Director Bob Clark didn't strike box-office pay dirt until 1981, when his "Porky's" emerged as a hit. But he directed several well-regarded horror films in the previous decade, including the 1972 B-movie "Deathdream," a primitive yet potent and compelling thriller.
"Deathdream," which screens Friday to kick off the UCLA Film and Television Archive's "Going to Hell: Horror From the 1970s and '80s," reunites John Marley and Lynn Carlin, who played the unhappily married couple in John Cassavetes' classic 1968 "Faces."
A small-town couple (Marley and Carlin) receive word that their son (Richard Backus) has been killed in Vietnam, which his doting mother refuses to believe. Out of the blue he does turn up -- as a zombie, his family mistaking his eerie, rigid state as the effects of post-traumatic stress. His return and its inevitably catastrophic consequences becomes an implicit antiwar commentary but also reveals deeps fissures in his parents' marriage that open all the wider.
Showing with "Deathdream" is another nifty overlooked picture, William Asher's "Night Warning" (1981), in which Susan Tyrell's ultra-possessive aunt goes over the edge when it looks as if her orphaned nephew (Jimmy McNichol) is going to escape her clutches via a college basketball scholarship.
As if having a crazed foster parent weren't enough, McNichol has to contend with Bo Svenson's small-town cop, a macho, homophobic know-it-all type who, when the bodies start piling up, becomes obsessed with the notion that the youth and his high school coach are lovers even though there's no basis for the assumption.
Unfolding deftly under Asher's direction, "Night Warning" combines darkly outrageous humor with persuasive psychological validity.
"The Velvet Vampire" (1971), which stars Celeste Yarnall, a beautiful non-actress who found greater success as a Realtor, is arty and unintentionally funny, but Harry Kumel's "Daughters of Darkness" (1971) is another matter. To a vast but seemingly deserted resort hotel comes an aristocratic beauty (the late Delphine Seyrig) with a solemn little brunet (Andrea Rau) in tow. Add honeymooners (John Karlen and Danielle Ouimet) to the mix.
What happens is familiar but made compelling by the delicious and witty Seyrig and by Kumel's dazzling direction. "Daughters of Darkness" is an ultra-sophisticated triumph of style and mood, ineffably poignant and ever verging on camp but too confident and knowing to lapse into it. It's also decidedly violent.
The Pan African Film Festival continues at the Magic Johnson Theaters through Monday. Among the many offerings, which include various sidebar events during the weekend, are two provocative pictures, "Bedwin Hacker" and "Soldiers of the Rock."
First-time Franco-Tunisian writer-director Nadia El Fani's "Bedwin Hacker" is as elusive as its heroine, a sleek-looking Tunisian computer genius (Sonia Hamza) who breaks into French TV frequencies to broadcast pro-Arab messages. ("Bedwin" is hacker shorthand for "Bedouin.") Yet it is a revealing look at independent, outspoken, contemporary North African women symbolized by Hamza's Kalt and her friends, for whom freedom means resistance on home ground rather than struggling toward a visa, residence permit and citizenship in France.
Didactic and theatrical but impassioned, Norman Maake's "Solders of the Rock" stars Vuyo Dabula as a reflective young business student who uses a school break to work in a Johannesburg area goldmine to experience the life his late father led.
In this intense, grueling atmosphere, Dabula discovers that an ex-con, Suto (Michael Diamini), is trying to rally his co-workers in pooling their meager financial resources to buy their own mine, in keeping with the spirit of post-apartheid South Africa's Black Economic Empowerment policy.
The heart of the matter is how years of life under apartheid make it difficult for many of the men to dare to think it possible to take their destinies into their own hands.
Not surprisingly, the showdown between those willing to take a chance and those afraid to do so occurs just as a deep mine starts collapsing.
UCLA Film and Television Archive
"Going to Hell: Horror from the 1970s and '80s": "Deathdream," Friday, 7:30 p.m., followed by "Night Warning." "The Velvet Vampire," Saturday, 7:30 p.m., followed by "Daughters of Darkness."
Where: James Bridges Theater, Melnitz Hall, UCLA campus, Westwood
Info: (310) 206-FILM
Pan African Film Festival
"Bedwin Hacker," today,
6:05 p.m., and Sunday, 2:10 p.m.
"Soldiers of the Rock," today,
6:45 p.m., and Sunday, 7:25 p.m.
Where: Magic Johnson Theaters, 4020 Marlton Ave., Los Angeles
Info: (323) 295-1706