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Dead of Night (1974) October 28th, 2020

Dead of Night is an exceptional film that should really be experienced without foreknowledge. If you value the film experience and are remotely interested please watch Dead of Night before reading further as I spoil most of it in the following review.

Dead of Night is a poignant meditation on the cost of war. The family of a deployed serviceman gets bad news that he’s died in Vietnam. His devastated father and sister begin grieving but his mother won’t accept her son is dead. Her steadfast belief that Andy will come home creates a kind of magic manifesting into her dead son knocking on their door later that night. Ecstatic for his return the family dismisses the previous report of his death. Surely someone made a mistake.

But something isn’t right with Andy. War changed him. He stares blankly in conversation, shows little interest in reconnecting with his childhood friends, and eventually kills the family dog in an outburst at a family barbecue. This is far from the behavior his father expects from a proud soldier returning home.

Then the remains of a murdered truck driver are found just outside of town and Andy’s awkward demeanor and timely arrival has people suspecting he’s involved. Andy’s parents arrange for him to see the family doctor because they’re worried about his health. His skin’s gone pale, did something happen to him over there? Andy meets the doctor alone at the clinic late at night and is surprised to discover that Andy has no pulse or heartbeat. “I died for you, Doc. Why shouldn’t you return the favor?” says Andy before murdering the physician and extracting his blood with a syringe. Andy injects himself with the doctor’s blood and suddenly his skin flushes with a lifelike tone.

Later Andy’s father Charles discovers the murdered doctor and begins an armed search for his son. After the murder Andy went to a drive-in movie with his friends and already his body’s started to deteriorate turning gray. He needs blood again. Andy attacks his friends killing two of them while his sister escaped. In the chaos after the attack Andy escapes the drive-in before he can inject himself with the blood of his victims, leaving his pallid and necrotic flesh hungry. Charles finds Andy at home with his devoted mother who still refuses to believe her son’s an undead monster. Seeing Andy rotting in front of his eyes and knowing there’s nothing he can do to save his son is enough for Charles to take his own life.

The police have tracked Andy to his home just as Christine and Andy make a desperate break for it. She drives her son away from the pursuing police but crashes into the gate of a local cemetery. Andy runs into the graveyard away from the police until he collapses in a shallow grave… his grave. A distraught Christine holds her son’s hand as he scoops dirt on top of himself until he stops moving and the camera cranes up and into the credits. Fin.

Dead of Night (or Deathdream as its more popularly known) brings the horrors of the Vietnam war home, illustrating the damage a single lost soldier has on families. It shows how those losses spread throughout communities and cause generational trauma metastasizing into malignant coping mechanisms until people who never knew the dead continue to pay.

Dead of Night shows the audience the victims of war don’t extends from those who didn’t come home to those who did but weren’t the same. Dead of Night shows the audience what PTSD looks like from the family’s perspective. Seeing your loved one struggling with dissociative behaviors like Andy’s is difficult when you want to fix someone but know the best you can do is support them.

Dead of Night achieves rarified status as a horror film that is both frightening and socially conscious. I imagine this is why it was included in the Criterion Channel’s horror collection last October and in the 101 Horror Movies to See Before You Die book. But don’t take my word for it, watch for yourself and see how much it makes you feel.

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