Deathdream Come True

Oh Blue Underground, I knew you'd come through.  Yes, from Bob Clark comes one of the great American zombie movies; 1974's Deathdream, a.k.a. Dead of Night, The Night Andy Came Home, Night Walk, It Came from the Grave, The Veteran, Whispers...  Honestly, none of those titles have ever really done this film justice.  And to be clear, this is not your typical zombie horde movie.  There's just the one zombie, come home from the war, in what in some ways plays more like a Vietnam war allegory written by Tennessee Williams.  A small town drama with something to say, some genuinely creepy scenes, smart writing and a wry sense of humor.  Tonally, this feels more like Martin than Night or Dawn Of the Dead.
But as long you don't go in hankering for high-octane Fulci mayhem (though there's a pretty sweet moment with a zombie crashing a flaming car through cemetery gates), this is a surprising treat.  You've got Cassavetes veteran John Marley leading a dramatic cast you'd never imagine from the people who gave us Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things.  And the story heads into dark places most horror today won't even go (murdered dog, suicide in the final act, etc).  It has some good shocks, but it's mostly just more thoughtful.  When Andy realizes the town doctor is onto his secret, you think okay, now he's got to run him off the road or strangle him from the shadows.  But he doesn't have those cliche motives, and instead shows up at the doctor's late at night saying, "I'm here for my check-up" and proceeds to have a long, creepy dialogue with the man.
The one downside is a bit of a "been there, done that" vibe to this Monkey's Paw variant, with films like Uncle Sam and all the Pet Sematary's re-hashing much of the same ground.  This came first and did it better than all of those, but there's no escaping that feeling like you've seen this before even if it's your first time.  It's more classic than cutting edge, although again, it finds own, more thoughtful ways of handling many of the details.  And apart from that one random guy playing a town drunk in an opening scene like he walked out of a Benny Hill sketch, everybody does a great job selling the material.  It's got an effective little score, too.
Blue Underground first released Deathdream as a pretty sweet little DVD edition in 2004.  They upgraded it to a blu-ray, restored in 2k with even more features, in 2017.  But I never picked it up, because by the time I got around to it, I was convinced BU would upgrade it again to UHD.  I came close to breaking a few times over the years, especially when Diabolik or Grindhouse would have a Blue Underground sale.  But I kept the faith, and eventually, in April '23, they announced a 4k was on its way.  It took a while, but it's here now in 2024, just on time for its 50th Anniversary, as a BD/ UHD combo-pack with "a brand new restoration, scanned in 4k 16-bit from the original 35mm negative with Dolby Vision HDR" and more special features.
1) 2004 BU DVD; 2) 2024 BU BD; 3) 2024 BU UHD.
Well, "from the 35mm negative" except, apparently, for the final shot, which seems to be taken from a lesser source.  It's quick, so pretty forgivable, especially assuming it was all they could do.  Besides that, all three discs are exactly 1.85:1, but the DVD has a vertical pinch that the new release corrects.  So the new scan adds a bit more along all four sides, but especially along the top and bottom.  The colors are virtually the same across the board, though the bright ends are a little over-exposed on the DVD compared to the more subtle 2024 discs.  The film source feels a little rough no matter which edition you watch, though some of that's probably down to the low budget filmmaking (i.e. the harsh lighting) and possible condition of the original elements.  But that's not to suggest one edition is as good as another.  The DVD has a lot of smudgy compression, for example, which the 2024 pair clear up handsomely, so overall it's a substantial upgrade, though that's with us skipping a generation.  If you had the 2017 blu-ray, I'm not sure this would be such a vast improvement.  Grain still feels a little light even on the UHD.

The original DVD has the original mono audio, but nothing else.  The 2017 BD bumped that up to lossless DTS-HD and added, English, Spanish and French subtitles, and that still goes for both discs in the new 2024 set.
The original DVD was already pretty loaded with some sweet extras.  There are two commentaries, one by Clark himself, and one by his co-writer Alan Ornsby.  Clark's moderator has to work to keep the filmmaker talking, but both tracks are insightful and worth any fan's time.  There are also on-camera interviews with Savini & star Richard Backus, several galleries, alternate credits sequences, and the trailer.  And as a fun bonus treat (well, as fun as a historical depiction of racist lynching can be), Ornsby's student film 3:45, which co-stars his then wife and Deathdream actress Anya Ornsby, is hidden as an easter egg.
The 2017 blu added a new on-camera interview with the Ornsby's, a brief but entertaining interview with production designer John Bud Cardos, another with composer Carl Zittrer, and early test footage with Gary Swanson, the first actor originally cast as Andy, who we do still see in the final film's pre-credit sequence.  And all of that is carried over onto the new 2024 release, including the easter egg.  And they've added even more as well.  There's a thoroughly skippable audio commentary by experts Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson, who mostly repeat facts and anecdotes from the preexisting extras (especially Clark's commentary) in between tangents about their personal lives.  At one point Howarth says, "the story between Carpenter and Bob Clark is very well known," and I thought, oh good, he's not going make us listen to it again... They already went over it extensively in Clark's commentary and other places, not to mention the Black Christmas releases, where it's actually relevant.  But then he proceeds to re-tell it all again anyway.

But more rewarding is a new, upbeat on-camera interview with Gary Swanson.  He's recently reviewed that test footage the 2017 release unearthed and has fond memories.  The 2024 release also comes in a cool, embossed slipcover and includes reversible artwork.
So yes, this is a movie I'm very glad to own, especially given its top shelf treatment here.  I really want the best possible quality exhibited here and all the extras, so I'm glad I held out.  If you already have the 2017 BD, this probably isn't as exciting an upgrade as it has been for me.  But either way, it's unquestionably the best version there is.

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