Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #363
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: April 8, 1988
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $9,797,098 (USA)
Running Time: 84 minutes
Director: Andrew Fleming
Producer: Gale Anne Hurd
Screenplay: Andrew Fleming, Michael Dick, P.J. Pettiette, Yuri Zeltser, Steven E. de Souza
Special Effects: Michèle Burke
Cinematography: Alexander Gruszynski
Score: Jay Ferguson
Editing: Jeff Freeman
Studio: No Frills Film Production
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Stars: Jennifer Rubin, Bruce Abbott, Richard Lynch, Dean Cameron, Harris Yulin, Susan Barnes, John Scott Clough, Elizabeth Daily, Damita Jo Freeman, Louis Giambalvo, Susan Ruttan, Sy Richardson, Missy Francis, Sheila Scott-Wilkenson, Ben Kronen, Charles Fleischer
Suggested Audio Candy:
Jay Ferguson Cynthia’s Dream
If I were to ask a hundred of you right now for the best in the long line of sequels to A Nightmare on Elm Street, then I would imagine an overwhelming percentage would stump for Chuck Russell’s playful third entry Dream Warriors. I would concur such without so much as a second thought; it was certainly the most unique and offered a brief glimpse that the series was heading back on track after its disappointing sequel. Alas, it was all downhill from there for Freddy Krueger (Wes Craven’s New Nightmare aside) and the mighty fell decidedly hard. However, in 1988, two new pretenders to his throne emerged. The first, an atmospheric little-known British picture from Harley Cokliss by the name of Dream Demon sadly sunk without trace. The other, Bad Dreams, marked the debut of film graduate Andrew Fleming (The Craft) and fared mildly better, embarking on a fleeting theatrical run before ultimately sinking without a trace also.
My first experience of Bad Dreams was an utterly scathing review by Roger Ebert in which he suggested that Fleming’s film was merely “another of those foul teenage vomitoriums in which the only message is that the world is evil and brutal.” It seems comical now that this harmless Elm Street knock-off could be responsible for stunting the growth of teenagers but horror was firmly in the limelight by the mid-eighties and the fact that mental health was on the agenda ruffled a few tail feathers. Almost thirty years on we are blessed with incalculable hindsight and I can state with assurance that, while my development was indeed stunted, horror certainly wasn’t the culprit and none of the blame could be left on Fleming’s doorstep.
Originality was deemed superfluous to requirements and Bad Dreams didn’t have a single bone in its body which didn’t belong in another skeleton. In fact, the similarities between this and Dream Warriors were numerous; from the setting, to the use of dreams, and crispy coated cultist dream lurker, it was all eerily reminiscent. Thankfully, Fleming showed indisputable potential, Gale Anne Hurd (The Terminator, Aliens) was on production duties, and a stellar supporting cast including Bruce Abbott (Re-Animator), Dean Cameron (Summer School), Elizabeth Daily (Pee Wee’s Big Adventure), and Harris Yulin (Scarface) pitched in to raise things above the mediocre.
It told the story of the lone survivor of a mass cult suicide in the seventies, Cynthia (Jennifer Rubin who ironically played the spunky Taryn in Dream Warriors) who wakes up from a thirteen year involuntary coma in a psyche ward with a group of patients all suffering from suicidal tendencies. Given her past, this may not have been the safest haven for Cynthia and so it turned out as cult leader Harris (gloriously rotten egg Richard Lynch) began manifesting from the group’s nightmares and causing them to off themselves in all manner of grisly and effective manners. Absent was the dark humor which Russell’s Elm Street entry had in abundance and instead the whole affair was played straight down the line with smiles at an absolute premium. This may well have been why Ebert took exception to the film and made such an example of it but Bad Dreams really didn’t mean any harm and it now seems laughable to suggest otherwise.
Actress and model Rubin was excellent in the starring role and conveyed the hopelessness of her plight to perfection, while there couldn’t have been a better candidate to play her ubiquitous aggressor than the perturbing Lynch, often concealed by layer upon layer of gory latex but with eyes capable of burning through our very souls and convincing us to join him. In addition, everything wasn’t quite as it initially appeared, and the curveball served up by Fleming during the final third lobbed a welcome cat amongst the pigeons. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest it most certainly wasn’t but it did, at least, leave some food for thought and distanced itself from being known as another simple Elm Street clone in the process.
Fleming’s film possessed a cordial visual style and was competently photographed by Alexander Gruszynski, which more than compensated for its uneven tone. Meanwhile, the dreams in question, which were more hallucinations than anything else, were far less whimsical than the film it was measured against and, Jay Ferguson’s illusory score fitted hand in glove. However, Keeper’s personal darling moment came courtesy of Sy Richardson (They Live, Repo Man) as Detective Wasserman responded to the horrific sights he had just been made privy to by simply shrugging his shoulders and walking off, presumably lamenting the paper work. Beyond precious.
This is one of those forgotten movies which has long-since become lost in the annals of horror history. However, of all the movies shamelessly ripping off Craven around the time, it was effortlessly the most accomplished and time has been remarkably kind to Fleming’s feature film debut. Whilst never likely to be deemed a classic of eighties slasher cinema, there was much to like about Bad Dreams and I feel justified in setting the world straight about its apparent unscrupulous intentions. Consequently I was never accepted into a suicidal cult during my adolescence although, should I have been, then the sinister Harris offered more than enough encouragement that it wouldn’t have been a shrewd move.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 4/5
For The Grue-Guzzlers: Lots of splatter courtesy of Michèle Burke’s impressive make-up effects. Highlights, aside from some marvellous wince-inducing burn effects, included surgical scalpels being plunged through hands and dragged agonizingly down chests, and the moment where an inconsiderate old couple decide to consummate their union by hurling themselves into a giant turbine without any consideration for the poor douche tasked with mopping the ventilation shaft. Geriatrics can be mighty thoughtless.
Keeper of the Crimson Quill
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