This was a film that I really didn't know a lot about, but did hear about it on a couple of horror movie podcasts I listen to. I didn't realize either that this was directed by Bob Clark, who has such an interesting filmography with things like A Christmas Story and Black Christmas. This film is much different from them as well. The synopsis is a young soldier killed in Vietnam inexplicably shows up to his family home one night.
We start this off in a forest. I'm not going to lie, at first I don't think this really looks like Vietnam, but that is where it is supposed to be. There are some explosions and Andy Brooks (Richard Backus) is shot.We see him die.
It then shifts to Florida. We meet Andy's father, Charles (John Marley) along with his wife Christine (Lynn Carlin) and their daughter Cathy (Anya Ormsby). Christine is still clinging that their son is alive and even told a lie about getting a letter from him. Cathy reveals as well that Joanne (Jane Daly), Andy's girlfriend, constantly asks as well.
We then shift to a truck driver. He pulls over and picks up a hitchhiker. We don't get to see who it is, just a POV shot. He then goes to a local diner to get a couple cups of coffee. Soon after he is killed by someone and the hitchhiker moves toward a house. Cathy wakes her father stating she heard something downstairs. He checks it out and his family comes down as well. They find the door open and when they go to close it, they find Andy.
He isn't how they remember though. He doesn't want to tell anyone that he is home. He doesn't want to do anything; he doesn't eat and just kind of sits there. Charles is worried about him while Christine is happy he's home. There is a rift that starts and it gets worse when on the news about the death of the truck driver. Charles and Andy get into it and the father goes to the bar. It is there he reveals to Doc Allman (Henderson Forsythe) about his son and he starts to wonder if Andy committed the crime. We also see there's something just not quite right about him.
I wanted to come in a bit vague with my recap to not reveal too much. You can get the idea of who did this murder and the others that happen in the film, but there is really an interesting angle to it. It is revealed that the first kill has a prick on his arm like where a needle would have gone in. The police think this is possibly to use dope, but it is much darker when we learn the truth of the matter.
This film really doesn't give us too much information for why Andy comes back or what he has become. I don't mind this to an extent, but I really would have liked a little bit more than what we get. I don't think that is what really matters to the filmmaker though. This really seems to be an allegory for PTSD. I can see that Andy is shell-shocked to what happened to him in Vietnam and he can't cope with it. This is very socially relevant with soldiers that come home today. Going even farther, Charles was in World War II. He is upset that Andy can't cope with it, which is really the sentiment from those who didn't serve or just the older generation in general. I feel this film is stating that Andy doesn't have anyone he can connect with and is an outsider.
Another interesting aspect to the film is Christine. She really actually reminds me of my mother. Not that I would go on a killing spree, but my mother would defend me to her dying breath. There's an interesting argument between her and Charles that she reveals Andy is her favorite. I don't necessarily know if that's the case, but more that she thought she lost him once.
Going from there, I want to move the pacing of the film. I think that it is pretty solid. It builds tension and the film doesn't really out stay its welcome. I never found myself bored and really wanted to see how things end. My only issue is with the ending though, as I don't think the film really establishes what Andy has become. I think by not knowing, the ending kind of just happens. I do think that it does send a powerful message about our veterans though.
Acting for the film is a bit amateurish, but it doesn't bother me. I think it kind of adds a bit of charm. The only actor I recognize was Marley, as he was in The Godfather. I think he was solid in this film and his performance was believable. I like that he loves his son, but wants him to be a man and handle the responsibilities of an adult. The problem is that he doesn't understand what his son is going through and is not supportive. On the other side though, Carlin is too supportive. There really should be a happy medium between the two. I think her performance was fine. Backus did a really good job at being someone as stoic as Andy is. It is really eerie and his stare is why he got the role. The rest of the cast definitely rounded out the film for what was needed as well.
To the effects of the film, they were pretty solid overall. It was crazy to see that Tom Savini, who was still unknown at the time, did them. I don't think he had a lot to work with, but for the time period, I think there is a bit of charm to them. The blood actually looks good. Some of the wounds don't really hold up though. The look of Andy when we see what he has become I did really enjoy. I do think that the film is shot well.
Now with that said, this film was definitely an interesting allegory. I do like the concept of a soldier dying and then coming home to his family. Even more that it is a kind of adaptation of The Monkey's Paw. I would have liked to know what he is as I think that would have tightened up the ending for me. The acting isn't great, but I think it works. The film does a pretty solid job at building tension for me. These weren't the best effects by Savini, but they are still pretty solid. The soundtrack of the film really didn't stand out to me, but it also didn't hurt the film. I actually think this is a good movie despite its budget and recommend giving it a viewing, especially if you are a veteran or dealt with PTSD.