Deathdream (aka Dead of Night) (1972) d. Clark, Bob (Canada)
A skillful reworking of W. W. Jacobs' “The Monkey’s Paw” that manages to combine chills and social commentary with a surprisingly light touch. Richard Backus plays a Vietnam grunt slain in battle in the opening scenes, but who then shows up on the doorstep of his parents' (Lynn Carlin, John Marley) seemingly idyllic middle-class home. Initially overjoyed by his return, they soon begin to realize that their bouncing baby boy ain’t what he used to be, especially when he starts killing the family dog, offing the local doctor and decomposing before their eyes.
Producer/director Clark’s languorous pacing during the picture’s middle section, especially when the audience is miles ahead of the onscreen characters, does tend to bog things down a bit. But the opening scenes are undeniably chilling – perfectly capturing the alienation, denial and discomfort of returning shell-shocked veterans and their families – and the superbly paced slam-bang climax is by turns horrifying, thrilling and shockingly tragic.
Alan Ormsby, who also scripted, provided the gooey makeup effects, aided by a young Tom Savini. Clark’s success with Deathdream would pave the way for his cult holiday favorite Black Christmas.