Saturday, July 15, 2017

bring it on home

DEATHDREAM (1974; d: Bob Clark, written by Alan Ormsby)

Just below its veneer of cut-rate drive-in confection and requisite supernatural scares, DEATHDREAM seethes with a very real anger.  

It's an anger for a protracted, senseless war, and the futility of the generation gap. Anger after years of Nixon and the draft.  Anger at the lie in the heart of the American ideal, at the lies we tell ourselves.

When we send our children to the other side of the world to kill or die for reasons we can't quite articulate, what should we expect in return?  What might we deserve?

DEATHDREAM begins in the jungle night, a pair of weary soldiers tentatively pressing onward, nearby mortar blasts casting doom—their instincts telling them it's all wrong, this movement.

And like so many young men before him, Andy Brooks will die on a lonely battlefield far from home.  But as he lay there in the mud, shot through the back and breathing his last gasps, a familiar, far-away voice pleads, “No, Andy, don't die...”

Sitting around the dinner table, the Brooks family finish their prayers and settle into a casual discussion as they begin eating.  It's obvious mom is fixated on Andy's returnunhealthily soand Charles Brooks and his daughter Cathy are clearly worried. 

And then, a knock...

“I'm afraid I have some bad news for you.”

“I'm sorry, Charles...if there's anything I can do.”

“It's Andy...”

“No...It's a lie! It's a lie!”

Later that night, Charles wakes up to find himself alone, his wife's voice carrying from the next room over in a strange, hypnotic drone...

“You can't die, Andy...You can't die.”

A searing, coruscating modern rehash of “The Monkey's Paw”, DEATHDREAM spins that old fable on its head, taking aim at one of the longest, most contentious wars in American history—and those it deems, in whatever capacity, complicit.

Later that same night, Charles is again aroused from sleep, this time by his daughter claiming to hear somebody poking around downstairs.

And against all reason, what they find creeping around in the dark is none other than their dear departed boy, Andy, only hours after learning of his demise.


So in a short span of minutes, we witness the Brooks family veer from total devastation to the sheer elation of finding out it was all a terrible mistake; their boy is not only alive, he's finally home.  Only this emotional roller coaster isn't over yet. It seems Andy isn't quite the young man they remember.
With emotions sputtering every which way, a lesser ensemble would've been in over its head.  Leading the way, John Marley and Lynn Carlin also played husband and wife in John Cassavetes' indie classic, FACES.

“Oooh, I'm gonna call everybody up and we're gonna have a big celebration.”

“Let's wait awhile, mom.”

“Do you know they actually sent us a telegram tonight?  A telegram that said you were killed?!”

“They actually said that my son was dead.”

“I was.”

And he lets the words hang there, unsettled, until a strange grin breaks the tension.

If tonight's odd behavior is a little off-putting, tomorrow and the next day will test the bounds of their love.  Because Andy came back for a reason, and it isn't to begin civilian life anew. He's brought some of the war home with him, and with it, a kind of reckoning.

Following a long day of exceedingly bizarre, anti-social behavior from their son (who's refusing to eat and spends most of his time in a rocking chair in his bedroom), Charles and Christine Brooks have it out.

“Well, I went it through it too, but when I came back I didn't act like that.”

“Well, you're not Andy.  You don't have his kind of sensitivity...all you've ever done is pick on him and criticize him and ride him. If it hadn't been for you, he wouldn't have enlisted in the first place!”

“He enlisted because he didn't want you to turn him into a goddamn mama's boy. And he was right!”

The family dog is the first to notice something wrong about Andy, and the first to incur his wrath.

DEATHDREAM has been referred to as a “shocker” for any number of reasons, though none quite as unsettling as when (the following afternoon) Andy strangles the family dog in front of the neighborhood children. It's grueling, nasty stuff, and sets the tone for all which follows.

And so it's revealed their boy, desultory and bleeding sensitivity prior to enlistment, has a newfound ferocity they'd thought him incapable of—as well as a new set of marching orders.