Film Review: Dead of Night – 7/10

‘I died for you, Doc. Why shouldn’t you return the favour?

The Monkey’s Paw by English author W. W. Jacobs is one of the most famous and influential horror fables ever written. In the story, an old married couple is gifted the mystical monkey’s paw from the title that offers the opportunity to grant three wishes. In a precursor to Stephen King’s beloved novel Pet Sematary, the old couple end up wishing their dead son back to life with chilling consequences. Bob Clark’s proto-slasher Dead of Night also sees a dead son come back to life with disastrous repercussions…

Dead of Night (or Deathdream as it is also known) begins with the death of a young soldier in Vietnam (Andy – played by Richard Bachus). After receiving the news of his death, his parents Charles (John Marley) and Christine (Lynn Carlin) are surprised and delighted when Andy turns up on their front porch seemingly alive and well. It soon becomes clear, however, that the Andy who has returned home is not the same Andy who left for war years earlier.

Clark has form in this area having also been at the helm for influential slasher Black Christmas. Dead of Night is a dry run for that movie in many ways. It also features POV shots from the killer’s perspective and gruesome death sequences. This is more than just a mindless slasher, however, Alan Ormsby’s screenplay confronts the horrors of the Vietnam War and the terrible consequences that it wrought and this adds an extra dimension of horror to a film that is already pretty dark.

While slasher fans will no doubt enjoy the slow burn of the first hour and Bachus’ disquieting performance, it is in the film’s show-stopping finale that Dead of Night really comes alive (so to speak). The film also boasts some excellent make-up work from horror legend Tom Savini. While Black Christmas will always be Clark’s horror masterpiece, this film deserves to find a wider audience – a genuinely frightening and frankly quite depressing cinematic experience.