Bad Dreams Review
It’s 1975 and Harris (Richard Lynch), leader of a sinister cult known as The Unity Fields Communion, addresses his fanatical followers. Instructing the brainwashed group to go with him, Harris douses the room in petrol and sets the building ablaze, instigating a mass suicide. Later as the authorities sift through the charred ruins, they miraculously find one survivor – a young woman named Cynthia (Jennifer Rubin). After 13 years in a coma, Cynthia awakens to find herself in a psychiatric hospital and part of a therapy group for those with a borderline personality disorder, under the care of Dr Karmen (Re-animator’s Bruce Abbott). She starts to have vivid flashbacks of the house fire and worse still, terrifying visions of the disfigured Harris, who seems to lurk menacingly within the confines of the hospital.
As the other patients start to inexplicably take their own lives, Cynthia tries desperately to convince everyone that Harris is back from beyond the grave and responsible, tormenting them in their dreams. What’s more the troubled woman believes that the monstrous Harris will persist until she too is dead. Naturally nobody believes Cynthia’s claims, especially Detective Wasserman (Sy Richardson), who suspects that she may not be entirely innocent. Then there’s head Doctor Berrisford (Harris Yulin) who seems intent on shutting Cynthia away in isolation. Her only chance of survival may rest in the hands of dependable Karmen, if only he can be convinced to take her seriously.
Bad Dreams (1988) had the misfortune of being released shortly after the far superior third Nightmare on Elm Street – arguably the best sequel in the entire franchise. Many noticed that it undeniably shares some distinct similarities with that film, from several narrative strands right down to the casting of Rubin, while lacking the visual panache. At a glance it also seems remarkably like a couple of other releases from around that time: The Horror Show (aka House 3) and Wes Craven’s Shocker (1989), though managing to be marginally better than both.
Bad Dreams marked Fleming’s debut as director and his inexperience behind the camera at this point often shows, failing to really crank up the tension when necessary and often delivering some uninspired set pieces. Instead there’s an over-reliance on gore, including a cheeky nod to Carrie during one sequence. The make-up effects by the talented Michele Burke (who would later win an Oscar for her work on Bram Stoker’s Dracula) are admittedly well done. The fact that the film remains too routine for the most part is down to Fleming’s wretched screenplay, which is somewhat lacking in fresh ideas, despite a polish by Hollywood’s go-to writer Steven E. De Souza (who co-wrote 48 Hrs and Die Hard among others). This is before the story veers off into an entirely new and intriguing direction during the climax, by which time it’s perhaps a little too late to really care.
Bad Dreams did not get a UK cinema release back in 1988 and has only previously been available in this country on grainy VHS, albeit in a slightly cut version (22 secs). For this new dual format release from 88 Films, all previous cuts have been waived.
The Blu-ray disc comes with a clean 1080p transfer, preserving the original 1.85:1 ratio. There is a satisfying level of fine detail present in the image, with good levels of contrast throughout. Audio is presented in DTS-HD MA 2.0, and is quite effective during the various set pieces - Guns & Roses hit "Sweet Child O’ Mine" plays with great vigour over the end credits as well. Dialogue is distinct throughout and optional English SDH are also included.
An impressive set of brand new extras for this release, including featurettes produced by Phillip Escott’s 441 Films and High Rising Productions.
An insightful audio commentary with Nathaniel Thompson and Tim Greer from Mondo-digital
Living the Dream (24:17) – Imagine that you are fresh out of film school and your screenplay falls into the hands of hotshot producer Gale Ann Hurd, who is so impressed that she gives it the green light straightaway without hesitation. This is the situation Andrew Fleming found himself in aged only 24, with Hurd also encouraging him to direct for the first time and major studio Twentieth Century Fox handling distribution. Fleming also talks about growing up in California during the 1960s and hearing unsettling stories about the Manson Family murders and then the Jonestown massacre, which later inspired Bad Dreams and its storyline concerning a cult.
There’s plenty of trivia in this interview, including how James Cameron was often hanging around the set and watching dailies (he was married to Hurd at the time). Cameron commented that he thought Fleming's film was far better than his film debut. Alas, not a reference to The Terminator, but his ill-conceived sequel to Piranha (1982). No discussion about an eighties horror film is complete without the filmmakers mentioning the battles they had with the MPAA. Bad Dreams is no exception, with Fleming struggling to secure an “R” rating (the BBFC were more lenient). The director confesses that he was initially unhappy with the final film, frustrated that his script had also undergone a polish by Steven E. De Souza. Despite the film not performing as well as Fleming might have hoped, he later found success with supernatural horror The Craft (1996), before settling into a career writing and directing for television.
Dream Woman (40:26) – Jennifer Rubin talks candidly about her background, including how her family has been plagued with illness, struggling through education, embarking on a modelling career in Italy and then venturing into acting – and making a very memorable screen debut in the third Nightmare on Elm Street. She makes a jovial interviewee, providing some amusing anecdotes along the way – my favourite being the revelation that co-star Lynch drove everybody crazy off-set during the making of Bad Dreams with his incessant trumpet playing (he was not actually required to play an instrument during the film). This is clearly a recent interview as there are several references to the #MeToo movement, though Rubin is at pains to point out that there were never any issues during the production of this feature.
Derivative Dreams (19:29) – Spencer Murphy, a lecturer at Coventry University, analyses the film and the similarities it shares with Chuck Russell’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 3. Murphy discusses the repression of bad experiences and how those memories may later materialise in dreams.
Trailer (1:44), a reversible sleeve featuring alternate artwork. Also included is a collector's booklet - an 18-page guide to slasher films by Calum Waddell, starting with Hitchcock’s Psycho and covering a multitude of B-movie favourites from the 1980s – many of which are, by complete coincidence, also available from 88 Films.
Bad Dreams is released by 88 Films on Dual format Blu-ray & DVD from 23rd July 2018