Dead Of Night (1974)

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Dead Of Night (AKA Deathdream) is the second collaboration by Bob Clark and Alan Ormsby. Dead Of Night is a film that’s very loosely based upon ‘The Monkey’s Paw’, a very famous short horror story by W.W.Jacobs. Dead Of Night tells the story of Andy, a young Vietnam vet who dies in battle, yet somehow is able to make it back to his family. Dead Of Night is a film that was evidently made on a much larger budget than the last Bob Clark/Alan Ormsby film Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, as Dead Of Night sports better set design, better cinematography, better acting and much better special effects than Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things.

As far as horror movies go, Dead Of Night is a very toned down film. Dead Of Night pays more attention to character based storytelling than visceral effects and horrifying action sequences, instead, Dead Of Night is a very down to earth film where most of the focus is on family drama that occurs when Andy comes home unexpected and begins to display very strange tendencies. I was pleasantly surprised at how the film was genuinely touching and unpredictable because of the focus on family drama. The characters themselves are backed up by some damn fine acting from the entire cast. Although some of the cast was recycled from Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, most notably Anya Ormsby and Jane Daly, their performances in Dead Of Night are a vast improvement from their lackluster performances in Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things. However, the film’s most noteworthy actor is John Marley, who plays Andy’s father. John Marley, an acclaimed actor who’s most famous role is that of Jack Woltz in The Godfather, gives a fantastically empathetic performance as the father who struggles between hating his son for what he’s become, and protecting his son because of the fact that, in the end, family is what matters most. Having to deal with Andy’s psychotic tendencies, John Marley’s character is very strained, at times, an absolute wreck. Through John Marley’s performance a viewer can see the strain, feel the weight that the character carries on his shoulders.  Although technically not the film’s lead role, John Marley’s performance stands out above the rest, even that of Richard Backus who plays Andy.

However, another strong aspect of Dead Of Night is the film’s make up effects. Although the film doesn’t really showcase them until the film’s climax, they are shocking to witness. Clearly, a lot of time and effort went into the effects which turn Andy from man into monster, and they are to be commended. However, there’s a good reason why the effects are as good as they are; the man behind the special effects was a then-unknown Tom Savini. Dead Of Night was his first time creating VFX for a feature film, and even back then, Tom Savini’s talents are outstanding in his field. It’s a clear and welcome step up from the dodgy make-up effects that were on display in Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things and it really helps the film stand out from other 1970’s horror films.

However, Dead Of Night does suffer from some of the same problems as Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things. After witnessing both movies, I’ve come to realize a fatal flaw in Alan Ormsby’s writing: he can create a handful of empathetic characters, he can write believable dialogue, he can create a tense beginning and a memorable climax, but he can’t write an interesting second act. Dead Of Night, like Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, meanders during the second act, an act which provides no story evolution nor any interesting character development. I understand that the purpose of Dead Of Night is to create a slow, chilling, horror film, but sometimes the film goes from being slow and tense to being boring, very boring. Like Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, Dead Of Night failed to keep my attention throughout certain parts because the film had barely any variety during the second act, and I kept on finding myself bored and uninterested.

By the end of watching Dead Of Night, I was very unsure about whether I preferred Dead Of Night or Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things. Sure, Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things was a dated, no-budget curio, but at least it had the charm of being a dated no-budget curio, Dead Of Night doesn’t even have that going for it. It’s held up better than Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, but I felt that Dead Of Night was much more uninteresting than Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things. Dead Of Night had much better acting than Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, but the bad acting was another charming aspect of Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things. All in all, I’d say that Dead Of Night is another middle of the road movie: not terrible, but not very good either. Again, Bob Clark and Alan Ormsby have done better later on in their careers, and the film doesn’t even feel like it’s very ‘Grindhouse friendly’. In conclusion, I wouldn’t recommend Dead Of Night, there exists much better anti-vietnam horror films than this one, such as Combat Shock, Cannibal Apocalypse or Targets. I’d recommend watching one of those films instead of watching this one.

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