Director:  Harley Cokeliss
Screenplay:  Christopher Wicking, Harley Cokeliss, Catherine de Pury
Starring: Jemma Redgrave, Kathleen Wilhoite, Jimmy Nail, Timothy Spall, Mark Greenstreet
Year:  1988
Country:  UK
BBFC Classification: 18

Preparing for her marriage to a Falklands War hero, Diana (Redgrave) moves into a London townhouse. She is soon troubled by both a pair of local reporters (Nail & Spall) determined to uncover dirt on her soon to be husband and a series of disturbing dreams. As her dreams bleed into reality and a mysterious young woman (Wilhoite) enters her life, Diana begins to wonder if she’s losing her mind or if something more otherworldly is holding sway over her life.

I find UK horror movies from the 80’s incredibly fascinating. While US studios were embracing the slasher craze with the likes of Freddy and Jason, and exploring bigger budget affair thanks to Spielberg and Hooper’s Poltergeist, UK output tended to be far more experimental and surreal with the likes of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser and the superb Paperhouse. Harley Cokeliss’ Dream Demon falls firmly in among this crowd from the outset but, unlike those others, hasn’t quite aged so well.

 

The subject of Dream Demon, that of dreams bleeding over into reality, is certainly evocative of the aforementioned Nightmare on Elm Street, but the overall tone and strangeness of Dream Demon is much closer to its UK brethren with a touch of Eurohorror like Andrzej Kulawski’s nightmarish 1981 masterpiece, Possession in some of its more surreal sequences.

Cokeliss’ exploration of dreams is more nuanced than Wes Craven’s, building in concepts of Diana’s nightmares giving the people in her life a strange symbology and subsequently having that symbology bleed into reality. This is achieved initially with an effective blend of both psychological and supernatural concepts which initially leaves the viewer unsure of Diana’s sanity for the first half of the film. The uncertainty of her wedding, concerns her fiancé is cheating on her and an undercurrent of sexual repression create a great air of mystery. Things do unfortunately rapidly unravel with the introduction of Wilhoite’s Jenny and the narrative begins to unravel with a messy array of strands that never fully resolve, but ends with a revelation that is undermined by an incredibly ill judged casting decision.

The acting in Dream Demon is certainly a mixed bag. Timothy Spall and Jimmy Nail, fresh off their turn in Auf Wiedersehn Pet, are obviously having a ton of fun here as the scumbag reporters. Playing the film’s de-facto antagonists they’re clearly relishing their roles and leave no piece of scenery unchewed. Kathleen Wilhoite is similarly effective as the naive American looking to uncover the truth about her past while Mark Greenstreet as Diana’s soon-to-be-husband Oliver doesn’t particularly register. Jemma Redgrave, however, sadly lets the side down in her first film role, 

Ultimately it’s this that derails the film, with Redgrave’s stiff performance not really selling the more intense moments or Diana’s increasing instability. This is in addition to the casting of then 28 year old Annabelle Lanyon as a child who becomes part of a pivotal twist. While she can play a convincing child, the nature of the twist unfortunately destroys the belief in this conceit.

Fortunately it’s not all so bad and Dream Demon is well worth a watch for genre fans. Arrow’s gorgeous restoration is crisp and clean, allowing the bizarre cinematography to show through with some particularly vibrant colours; all the better to show off some superbly effective and unsettling practical FX sequences. Gore hounds may, however, come away disappointed as the claret is spilled rather sparingly, but that’s no bad thing as it prevents the often eerie story from becoming a splatterfest. Also showing through in this Blu-Ray release is the superb music by Bill Nelson, an excellently evocative score which stands shoulder to shoulder with other UK horror soundtracks of the era.

Ultimately Dream Demon is a conceptually great horror fantasy that unfortunately doesn’t entirely nail the landing, sadly evading “classic” status; but it’s not entirely a lost cause with some inspired, trippy visuals, brilliant practical FX and an excellent soundtrack that’s worth hunting down for genre fans.

Bonus Features

  • Brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative, supervised and approved by director Harley Cokeliss
  • Director’s Cut and Original Theatrical Version
  • Brand new scene-select audio commentary with director Harley Cokeliss and producer Paul Webster
  • Newly-filmed interview with director Harley Cokeliss
  • Newly-filmed interview with producer Paul Webster
  • Newly-filmed interview with actress Jemma Redgrave
  • Newly-filmed interview with actor Mark Greenstreet
  • Newly-filmed interview with actor Nickolas Grace
  • Newly-filmed interview with actress Annabelle Lanyon
  • Newly-filmed interview with composer Bill Nelson
  • Foundations of Nightmare: The Making of Dream Demon – contemporary documentary taking a look behind the scenes of the production of Dream Demon, featuring on-set interviews with director Harley Cokeliss, producer Paul Webster, actors Timothy Spall, Jemma Redgrave, Kathleen Wilhoite, composer Bill Nelson and many more
  • Image Galleries
  • Original Theatrical Trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly-commissioned artwork by Christopher Shy

As always, Arrow have delivered a stellar package to accompany this release featuring a bevvy of new interviews as well as a classic making of documentary. Perhaps most of interest here is the two cuts of the film available; but don’t go in expecting any great differences – the Director’s Cut is actually shorter than the Theatrical Cut, omitting an oddly comic scene from the end of the film, allowing it to end on a much darker, more ambiguous note.

Dream Demon - Arrow
3.5Overall Score
Reader Rating: (0 Votes)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

To help us avoid spam comments, please answer this simple question to prove you are human: * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.