If you’re like me, at some time in the past you asked yourself the question, “How is it possible that the same guy directed Porky’s and A Christmas Story?” The answer, as the Countess and I have been finding out is that that guy, Bob Clark, was a very talented, interesting director with a very broad range. In case after case, he seems to have been some sort of pioneer. A few weeks ago, I wrote here about Black Christmas, which, for better or worse, paved the way for many lesser films of the slasher horror genre.
Last night, we watched the terrific Murder by Decree (1979), in which Sherlock Holmes (Christopher Plummer) and Watson (James Mason) solve the Jack the Ripper case — and the entire solution turns out to be the same one Alan Moore would use 12 years later in From Hell. And frankly I liked the Bob Clark version much more.
More to the point, by a fortuitous coincidence we recently heard that our actor friend Fred Backus’s dad had starred in a horror movie – -and it, too, turned out to be a Bob Clark film! Deathdream, a.k.a. Dead of Night (1974) is a monster movie that turns out also to be one of the very first movies about the impact on Americans of the Vietnam war. Shot under the influence of Cassavates it seems (naturalism, improv), and using two Cassavates actors (John Marley and Lynn Carlin) , it tells the story of a couple who are informed that their son (Richard Backus) has been killed in the war, only to have him show up at the door a few hours later…acting very strangely. Variously described by critics as either a vampire or a zombie, young Andy has the bad habit of slashing people’s throats and injecting their blood in order to stay alive. The combined effect of this habit, and Andy’s alienating behavior, inevitably conjures all those soldiers who came back and had trouble re-assimilating, some of whom became drug addicts.
The film is endlessly fascinating and very well constructed, and we particularly enjoyed the fact that Richard makes the same scary vampire faces that Fred makes when he plays a vampire. By the way, Fred informs us he was born around the time the film was made. The romantic in me likes to think that the shocks caused by the opening night screening brought about a zombie-induced labor, but only Fred can tell you if that fits the timeline.