Thursday, June 28, 2007

Vamp or Not? Deathdream


This is a film listed on most authoritative vampire filmographies and yet I have chosen to write a ‘Vamp or Not?’ A little research shows the reason, this film is also listed as a zombie movie and, the truth be told, it really does straddle the two genres. The question is, ‘is the foot placed in the vampire camp on solid enough ground to call this Vamp?’

The film itself begins in Vietnam, at night, the screen occasionally illuminated by explosions. Two soldiers move through the trees. One is shot and the other, Andy Brooks (Richard Backus), moves over to him, it is clear they are buddies. As he looks down on his fallen comrade we hear a gun and Andy is killed. The camera lingers on his face through the credits and we hear a voice, “You can’t die Andy.”

The Brooks family have settled down to dinner and father, Charles (John Marley), is saying grace and mother, Christine (Lynn Carlin), speaks quietly to Andy - the earlier voice. Also present is daughter Cathy (Anya Ormsby). As Charles carves dinner it becomes clear that Christine has a definite obsession with her son. There is a knock at the door and it is George (Arthur Bradley), an army Captain and friend of the family. He has brought the notification of Andy’s death – something Christine will not believe.

praying for her sonLater that night Charles wakes to find Christine missing from bed. She is in Andy’s room, on his rocking chair, holding a candle and whispering to her son, convinced he is still alive. We cut to a truck which has pulled up and, out of sight of the camera, we hear the driver offer a soldier a ride.

The truck pulls up to a diner and the driver gets out to get a coffee and smokes. He complains to the owners that the passenger he picked up hasn’t said a word, not even thank you. He buys the guy a coffee anyway. We see the truck parked up and then a pov shot as someone approaches the Brooks’ house.

Richard Backus as AndyCathy wakes her dad, having heard something downstairs. He gets his gun and goes down, followed by the women. Something is wrong as the dog is in the house. Suddenly they see Andy. There is an assumption that the State Department made a mistake with the notification of death. However, Andy seems odd, emotionless. He doesn’t want a party. When they say they thought he was dead, he replies he was and, seeing the worry, smiles and then laughs as though it were a joke, but it seems forced and just a little creepy.

dead truckerHowever, the cops have found the truck driver in the cab, with his throat slit. When he goes for autopsy they notice a needle puncture in his arm. At the diner they discover he was giving a soldier a ride.

Andy’s behaviour starts to effect Charles, Andy does not eat and does not want people to know he is home. He seems withdrawn. We have seen him go out, at night, and scratch something on a tombstone. Things come to a head when Charles brings some of the neighbourhood kids round. One goes to show off his karate and Andy grabs his arm. The dog is snarling and Andy throttles it with his free arm. Charles is distraught – going to a bar – but Christine won’t hear anything bad about her son.

A drunk Charles brings Doc Allman (Henderson Forsythe) to see Andy, who is evasive but reveals enough to make the Doc suspicious, believing that Andy is a suspect in the murder. It is clear that Andy knows this and follows the Doc to his surgery. It is here that we start to see genre elements.

taking bloodAndy has no heartbeat, and feels no hunger. However his face is looking wrinkled. He tells the Doc that he was invited in, and this small line gives us a vampiric element – both the Doc and the Trucker issued invites to Andy. Andy also tells the Doc “I died for you, shouldn’t you return the favour.” He throttles Doc Allman, stabs him repeatedly with a large syringe and then takes blood by needle, which he gives himself. The next day he is looking much better.

rot on handCathy has arranged a double date for Andy with his old girlfriend, going out with her and her boyfriend. However, before they go he notices that part of his hand is rotten and crawling with worms. He puts on gloves and dark glasses. As things progress he gets much worse.

pustule burstsAt the drive-in, alone with Joanne (Jane Daly), a pustule appears and bursts on his forehead. His eyes have become odd. His behaviour has become more violent also and he takes her blood through biting her neck. He manages to get home and by then he is looking absolutely rotten. By the time his mother gets him to the cemetery, chased by cops, he is looking very rotten indeed.

final deathProbably the most poignant part of the film is when we see the gravestone that he has scratched with his own name and dates of birth and death, and Andy trying to bury himself in a shallow grave before the animation that kept him going flees.

The film itself should be familiar, it is a retelling and extension of the classic tale ‘The Monkey’s Paw’. However what director Bob Clark did was make an anti-war, specifically Vietnam, film (the release was in 1974). The symbolism works on two levels. In some respects Andy represents those soldiers back from war with PTSD, their personalities broken. In other respects he is purely symbolic, showing the effect that the death of the soldier has on the family – to the point of Charles committing suicide.

blood stained mouthIs it Vamp though? It really does straddle the genres. Andy is emotionless, violent and rots. That is very zombie like. However he needs an invite and relies on blood to reverse the rotting process which is much more vampire. Though it straddles the genres I believe it fits well in both, needing to borrow from the vampire genre, if for no other reason than a zombie would be unable to communicate cognitively.

check the posterKeen-eyes viewers will spot a poster, briefly, for the 1972 vampire film Deathmaster. Perhaps just some trivia, or perhaps a pointer as to where Clark was coming from with his film.

The kudos for acting must go to John Marley as Charles, a brilliant performance. It is difficult to tell if Backus emotionless performance was brilliant acting, as it is how Andy was meant to be, or poor. However it works for the film.

An unusual example of a vampire film and worth catching.

The imdb page is here.

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