Director: Andrew Fleming
Script: Andrew Fleming & Steven E. de Souza
Cast: Jennifer Rubin, Bruce Abbott, Richard Lynch, Dean Cameron, Harris Yulin, Susan Barnes
Running time: 84 minutes
A young teenager is the only survivor of the mass suicide of a cult led by the overly zealous Harris (Richard Lynch) in the film’s 1970s set prologue. Cut to 13 years later and the traumatised teen has now turned into a comatose adult (the lovely Jennifer Rubin), who wakes from her long-standing induced coma, and, soon after, is enrolled into group therapy sessions led by the enthusiastic and pleasant Dr Alex Karman (Bruce Abbott).
Not only is the suspicious Cynthia wary of the rest of the therapy group, but soon she has other things on her fragile mind when she begins to have strange visions that terrify her – visions of Harris calling her, over to the ‘other side’, to join him and the rest of the cult, and to properly complete the plan that Harris had back in the sleazy seventies.
As the visions and dreams get worse, and more ‘real’, other members of the group start to die, committing suicide by drowning, hurling themselves off a building or into a huge turbine fan when it’s in full swing. One guy even disembowels himself!
As Dr Karman begins to lose sight of the patient – doctor professional barrier and starts to cultivate feelings for Cynthia, another, older doctor appears to have his own designs on Cynthia’s mind, and not in a good way…
Bad Dreams has been described as a ‘slasher film’ – it’s even part of distributor 88 Films’ ‘Slasher Classics Collection’ – but, personally, I don’t really see it as being a slasher film; not in the ‘classical’ sense, anyway. For me, ‘slasher’ films typically follow the Halloween and Friday the Thirteenth template, mostly involve teenagers in peril (usually through their own stupid actions) and demonstrate the ‘rules’ of the ‘slasher’ film, as explained nicely in the Scream movie franchise. Bad Dreams is something else, but in a good way.
Often accused of being a rip-off of Nightmare on Elm Street, the script for Bad Dreams was actually written prior to the first Freddy outing. And, although it does have certain similarities to the third in that franchise (Dream Warriors), it still has enough originality to stand on its own two blackened and deformed feet.
A film like this often stands or falls depending on its ‘bad-guy’, and, in the case of Richard Lynch’s crispy Harris, it’s got a real winner. Although he’s not really in all that many scenes, Lynch makes Harris quite a disturbing character, one who seems to morph from misguided human to a burnt-up banshee in just a few seconds of screen time. It sounds like director Fleming was particularly keen to use Lynch since Richard was a burn victim himself; hence his presence here adds a little extra frisson to the role.
As the monster’s foil, Jennifer Rubin makes a great Cynthia. On one hand she’s frightened and vulnerable, and on the other we see that she’s got more guts than most final girls due to the double horror she’s really facing. And Bruce Abbott makes a welcome return to the horror genre after the Reanimator films that brought him a sizable fan-base from horroraffectionados.
The rest of the central cast seem to be having fun too, with Dean Cameron – playing psycho Ralph – being the stand-out for me, especially in his later scenes; although I did enjoy some of the humour his character injected into the film earlier on.
The production values are pretty good, and it looks like a fair bit of money was spent on the visual effects and on set design, especially during some of the weird dream sequences. There’s even an exploding house, which is quite unusual for a so-called ‘slasher’ film.
I have to admit that there are too many plot contrivances sprinkled throughout, which do the film no favours in the plausibility stakes, but then this is a supernaturally-oriented horror movie so one can forgive most of them. And the final twist is a bit of a cop-out, although it does still kinda work.
I would certainly recommend the film to horror and thriller fans alike, and to fans of the two leads, who are both excellent here.
88 Films are distributing Bad Dreams on Blu-Ray. As per usual, 88 Films has done a great job with the transfer and there are plenty of special features including:
Audio commentary with genre writers Nathaniel Thompson and Tim Greer.
Interview with model/actress Jennifer Rubin (40.26 mins) – here she talks about her career in modelling (starting in Italy), her life as an actress in films like Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, and about filming Bad Dreams itself. It was her first lead role, and although she found the film to be a good experience, if things went wrong, she felt that she got more than her fair share of the blame. Apparently, Richard Lynch was a bit of a prankster and used to mess with her head. Overall Jennifer did 55 movies, 10 TV shows and 100 commercials.
Living the dream; an interview with Andrew Fleming (24.17 mins) – Andrew reveals that this was his first film after leaving film school, and that the producer’s husband, a certain Mr James Cameron, became a mentor to him, and even told him that Bad Dreams was better than his own first film (Piranha: The Spawning)!
Derivative Dreams – Interview with Spencer Murphy (19.29 mins) – Spencer, a lecturer in film studies, talks about the film and its similarities with Dream Warriors, and thinks it’s all about repression and dealing with post-traumatic stress syndrome – yada, yada…
Slash ‘em up – a limited edition first pressing booklet, which is a guide to the 30 greatest slasher movies, by Calum Waddell.
Trailer (1.44 mins) – Reminds us that the film was released on the 25th March 1983.