Zena’s Period Blood: Deathdream is Too Much Horror in One Film
It can be difficult finding horror films of quality, so allow me to welcome you to your salvation from frustration. “Zena’s Period Blood” is here to guide you to the horror films that will make you say “This is a good horror. Point blank. PERIOD.”
“Zena’s Period Blood” focuses on under-appreciated and hidden horror films.
Late director Bob Clark has one of the most diverse directorial careers. His work ranges from the gruesome, comedic horror Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things (1972), the cult classic holiday slasher Black Christmas (1974), the vulgar teen comedy Porky’s (1981), the nostalgic comedy A Christmas Story (1983), and many more. With that being stated, the first review of Zena’s Period Blood is Clark’s insanely underrated Deathdream (aka Dead of Night). This review contains spoilers.
The film begins with the tortures of the Vietnam War. A shadowy jungle encases two soldiers in gunfire, flames and explosions. One soldier is shot, and as he screams, Andy Brooks begs him to hold on. More bullets hunt through the night until one finds Andy’s back, lifting him forward to his death. The scene freezes, forcing us to stomach Andy’s twisted face and a woman’s voice saying, “Andy. You can’t die. You promised, Andy. You promised you’d come back.”
Back at Andy’s Florida home, his family enjoys dinner. We meet parents Charlie and Christine and sister Cathy. Christine is going on about her plans for Andy’s undeniable return. Charles and Cathy exchange looks as Christine continues. They both fear the worst may have happened to Andy; it’s been weeks since any of them have heard from him. Unexpectedly, a knock at the door interrupts their meal. Charlie opens the door to the gloomy presence of the state official. In that moment, each member of the family accepts or denies the news of Andy’s death. As the viewer, we feel involved in the scene because we knew that Andy was dead and that the family would soon find out as well. As with most similar unfortunate situations, you watch for the way each loved one responds. The torment last until later the night—when Andy returns home.
Alongside Andy’s return, police investigate the death of a truck driver who gave a ride to a hitchhiker. The investigation continues as more dead bodies start to emerge. Meanwhile, there’s something wrong with Andy. He hardly talks, never eats, and requests not to see old friends, including his beloved girlfriend Joanne. Plus, whenever someone discusses anything that resembles violence, Andy’s anger awakens. Sure, it seems that Andy has PTSD, but he also displays instant aging or abnormal skin peeling—symptoms of someone no longer of this world.
Charlie, angered by his son’s behavior, reaches his limit and descends into numerous drinks at the local bar. This scene first introduced me to the layers of emotion cinematographer Jack McGowan often used in just one shot. In a single shot, Charlie, sitting in the foreground, speaks about the frustrations of having his son home but different. The midground maintains the curious doctor who listens to Charlie, while the background displays the uninterested bartender who studies his newspaper. We see this theme several times, uncovering the layers of fear, curiosity and naivety as the city of Brooksville suffers Andy’s return.
I will leave the rest of the movie for you to enjoy, but I must note the incredible acting displayed by each actor. Richard Brackus as Andy made viewers and fellow actors uneasy every time he arrived in a scene. On the other hand, Lynn Carlin (the mother) really stole the show. She protected Andy and his inexplicable behavior, barking at anyone who questioned her son’s motives. Honestly, she disgusted me, but after some time, she made a real question emerge. Who is the worst monster—the actual monster or the one who will do anything to protect the monster? That is a concept you don’t mull over every day.
Furthermore, I felt the need to shake my head with grief every time director Bob Clark showed the outside of the house. That house endured so much. We were first introduced to it as a place of love and laughter. Then, sadness was infused with news of Andy’s death, followed by joy, loneliness and backstabbing. I never felt so hurt for one location. At the end, we are ripped away from this home we know so well only to suffer one of the saddest endings in cinema. At this point, I just wanted a break from my own house and from all of film. I actually got some Jimmy John’s after my recent watch of the movie.
With half of my turkey sandwich complete, I can now go on about composer Carl Zittrer’s teasing of tension with violins and pianos, or I can elaborate on Jack McGowan and how most shots could have easily been the movie poster. Yet, no person deserves more attention at this point than writer Alan Ormsby. In this one film, he manages to give several distinctions of horror. In 88 minutes, we endured to the fear of dying. Then we succumbed to the horror of losing a loved one. We experienced the horror of someone breaking in our home. We also experienced the horror of time or events changing our loved ones for the worst. We survived the horror of being stretched beyond our norms. And just when we thought that was it, we found ourselves incriminated by the horrors of the paranormal. Hopefully, now you understand why I had to take a nap before I got my Jimmy John’s.
A common discussion among horror scholars and lunchroom nutcases is whether or not Andy was a zombie. I guess we can decipher one of my favorite lines in the movie. Andy states to the family friend and doctor, “I don’t worry about having to get sick, or old, or tired or anything…or maybe one thing.” Okay. Andy is dead; however, he’s not a ghost because he’s home and people can see and touch him. He’s not a vampire, although he has a thirst for blood. But does all this really make Andy a zombie? He’s not really going out chomping on everyone, just people who are suspicious of him. Truthfully, I thought about finding Alan Ormsby and asking him flat out about good ol’ Andy. But after what I watched Mr. Ormsby do with 8 or 9 characters in 88 short minutes, why would I want my life ruined?
Overall, Deathdream is definitely an under-appreciated and hidden horror that needs more love. So give it the love that it deserves and go watch it. NOW! It’s a great one. Point blank. PERIOD.
In addition to contributing to Dread Central, Zena Dixon has been writing about all things creepy and horrific for over six years at RealQueenofHorror.com. She has always loved horror films and will soon be known directing her own feature-length horror. Feel free to follow her on Twitter @LovelyZena.