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Deathdream (Blue Underground) UHD/Blu-ray Review

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    Ian Jane
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  • Deathdream (Blue Underground) UHD/Blu-ray Review

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    Released by: Blue Underground
    Released on: May 21st, 2024.
    Director: Bob Clark
    Cast: John Marley, Lynn Carlin, Richard Backus, Henderson Forsythe, Anya Ormsby, Jane Daly
    Year: 1974
    Purchase From Amazon

    Deathdream – Movie Review:

    Also known as Dead Of Night, 1974's Deathdream, directed by the late, great Bob Clark and written by Alan Ormsby (who also wrote Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things, directed by Clark shortly before this picture), opens with an interesting scene where the Brooks family sits down to dinner only to be interrupted by a telegram altering them to the fact that son Andy (Richard Backus) has been killed serving in the Vietnam War. Charles (John Marley) and Christine (Lynn Carlin), his parents, are understandable distraught and upset by this news, Christine seemingly unable to accept it as reality. His younger sister Cathy (Anya Ormsby) is also distraught.

    In the middle of the night, after the family has settled down to bed for the night, who should arrive on their doorstep but Andy himself, looking rather amused, a strange grin on his face. They are, of course, overjoyed to see him and assume that the telegram must have been sent in error. It soon becomes obvious though that Andy isn't quite the man he once was. After his return home he's incredibly introverted, he doesn't want to go outside or have any sort of social life. Instead, he's content to stay hidden away from the world in his bedroom, rocking back and forth in his chair at an almost manic pace. When Andy suddenly snaps and kills their dog in front of some kids, it's clear that something is very wrong here. Doctor Allman (Henderson Forsythe) isn't sure what to make of this either. Charles intends to get to the bottom of it even if deep down he knows he doesn't want to face the truth.

    Deathdream is a very well-made movie. Expertly directed by Clark, who proved he knew how to make a great horror movie with his seminal slasher Black Christmas (also made in 1974), it's deliberately paced but remarkably intense, especially in its final reel. Ormsby's script tackles the social and political issues of the era in which the film was made, the Vietnam War in particular, without beating you over the head with things. The movie also does a great job of exploring the family dynamic by letting us get to know the Brooks family well enough to make them interesting to us. It's clear that Charles is strong enough to face reality here while Christine is in denial about what's happening. It tears at them, you can see through the expert performances the stress that it puts on their marriage and in many ways it’s heartbreaking to watch all of this play out.

    However, despite the family drama and heady scripting, Deathdream is first and foremost a horror movie. It's a smart, different, very intelligent horror movie but it is a horror movie just the same. While it's never going to have you jumping out of your seat and running for the exit, it's a very suspenseful picture. We know early on what's wrong with Andy, it's made fairly clear, but seeing how he and his family adjust to it and watching them figure out what to do about it is where the tension stems from. He is very definitely a threat to those around him, no matter how much they might all care for each other.

    The performances are very convincing, never over done or underplayed but completely believable from all involved. The picture is also very well shot using some interestingly plain locations. Also in the plus column, Deathdream is set to a fantastic and very unique score from composer Carl Zittrer that helps accentuate the drama and the horror alike. Clark (who has a small cameo in the film himself as a policeman) builds the story to a suitably grim and horrific conclusion. It's great stuff.

    Deathdream – UHD Review:

    The HEVC encoded 2160p transfer, framed at 1.85.1 widescreen, is taken from a “brand-new 2024 4K restoration from the 35mm negative” with HDR and Dolby Vision enhancement and it looks great. There’s plenty of detail here and the HDR brings out the colors nicely without messing with the movie’s (intentionally) drab color scheme. Flesh tones look nice and lifelike and black levels are inky and deep. You’ll be able to take in all the detail and texture you’d want, not just in close up shots (where we can see the makeup on Andy’s face with plenty of clarity!) but medium and long distanced shots as well. Texture in clothing is apparent throughout and there’s really good depth to the image. There’s virtually no print damage here at all, the image is very clean, while natural film grain is preserved. Compression, edge enhancement and noise reduction issues are non-existent. Blue Underground has done an excellent job on this restoration.

    The only audio option for this release is an English language 20-bit DTS-HD 1.0 Mono track with subtitles available in English SDH, French and Spanish. No problems to report here. Range is understandably limited but the quality of the audio is fine. The track is clean, clear and nicely balanced and it's free of any noticeable hiss or distortion and that awesome score sounds really good here, with a fair bit of depth to it.

    Extras on this release are a mix of old and new. The UHD contains three commentary tracks. Carried over from Blue Underground's previous DVD release are an audio commentary with the late Bob Clark and a second one with Alan Ormsby. Both tracks are quite interesting, with Clark's chat covering things from a directorial standpoint and Ormsby talking up the writing process and where some of the ideas for the picture came from. New to this release is a track featuring Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson that covers why they like the film and how it's been properly re-evaluated over the years, Swanson's appearance as Andy in the opening Vietnam scene, details on the cast and crew, Alan Ormsby's role in all of this, thoughts on the quality of the performances in the film, Bob Clark's work on the picture and cameo in the film, how the movie deals with the Vietnam war, comparisons to Romero's work, the film's distribution and quite a bit more.

    Also included on the UHD is a trailer for the feature.

    The included Blu-ray disc holds those same three commentary tracks as well as a host of featurettes, starting with the half hour long 'Recollection' with actress Anya Liffey and Alan Ormsby. Here the two, who were married for a while, discuss how they came to work together in Florida and then the work that they did on this feature and on a few others like Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things. In Notes For A Homecoming, we get an interview with composer Carl Zittrer that clocks in at just over nineteen minutes. He speaks in quite a bit of detail about his approach to scoring films and what he tried to bring to this movie in terms of mood. Flying Down To Brooksville, a quick five minute long interview with production manager John Bud Cardos who talks about securing the Florida locations used in the picture. These all originally appeared on the Blue Underground Blu-ray release from 2017.

    Carried over from the older DVD release are the Tom Savini: The Early Years and Deathdreaming interview with star Richard Backus. Again, both of these are quite interesting, as the Savini pieces covers quite a few films he was involved in during his early days in the business while the Backus piece sees the actor offering up his memories of the shoot as well as his thoughts on the picture and the cast and crew that he worked with on the film.

    New to this release is The First Andy, an interview with actor Gary Swanson. It runs twelve minutes and lets the actor talk about how happy he is with how the movie turned out even if he didn't get the part, how great Bob Clark was to deal with, thoughts on seeing his screen tests decades later, how he wound up appearing in the war scene prologue that starts the movie and the political side of the film and how effective it is.

    Also carried over from the Blu-ray are an Alan Ormsby student film (a ten minute black and white piece that deals with slavery and racism) and twelve minutes of screen test footage featuring actor Gary Swanson (the original choice to play Andy!). Rounding out the extras is an alternate opening title sequence, the film's original theatrical trailer, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection.

    This release also comes with a limited edition embossed slipcover and a reversible cover sleeve.

    Deathdream - The Final Word:

    Deathdream is an excellent film, a genuinely chilling horror picture that is really well made on all fronts and Blue Underground has done a fantastic job on the UHD reissue. Not only are all of the extras from the previous edition carried over but we get a new featurette and a new commentary in addition to an excellent 4k presentation. Highly recommended!



    Click on the images below, or right click and open in a new window, for full sized screen caps from the Deathdream Blu-ray!

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