when you first saw the film?
BACKUS: It puzzled that I wasn’t invited to the world premiere, but obviously John Marley [who did attend] would have been the draw, and perhaps they decided they were spending enough flying him in and putting him up at a hotel. Or, perhaps, I was invited and was unable to go, and have simply forgotten. I was a very busy stage actor, and could well have been in the middle of a production. I think I would have walked over hot coals to go, but I don’t really remember. As for my first viewing of it, it was much like the first viewing most of its fans had: late-night TV.
What are your memories looking back at the film now, some 40 years later?
BACKUS: Well, I remember it as a very exciting time for me. I thought it had something to say about the Vietnam War, but in a very theatrical and commercial way and I thought it was the start of a film career for me. That was not to be, for a variety of reasons, but I still have a great fondness for the movie and for the people involved, and I was deeply saddened by Bob Clark’s passing (in 2007). I don’t have a lot of experience with film, as I’ve indicated, but I remember most the generosity of everyone involved in making Deathdream. And that it was a genuinely fun, though demanding, experience. I’m certainly touched and pleased that Death-dream has become something of a cult classic, and has entertained and thrilled so many people over the years.
Interview with Producer Peter James
JAMES: I met up with Bob Clark at that time, he made CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS. We set up a company as partners. We’d write, produce, raise money, and distribute horror movies. But in fact we were doing any low budget movie we could do at that time. We made nine films in four years: DEAD OF NIGHT was the first remotely decent one.
CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS did that have T.V. Mikels as a cameraman? What was he like?
JAMES: Crazy! The famous Ted V Mikels lived in a castle. He was a lovely bloke, an extremely charming man. But if ever I believed somebody was an alien, probably he’s the closest I’ve ever come to it. He was totally unbothered by anything, totally in love with the horror genre, but more in love with the concept of doing them than actually what they were about. An extraordinary nary larger-than-life character, very weird, addicted to a fantasy existence. But a poppet of a man, an absolute honey of a man.
BLOOD ORGY OF THE SHE DEVILS, DERANGED…
JAMES: We owned them all at one time. We still have the rights to a couple of them. BLOOD ORGY we picked up, rather than producing and distributing it. DERANGED, I was involved with. That was fun. Bob Clark got DERANGED together; as usual, making movies in Canada at that time, getting the cash together for it. Trying to get some backers for it. We took some backers down to the film set, the first time some of them had ever been in a film studio, and the half skinned girls were sitting round a dinner table I think it put them off.
Alan Ormsby can you tell me something about him?
JAMES: He was a law student, in fact, at the time of CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS. The film was not altogether amateur, but it was an amazingly amateur production. He was in on it as director.
Was that not him as a reporter?
JAMES: Yes. I’m not sure what he’s done since (in fact Ormsby recently worked on the horror spoof, POPCORN). I really lost touch, when I came back from Canada and did a film, SPANISH FLY, 1 lost touch with Bob Clark and haven’t seen him since that period.
A lot of people that worked on that film went on to bigger and better things, like the special effects guy. Tom Savini.
JAMES: There was an interesting guy named Roberts Blossom who played the lead in DERANGED. He has been in a lot of other movies, and 1 notice that he never includes this one on his CV. It was considered very tasteless. Some people were really grossed out by DERANGED. It was a really funny scene, there was a break in one night at the studio, the police turned up. It was a studio outside Toronto, two coppers turned up, they went inside, and found a fairly gruesome scene. People were being sick watching the rushes.
Ahead of its time?
JAMES: It was. I think if it was made now it would be a blockbuster. It was too nasty at the time. It was based on some of the same material as SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. It was very much. Hannibal Lecter, drawn from Ed Gein. We originally found the idea in a book it was a true story. It was a book called NECROMANIA. The others we did were CHILDREN in 1971 and DEAD OF NIGHT in 1973. DEAD OF NIGHT was fun.
It was pretty good, an anti Vietnam film.
JAMES: We nearly got murdered, actually, when that film came out. The anti-Vietnam aspect. I hadn’t actually realized it would ire so many and be controversial. It was originally called THE VETERAN. That was when I first met Bob trying to get CHILDREN completed. It was total chaos, it had gone bust, the money had all sort of fallen apart, it was in a right old mess. He got involved in CHILDREN in the early stages, and he had this script called THE VETERAN I read it and really liked it, thought it was one of the best scripts I’d ever read. And I really liked what he was doing with CHILDREN so we sort of got it together, got the cash for it. and decided to shoot it in Florida. He had a team down there.
It was a low-budget film CHILDREN was done for $50 000, this was done for $350 000, a big budget in comparison. We had a couple of new stars in it. John Marley and Lynn Carlin. The title got changed about nine times. It was DEAD OF NIGHT, then DEATH DREAM. I think at one point it was also called NIGHT STALKER. We made it in a very small town called Brooksville Home of the Tangerine, about 40 miles north of Orlando.
DEAD OF NIGHT became a kind of cult campus film, some years after we made it. It has in it probably one of the worst lines in any movie. When I was trying to get an American distributor. I remember taking it to Hollywood, doing the rounds, Paramount, Fox, silting in the screening rooms with all these executives, and I began to hear just this one line and nothing else. The film is about a Vietnam vet his family gets a telegram saying he is dead and the next day he arrives home, basically he’s a vampire, and has to kill people and drink their blood to stay alive. He finally kills his girlfriend, and the wife screams at his father ‘You can’t kill him, he’s your only son.’ As if implying it would have been alright, if he had another son, he could have killed him.
It did well. We made it in a small town, in 1973. the Vietnam war was still going strong at that time. So we really played down the whole sort of war side of it. The local police drove their own cars in the chase scenes. I mean at one time, all four police cars were smashed up, they didn’t have a car in Brooksville for about ten days. Brooksville decided they wanted to honor us by having a world premiere. We had this amazingly tacky world premiere. We had an old white Cadillac convertible, and motor cycle outriders, searchlights, and cheerleaders the whole deal, but on a tacky scale. Every dignitary in Florida was there. About a third of the way through you could feel the anger they realized they had been conned, these Canadians had come down to their state, these draft-dodgers, and made (imitation Southern accent) “this anti-Vietnam movie.” There was this huge civic reception for us, and Bob Kilgore, the Southern distributor. said (more accent) “I don’t think maybe it’s probably a good idea if you, me, and the rest of the people hang around at this reception.” So we did a runner.
Deathdream (1974) Carl Zittrer
Richard Backus as Andy Brooks
John Marley as Charles Brooks
Lynn Carlin as Christine Brooks
Anya Ormsby as Cathy Brooks
Jane Daly as Joanne
Mal Jones as Sheriff
Henderson Forsythe as Dr. Philip Allman
Norman William Beauchamp as Cop
REFERENCES and SOURCES
DeathDream The Dark Side 28
The LateShow Issue 01