Posts Tagged ‘tom savini’

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When director Christopher Lewis ventured behind the camera again in 1985 to make his second feature,  hot on the heels of the previous year’s Blood Cult, he had a pretty tough act to follow. After all, “sophomore slumps” are a notoriously common fact of life in fields of human endeavor, and —

Oh, wait a minute. What the hell am I talking about here? Blood Cult sucked. And I say that as a guy who really does appreciate its place in history, given that it was the first-ever shot-on-video, direct- to-VHS horror movie ever made, and I generally love ’80s SOV/DTV  stuff — still, much as I really am thankful that Blood Cult opened the floodgates for what was, by and large, a fairly fun sub-genre, the fact is that it’s an almost preposterously lousy flick in and of itself.

But hey, it did turn a tidy profit for Lewis and his business partners, so less 12 months later, they did exactly what (probably) you and (certainly) I would have done in their situation — hustled up 75 grand and gave the whole thing another go . And this time, they even had a bankable horror icon on board with them.

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Notice I said “icon” there, not “star,” because, let’s face it, much as I absolutely love Tom Savini, it’s always gonna be his work behind the camera that he’s most renowned for, rather than his work in front  of it. Which isn’t to say that he’s a “bad” actor by any stretch of the imagination, just that he’s — how can I put this kindly? — rather limited. Still, in 1985 he was getting restless in his role as top horror special effects guy in the world, wanted to give the thespian life a go, and Lewis, canny businessman that he was (and probably still is), figured that just even having the Savini name attached to his project would guarantee, at the very least, a modest return on his (admittedly minimal) investment.

I guess it all worked out as far as that goes, since the finished result of their collaboration, The Ripper, did indeed turn a tidy little profit. So that’s at least one thing they can hang their hats on, at any rate. Beyond that, though, well —

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Our “story” here, such as it is, revolves around one rather asshole-ish college professor, played by Tom Schreier, who happens upon an ancient ring that was apparently once worn by Jack The Ripper himself. Whenever he puts it on, he turns into Tom Savini and kills somebody — usually a young woman, and usually via throat-slitting. Then when he takes the ring off, he can’t remember what the hell happened, and reads about his crimes in the paper the next morning. Now, you or I, we might simply stop wearing the ring,  just to be on the safe side and all — but he keeps putting the damn thing for reasons that, I guess, are known only to him. Maybe blacking out and reading about grisly crimes on the front pages the following morning is just his idea of a good time, or maybe he really is just too damn thick to put two and two together — I dunno. What I do know is, that’s about all the “plot” recap that’s necessary to sufficiently clue you in as to what’s going on here.

Incidentally, if all of this sounds somewhat similar to Rowdy (Road House) Herrington’s 1988 film Jack’s Back, starring James Spader, maybe it is a little bit, albeit with a couple of key differences : if I remember correctly (and it’s been awhile, so I can’t rightfully claim that I do) in Jack’s Back, Spader’s character was a  then-modern-day serial killer inspired by Jolly Jack’s crimes, rather than his outright reincarnation ; and, more importantly, Jack’s Back was actually a halfway decent little movie, while The Ripper frankly, is anything but.

Shit — who are we kidding? I’m being too generous. Fact of the matter is, The Ripper is downright painful to watch. The acting is uniformly deplorable, the soundtrack “music” is among the most grating in cinematic (or videomatic, or whatever) history, the production values are shit (in particular the laughable “flashback” sequences where Lewis and Co. try, without success, to recreate Victorian London on the streets on Tulsa, Oklahoma), and, perhaps most surprisingly, the makeup effects are beyond lousy. Seriously — I know Savini was otherwise occupied on this production, but you’d think that when he saw what the crew were trying to pass off as blood and gore here, he’d have at least stepped in and offered a few pointers. Apparently — and obviously — he didn’t.

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Anyway, all these years later, The Ripper is, if you absolutely must ignore me, available on DVD from VCI, the company Lewis founded with the cash he netted from even-less-than-half-assed “efforts” such as this. It’s presented full frame with mono sound, neither of which is anything to write home about, and includes both a dry “making-of” featurette on the flick’s production and an even drier feature-length commentary where Lewis drones on at length about how much “work” went into this production. I can’t imagine much of it being of any interest to anyone other than die-hard Ripper fans — assuming such an animal even exists in the wild — but I did get a kick out of checking out this movie’s comments section on the IMDB where the author of its screenplay, one Bill Groves, states that, if Lewis loved the script even half as much as he claims he did on the commentary, “then how come he treated it like one of The Ripper’s victims?” Ouch. Gotta love that.

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But wait, there’s more! If you’re in the mood for even more self-abuse (and not the fun kind) than watching this provides on its own, VCI has also released it as part of something called “The Ripper Blood Pack,” a three-DVD set that features not only The Ripper, but Blood Cult and its if -anything-even-worse sequel, Revenge, as well. If you’re tired of pushing saltwater-soaked safety pins through your nipples, attaching untreated heated copper wire to your scrotum or labia, stapling your eyelids open for days on end, or clamping your toes between shards of steaming dry ice, then might I humbly suggest trying to watch all three of these movies, consecutively, in one sitting — that, my friends, is some real pain.

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Calm down, people — I’m speaking figuratively with the probably-a-whole-lot-less-clever-than-I-thought-it-was title to this post, and you couldn’t date notorious serial killer Ted Bundy even if you wanted to, because he’s long since dead. Not that he’s the kind of guy you’d want to spend an evening (or more) with even if he were still alive, because he was an A-1 nutcase — which, apparently, wasn’t enough to stop something along the order of 200 women from corresponding with him regularly and professing their love for him. But I digress —

Anyway, it’s not Ted Bundy the man we’re here to discuss (well, okay, it sort of is —) but director/co-writer (along with Stephen Johnston) Matthew Bright’s 2002 straight-to-video feature film Ted Bundy, also known by the simpler (and, in my opinion, more effective) title of Bundy, which it was released under in the UK and continental European markets. Billed by its distributor, First Look Studios, as a “biographical horror film,” it’s certainly that, as well  as being a tour-de-force for star Michael Reilly Burke  and, surprisingly, the most effective anti-death-penalty political statement committed to celluloid since Dead Man Walking. Sound interesting? I assure you, it is.

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Odds are you probably know Ted’s story by now — he killed who knows exactly how many women in who knows how many states over a period of who knows how many years, managed to escape from custody twice, and was eventually executed in Florida’s notorious “Ol’Sparky” electric chair in 1985. He’s officially been “credited” with 19 murders, although he himself said the number was somewhere between 30 and 35, and the makers of this film have been even more — ahem! — generous and state that as many as 150 unfortunate young women and girls may have given up the ghost to the disarmingly charming, meticulously-dressed, avowedly conservative- Republican Mr. Bundy. Pretty much everybody who knew Ted liked and trusted him (with the exception of his on-again/off-again fiancee, portrayed quite sympathetically in this movie by Boti Bliss — okay, yeah, she loved the guy, but she also saw enough of his darker-than-dark side to learn to fear him as well) — hell, he even spent an extended period of time working in Seattle as a phone counselor at a suicide hotline! “Don’t kill yourself, pretty girl, let me come over and do it for you —”

Ted’s pretty much been a TV mainstay in the years since his demise, with countless “True Crime” cable documentaries devoted to his kill-spree, as well as numerous features on his life and crimes appearing on pretty much every “tabloid”-style quasi-“news” show you’d care to mention. Hell, Mark Harmon even played him an ABC movie of the week!  I feel pretty safe, however, in stating that absolutely no one has captured his essence as thoroughly as the star of this flick, one Michael Reilly Burke, who really should have been nominated for an Oscar for his work here, except for that pesky little tradition the Academy has of ignoring DTV films.

The screen caps I’ve included with this review should give you some sense of the extraordinary physical transformations that Burke went through over the course of this film, from dapper ladies’ man to emaciated convict, but it’s the many hauntingly memorable psychological transformations Burke portrays with such assured clarity that really seal the deal here and elevate this performance from being merely “good” to “amazingly good.” This guy gets under Bundy’s skin in a way that none of us reg’lar folks would probably have the guts to do, and I can only imagine what a number working on this film must have done to his psyche for a little while there. I hope his wife or girlfriend at the time was incredibly understanding. Better yet, I hope he was single.

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As far as the narrative of the film itself goes, it’s all pretty straightforward stuff and probably doesn’t diverge too much from what you’d find in those “True Crime” cable specials and Mark Harmon TV movies I mention, albeit with some nudity and well-executed gore effects thrown in (Tom Savini did the special makeup effects in one of his final “behind the camera” jobs (not that he doesn’t get in front of it for a few minutes as well, turning in a cameo as a cop interviewing Bundy after his first arrest on a kidnapping charge), and the KNB effects team are on board for things like corpse construction and the like, as well — try affording them these days on this flick’s $1,200,000 budget! They probably command a higher salary than that in and of themselves for each individual episode of The Walking Dead). That is, until the last 15 minutes or so —

For reasons I can’t quite fathom but undoubtedly work to the film’s advantage, Bright spends a hell of a lot of time focusing on Ted’s final hours, and whether such was his intention or not, the end result, aided by Burke’s almost superhumanly powerful acting, is a deeply harrowing critique of the unconscionably madness that is state-sponsored execution. You won’t feel sorry for Ted Bundy by any stretch of the imagination — Burke’s done too solid a job showing his monstrous side for that — but you will walk away thinking that even a completely amoral asshole like him shouldn’t go out in a way this inhumane and ugly, and that we as a society are really no better than he is by allowing this type of “justice” to be carried out in our name. It’s provides a surprisingly harrowing conclusion to a surprisingly well-done film.

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First Look’s DVD of Ted Bundy is presented with full-frame picture and stereo sound, and while neither will blow you away by any means, both are perfectly adequate. Extras on the release consist of the trailer and a full-length director’s commentary from Bright that lags in places but is generally pretty informative. Still, it’s the strength of the movie itself that’s the selling(or renting) point here. I certainly don’t go into straight-to-video serial killer biopics expecting much — I was damn near blown away, at least in relation to my the size of my expectations, by this one.

Just as it wouldn’t really feel like Halloween without reviewing at least one of the films in John Carpenter and Debra Hill’s venerable Halloween slasher series, the season wouldn’t feel complete without reviewing a zombie flick of some sort or other as well, and this year I’ve chosen to revisit one of my personal favorites — 1990’s remake of George Romero’s seminal “walking dead” film, Night Of The Living Dead, written  (and overseen to one degree or another) by Romero himself and directed by former special effects wizard and all-around horror legend in his own right Tom Savini.

Am I going to attempt to argue here that this version is in any way, shape, or form better than the original? Of course not, that would be an absurd proposition, but it’s certainly stands head and shoulders above the bumper-crop of horror remakes that followed in its wake (and continues unabated to this day), stands as a damn fine film in its own right, and is a special treat for those of us who are devotees of the first movie in that it remains absolutely true to its roots while simultaneously being unafraid to toy with our expectations almost from the get-go.

I assume the basic plot needs no real recap here — besieged folks hole up in a farmhouse while the dead return to life and start to attack and feast upon the living — so let me just jump right into the meat of things and talk about why I think the changes Romero and Savini made here work , since that’s the subject that gets most horror fans worked up anyway. First off, Patricia Tallman’s iteration of Barbara is certainly no deranged or shellshocked “shrinking violet”-type here — anything but, and that marks a welcome departure since even by 1990 that sort of portrayal of your lead female character was going to seem hopelessly out of date. Instead, she’s more akin to Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley character from the Alien series and isn’t just unafraid to mix it up and “get her hands dirty,” so to speak, but welcomes the chance to do so. It’s a stark contrast to what we knew about the story — our thought we know — and Tallman pulls it off remarkably well.

Less obvious, but equally as notweworthy in its own right, are the subtle changes the Candyman himsef, Tony Todd, makes in his portrayal of Ben. With Tallman’s Barbara picking up a good deal of the slack as far as the action is concerned, he’s not called upon to be the “hero,” in a the traditional sense, in the same way that Duane Jones was in the original film, yet he is every bit the “glue guy” who holds the group together and functions as both its collective clear head and its conscience, leading by example in a group of strong-willed, industrious people who could all lay claim to the mantle of “unofficial leader” in their own right if they so chose. He’s steady, grounded, and carries on Jones’ legacy with distinction, even while being less a “man of action”-type than his esteemed predecessor in the role.

And while the Harry Cooper of 1990 is still largely an asshole, thanks to a nice turn from Tom Towles in the part he’s a more multi-faceted and all-too-human asshole than he was in the original script.

There are changes I don’t particularly care for — I would have loved for this film to be in black-and white, for instance, and I’m ambivalent about the re-worked ending (I don’t absolutely despise it as some purists do, but I have a certain amount of sympathy for their viewpoint), but on the whole I think Savini does a really nice job of contemporizing a story that didn’t necessarily need it, but was bound to get it anyway given the first film’s — ahem! — “copyright-free” status that insured that somebody, somewhere was going to remake the thing (as others have, unfortunately, since). In short, given that Night Of The Living Dead was essentially guaranteed to be remade, we should all be grateful that the remake that ended up happening first was this solidly-done, respectful, and professional — and that it didn’t just content itself with those things  but was willing and able to successfully update many of the key concepts, characters, and themes carried over from the original, as well. I can’t think of many horror remakes of more recent vintage that have managed to both remain true to their origins while subverting audience preconceptions at the same time; it’s definitely a tricky balancing act to pull off, but Savini and company were more than up to the task.

Zombies — they’re everywhere these days. Not that I’m complaining, mind you — your humble host is digging the hell out of AMC’s The Walking Dead, for instance, and even though hardly anybody outside the die-hard horror community is paying attention, the master himself, George Romero, is back in fine form with his latest, truly independent undead film series. The recent zombie boom isn’t all great news, though, as some real stinkers have made it onto (straight onto, if you must know) DVD in the last decade or so since films like 28 Days Later and Shaun Of The Dead placed the shambling, flesh-eating corpses of the recently-departed back into the forefront of the public consciousness.

Case in point — director Tor Ramsey’s 2001 DTV effort, Children Of The Living Dead.

The title, of course, tries to tie this film in somehow with Romero’s original Night,  and while the budgets of the two films are probably in the same general ballpark, any similarities between the two unfortunately end there. This flick is a pure, unadulterated stinkbomb.

First off, on the purely technical front, there are the sort of things going on that even high-school filmmakers generally avoid — camera and mic shadows, horrendously wooden sub-standard “acting,” half-assed, unprofessional editing — the list is endless. All of which this critic could easily overlook if the film had some sort of sense of humor about itself and at least copped to, if not downright celebrated, its many, varied, and quite noticeable shortcomings. But this particular movie takes itself  so seriously , despite a storyline (more on that in a minute) that could pass itself off as parody or even Troma product, that you just can’t help but hate the thing.

I mentioned the story just now and for the sake of maintaining not only your interest but your very sanity itself I’ll keep this brief — dead serial murderer/rapist Abbot Hayes disappeared from the morgue in 1987, and shortly thereafter a zombie infestation swept his (Pennsylvania, I think — another nod to The Master/attempted Night tie-in) hometown. Many locals lost their lives in the battle and only a handful of aged residents with nowhere else to go remain in the area. Now, however, 15 years later, a shady businessman (who’s new in town, naturally) has surreptitiously moved the bodies from the local cemetery into one big mass grave of the sort we always accused Saddam Hussein of having (another charge that was never really proven) and Hayes gets all riled up and emerges as the king of a zombie army out to seek revenge on the living — again.

It’s when we really delve into the backstory of Hayes — a move that Ramsey and screenwriter Karen L. Wolf absolutely had no need to make — that things get truly laughable. Hayes became a raping, murdering maniac, and later rose from the dead, because he was — -get this — pissed at his mom for making him wear girls’ clothes as a child! In other words, this is no zombie king that the late, great Edward D. Wood, Jr. would ever have conceived of, even if this film has Wood-like production values (minus any and all of the charm and insanity Ed brought to any given production).

As far as the “stars” of this picture goes, the only one you’re bound to recognize is Tom Savini, who plays one of the local deputies, and even he’s quite clearly just mailing it in. In truth, his talents would have been much better served in the effects department here, because the zombies (as well as all the related blood, viscera, entrails, etc. that always accompany them one way or another) look like crap. I mean, community-theater-level crap.

If you really must see Children Of The Living Dead — and trust me, you don’t have to — it’s available on DVD from Artisan Entertainment. It’s a widescreen transfer with 5.1 sound and no extras, if memory serves me correctly. Or at least no extras worth remembering. But honestly, friends, you’re much better off avoiding this at all costs. I used to think that I could be reasonably entertained by pretty much any flick that had zombies in it, no matter how lackluster or completely bereft of anything resembling coherence or production values. Just get them corpses walking, I figured, and I’m all in. Children Of The Living Dead proved me — no pun intended — dead wrong.

"Machete" Movie Poster

In recent months, fans of exploitation cinema have been given one hell of a gift — no less than three new films that show that the ethos of the grindhouse is still alive and well, namely Black Dynamite, Piranha 3-D, and the subject of our little missive here today, Robert Rodriguez’s much-anticipated Machete.

HE’S BEEN SET UP! DOUBLE CROSSED! LEFT FOR DEAD! BUT THE BAD GUYS DON’T KNOW — THEY JUST FUCKED WITH THE WRONG MEXICAN!

Can you resist that? Didn’t think so.

Th tough thing about reviewing Machete is hitting on all the things that this flick gets absolutely and unequivocally right — I’ve jogged my brain time and again looking for any flaws in this movie whatsoever, and I honestly can’t find any.

We’ve got veteran supporting player Danny Trejo finally getting his props in a title role, and it’s the part he was absolutely born to play : an ex-federale whose wife and kid were murdered by a ruthless drug lord before he himself was SET UP! DOUBLE CROSSED! LEFT FOR — oh, you get the point. Machete’s looking to make his way as an anonymous day laborer in south Texas after a rescue attempt he undertook while still with the Mexican police force went horribly wrong (the girl he goes in to free is in on the set-up and friends, you won’t believe where she hides her cell phone — I’ll say no more) and left him a childless widower.

Enter a political sleazebag named Booth (Jeff Fahey),a guy with a lot of money, a lot of connections, and a decidedly un-fatherly interest in his own daughter (Lindsay Lohan, who spends a good chunk of the movie buck nekkid — and yes, it’s a body double). He wants Machete to take out a rabid anti-immigrant, xenophobic state senator named John McLaughlin (Robert DeNiro), a guy who’s running on a platform of building an electrified fence along the Texas-Mexico border.

It’s all a dastardly set-up, of course — Machete seems to have a way of walking into these things — and that’s when the shit hits the fan/ all hell breaks loose/ pick your favorite semi-vulgar cliche.

Machete’s gotta go underground, but he’s got help from “The Network,” the kind of organized support organization for illegal immigrants that right-wingers think actually exists but doesn’t, run by taco-stand operator-with-a-heart-of-gold Luz (Michelle Rodriguez).

He’s got some help from less likely quarters, as well : there’s his former-hitman-now-priest brother Padre (Cheech Marin — and yes, that’s the only name he’s ever given — and wait until you see how he meets his maker, but I’ve probably given too much away already) and by-the-book-ICE agent Sardana (Jessica Alba), who sees the light and joins the good guys (and falls in love with Machete to boot, naturally), for instance.

But will this ragtag band of undocumented workers, an ex-federale, and a law enforcement agent on the lam be able to take on powerful political insiders, TV-advertising assassin Osiris Amanpour (former FX whiz-turned-musclehead-actor Tom Savini), a Minutemen-style anti-immigrant vigilante army lead by the ruthless Lt. Von Jackson (Don Johnson — billled, for whatever reason, on the poster as being “introduced” in this film —  in a terrific scenery-chewing performance ), and the forces of Torrez (Steven Seagal — speaking of scenery-chewing), the  ruthless Mexican drug lord responsible for killing Machete’s family who’s somehow connected with these far-right, Tea Party-on- steroids type forces?

The answer, dear reader, is — of course. Along the way there’s severed heads and limbs aplenty, a guy who gets his intestines used as a grappling rope in a daring out-the-window-escape, plenty of naked boobs, lots of bad-ass low-rider vehicles, a ruthless killing of a pregnant woman, more backstabbing backroom deals than you can count, and blood n’ guts galore, but there’s never any doubt about who’s gonna come out on top of this fracas.

Rodriguez , co-director (and longtime editing partner) Ethan Maniquis, and co-writer (and brother) Alvaro Rodriguez really pull out all the stop on this one, people — if you loved the phony preview for this that ran before Planet Terror on the Rodriguez/Tarantino Grindhouse double bill a couple years back, rest assured every scene in there made it into the finished product, plus a whole hell of a lot more.

In essence, this is a blaxploitation flick with all the stops pulled out, only with Latinos instead of African Americans. It’s Mexploitation for an American audience, and if you don’t pump your fist in the air at the sight of Machete leading an army of low-riders into battle, or at killer lines like “Machete don’t text” and Jessica Alba screaming “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us!,” then I don’t know what’s wrong with you. Machete kicks ass and takes names and like the best exploitation flicks of the 70s it uses its sleazy veneer as cover to address contemporary issues much more openly and honestly than big-budget Hollywood studio fare would ever dare to. Like its titular hero, Machete is a film with brass balls that doesn’t fucking compromise.

Look, I’m not on crack — I won’t tell you that Machete is destined to be the best movie of the year. But it’s the best time you’ll have at the movies all year, and that’s a lead pipe cinch.  We’ll finish this up with some promo stills to whet your appetite to get out and see this immediately — or to see it again if you already have. Machete is the shit. Case closed.

"Deathdream" Movie Poster

Years before Michael Cimino and Oliver Stone dealt with the trauma of returning Viet Nam veterans in their Oscar-winning films “The Deer Hunter” and “Born on the Fourth of July,” independent exploitation filmmakers were going where Hollywood still didn’t dare to go. More specifically, legendary director Bob Clark of “Porky’s” and “A Christmas Story” fame was going there, and at the time he was working in the regional independent exploitation milieu.

Before heading north of the border to lens the slasher classic “Black Christmas,” Clark cut his teeth on a couple of low-budget horror flicks in Florida. The first, “Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things,” is a pleasing if ultimately forgettable effort, but the second, 1974’s  “Deathdream” (also released under the titles “Dead of Night,” “The Night Andy Came Home” and “The Night Walk,” among others), is a bona fide classic. Not only did it beat Cimino and Stone to the punch in terms if its harrowing subject matter, but it one-upped George Romero in using the zombie film as contemporary sociopolitical allegory because while Romero offered hints of his zombies (and remember, he specifically referred to them as “ghouls” at the time) and even moreso the human survivors confronting them as being stand-ins for a host of current issues, Clark dealt with those issues in a much more head-on manner in “Deathdream.” When Romero returned with “Dawn of the Dead,” he tackled the political in a much more direct manner, and while I can’t say for certain that Clark’s film emboldened him to do so, it certainly couldn’t have hurt matters any .

Also worth noting for history : this film was originally released with a PG rating, but was later re-rated with an R somewhere along the line as it continued to play regional drive-in and grindhouse circuits. You could get away with a lot under the PG label in the early years of the MPAA rating system.

I’m no prude, but considering the subject matter and some of the (effective for a film with literally ten times its budget) gore, I think an R does seem the more appropriate classification, but what the hell do I know? Read my little brief overview of the plot details  (or better yet see the film) and decide for yourself —

Andy at the beginning ---

Charles Brooks (John Marley, the guy who found the horse’s head in his bed in “The Godfather”), his wife Christine (Lynn Carlin,  “Faces” ) and their daughter, Cathy (Anya Ormsby)  are sitting down to dinner when two messengers from the army arrive with the telegraph that every parent with a child in the service dreads : their son, Andy, has been killed in Viet Nam. Needless to say, the entire family is devastated beyond words.

Later (what one assumes to be) that same night, though, a truck driver picks up a hitchhiker on a lonely stretch of two-lane road somewhere in Florida. He’s dressed in army fatigues and and isn’t much of a conversationalist, but the trucker learns that he’s just come home from Viet Nam and is on the way to see his family.

In short order, Andy (a young Richard Backus) turns up on his parents’ doorstep. Convinced that the telegram was nothing more than a horrible mistake, his family is at first so overjoyed to see their son that they let Andy’s strange behavior slide. He won’t go see the family doctor for a physical. He sits silently in his room at all hours rocking back and forth in a chair. He seems quiet and distant, He has no interest in seeing his former high school sweetheart, who still carries a torch for him or any of his former friends, for that matter.

Of course, when the death of a truck driver is reported on the news, his family don’t suspect a thing. But when other bodies start turning up, including the family doctor he refused to visit, Andy’s father, at least, begins to fear the worst, even if his mother willfully refuses to put two and two together.

Andy’s a zombie, you see, and he needs blood to survive. Or things start to get real ugly real fast. And the longer he hangs around, the more blood he needs. When he finally relents and goes out on a double-date to the drive-in with his former (although not in her mind) sweetheart and his best buddy and his girl, he’s dressed in dark sunglasses and a crisp white suit-type outfit that covers him from head to toe. He shouldn’t be going anywhere and he knows it, and his deterioration and berserker rage at the drive-in is a classic scene in the annals of horror.

--- and at the end

It goes without saying (but I’m saying it anyway) that the plot’s pretty simple and straightforward here, but the actors really bring the material to life. Marley is superb as the father who walks a delicate balance between being overjoyed at seeing the son he never thought he’d see again and suspecting the harsh,brutal truth about his condition. Carlin delivers a heartwrenchingly realistic portrait of a mother who will protect her son from anything, even when the reality of what he’s become stares her in the face. What could be portrayed as a simple case of denial in the face of everything is instead a gut-wrenching portrait of motherly love even when said love flies in the face of reality itself. And Backus is magnificent as Andy, conveying cold menace yet also a sense of tragic victimhood at all times.

As for the ending — -well, it’ll rip your heart out. That’s all I can say. The story can obviously only finish one way (although I won’t spell that out too specifically), but the pain and anguish that occur when the inevitable happens makes for a truly heartbreaking goodbye, not just for B movie, but for any movie.

"Deathdream" DVD from Blue Underground

The fine folks at Blue Underground released “Deathdream” on DVD a few years back in a truly superb package that contains an excellently-restored 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer of the film. two separate feature length commentaries (one from director Clark recorded not too terribly long before his sudden and tragic death in an auto accident, the other from screenwriter Alan Ormsby), an extended version of the powerful ending sequence, a poster and still gallery, the original theatrical trailer, and a new interview with star Richard Backus.

Best of all for horror fans, though, is the mini-documentary “Tom Savini : The Early Years.” Included because “Deathdream” was the first film on which the legendary make-up FX man cut his teeth before his his horror-history-making work for George Romero on “Dawn of the Dead,” this is a fascinating look at the early life and work of a guy who literally revolutionized the movie business. The fact that he was a Viet Nam vet, to boot, makes it doubly thematically appropriate.

Don’t let my rather quick synopsis of the plot fool you (your reviewer didn’t want to give away too much in terms of detail, but the truth is that this is a film I could literally spend hours talking about) : “Deathdream” is a painstakingly detailed account of one young man’s desperate struggle to continue surviving after he’s already dead, and how his quite literal descent literally rips his family apart. And while there weren’t any literal zombies who came home from Viet Nam, the number of walking wounded was incalculable. They’re coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq today, making this film as timely as ever. Leave it to low-budget regional filmmakers to blaze the trail and let Hollywood know it was “okay” to deal with subject matter like this.

Finally, it’s worth noting in closing that the Viet Nam war was still going on when this film was made, while it was over and done with by the time “The Deer Hunter” came along. That’s guts right there. Hollywood was still producing John Wayne movies cheering the “glory” of the war when Clark was showing us its’ horrific consequences in a cheap zombie flick.

“Deathdream,” therefore, is not only one of the most emotionally affecting horror films ever made, it’s also one of the gutsiest.