Andy, a young Vietnam draftee believed killed-in-action, returns home to grateful parents in a small Florida town. Though he appears fine on the outside, Andy is… different. Detached, icy, unfeeling and possessed with a terrible desire to kill.
Director Bob Clark delivers an insightful allegory to the post-Vietnam experience. Writer Alan Ormsby’s script envisions Andy as a literal walking corpse. Dead inside and exhibiting the symptoms of post-traumatic-stress disorder and drug addiction cranked to monstrous levels. Clark grounds the proceedings in a relatable small-town atmosphere Stephen King would admire.
The cast shines. I loved Richard Backus as Andy. His performance manages to be both chilling and compelling. No small feat. I also loved Henderson Forsythe as the town doctor. There’s a cracker-jack scene between him and Backus where Forsythe begins to suspect Andy’s murderous nature that reminded me of the classic Van Helsing/Dracula scene.
Clark’s other 1974 release, Black Christmas, gets all the love, but at first blush Deathdream proves more satisfying. Time will tell, but repeat viewings may push this to five stars.