“They actually told me my son was dead.”
Three months before Bob Clark’s masterpiece Black Christmas was released and changed horror forever, the director also unveiled Deathdream (or its bland alternative title, Dead of Night).
This Vietnam War indictment, about a soldier who returns home undead, further cements Clark as an Andy whisperer. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the undead soldier in question is named Andy.
Days after Charles and Christine Brooks receive word that their son died in Vietnam, Andy returns, the miraculous answer to a mother’s prayer. Except, of course, that Andy isn’t exactly… Andy anymore.
Even as the bodies pile up and Andy’s parents’ excuses become increasingly thin, they refuse to admit the truth. That their son is not the same man who left for Vietnam. That Andy is just one of millions of soldiers torn apart literally and/or figuratively walking dead across America. Even the local townsfolk are in disbelief: “I can’t believe a soldier would do that,” one of them says, unable and unwilling to notice the mounting evidence that says otherwise.
Everyone’s just so happy to have Andy back, ignoring Tom Savini’s zombie makeup (in the legend’s first film), ignoring that there’s a problem, allowing, ensuring the terror will only spread further.
Deathdream remains so chillingly effective because it’s a movie about denial. Here, denial exposes the fragility of the suburban American family, the hypocrisy of war, the evil demands put on soldiers that come with a very real price we’re consistently unwilling to pay.
Denial is today and has been for hundreds of years the most powerful, and scariest, of psychological forces at work in America.
2020 has seen so much tragedy, so much terror, so much pain, so much denial.
And I get it — denial is so tempting, so easy. I’ve been in denial for so long about my privilege, about my failures, about my successes, and I’m on a lifelong journey of reeducation. Perhaps because of that, the horrors of 2020 have also inspired in me hope that one day we can all wake up from this deathdream together and start dealing with the consequences that come with acceptance.
Happy Halloween. Wear a mask. Go vote.