Dreamscape (1984)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #364

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Number of Views: Three
Release Date: August 15, 1984
Sub-Genre: Sci-Fi/Thriller
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $6,000,000
Box Office: $12,145,169
Running Time: 99 minutes
Director: Joseph Ruben
Producers: Chuck Russell, Bruce Cohn Curtis
Screenplay: David Loughery, Chuck Russell, Joseph Ruben
Story: David Loughery, Roger Zelazny
Special Effects: David B. Miller, Brian Wade, David Robert Cellitti
Cinematography: Brian Tufano
Score: Maurice Jarre
Editing: Lorenzo DeStefano, Richard Halsey
Studio: Zupnik-Curtis Enterprises, Bella Productions, Chevy Chase Films, Weintraub Entertainment Group
Distributors: 20th Century Fox, Thorn EMI
Stars: Dennis Quaid, Max von Sydow, Christopher Plummer, Eddie Albert, Kate Capshaw, David Patrick Kelly, George Wendt, Larry Gelman, Cory ‘Bumper’ Yothers, Redmond Gleeson, Peter Jason, Chris Mulkey, Jana Taylor, Madison Mason, Kendall Carly Browne, Kate Charleson, Eric Gold, Virginia Kiser, Carl Strano, Brian Libby, Bob Terhune, Fred Waugh, Timothy Blake

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Suggested Audio Candy

Maurice Jarre “The Journey”

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My love affair with dreams started at a very young age. I loved horror films from practically the moment I fell away from my mother’s breast and would imagine my first words as being “great white shark” or “creepy man in white mask”, or words to that effect. This was where an imagination came in handy as I soon discovered that horror didn’t necessarily end when the credits rolled. Questions were already being asked of my parents as to whether everything in my home life was okay and this was because my imagination got the better of me at every available opportunity. While others around me were learning their times tables, I was writing lurid tales of terror which had no place inside the head of one so young… or so they thought. I conjured up some doozies in my waking hours but the inspiration often came from those precious moments of slumber. As my shell recuperated from a hard day chasing girls around the school yard with a devilish glint in my eye, zipper agape, and stethoscope in my hand, my mind went invariably went into overdrive.

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Other kids woke up sobbing at unsociable hours, complaining of night terrors but I kept a notepad tucked down the side of my bunk in the event that I got lucky. Many years later, little has changed, and I often still binge on cheddar before bedtime in the hope of stirring those demons. That’s not to say that I walk straight up to the fanged incubus proposing to sink its incisors into my cranium and shake it by the cloven hoof; I run like Gump in the opposite direction. I may be a tad demented but sure as shit ain’t a dumbass. I know the spiel, stop in your tracks and it’s going to get decidedly messy, particularly within my dream parameters where absolutely anything goes. However, I always woke up drenched in perspiration and aware that I had just endured my nightmare. I would check all appendages, count the costs, and drink in the inspiration provided by my phantasm before documenting my findings. It was like having my own personal drive-thru and I was always grateful for any advanced screenings.

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I would imagine David Loughery had his fair share of nightmares when dreaming up with the concept of Dreamscape. An unusual blend of science fiction and espionage thriller, Joseph Ruben’s film is brimming with outlandish scenarios, each more disconcerting than the last and they are its main bargaining tool. While Ruben had a half-decent budget to draw from, the effects now look decidedly crude by modern standards but therein lies the appeal. They fit beautifully within the context of the film; as there are no boundaries to our imaginations when immersed in one such dreamscape. Whose to say that shit looks fake; we’re dreaming after all so independent thought isn’t necessitated. The premise is strikingly similar to that of Wes Craven’s 1984 classic A Nightmare on Elm Street but the moment we awaken any similarities come to an abrupt end.

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It tells the story of the reclusive Alex Gardner (Dennis Quaid), a psychic who becomes unwittingly embroiled in a government plot to relieve the United States of its president. The hapless clairvoyant isn’t looking to throw a spanner in the works and is far too busy using his procurement for personal gain; which includes serial womanizing and nursing a vague gambling addiction. However, a man like Gardner can’t continue to deny his true calling, thus, when a subject wakes us dead during a pioneering government-funded treatment which allows its participants to surf one another’s dreamscapes. His blessing swiftly transforms into curse as he begins to doubt the sincerity of all those offering to assist him in uncovering the truth. Who can be trusted? Who’s scamming who? And what the sweet Jesus is that serpentine straggler loitering in the shadows hissing intent?

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Color plays a significant part as different dreamscapes are invaded in turn and each reflects the host’s state of mind at that moment. It is subtle touches such as this that allow Dreamscape to extend its reach beyond mere cable fodder. In many respects this is a by-the-numbers thriller with little outside of a few surreal scenes to elevate it above its contemporaries. However, when your supporting cast consists of Max von Sydow, Christopher Plummer, Kate Capshaw, and a quite brilliant David Patrick Kelly; you provide yourself with the tools for the fight. Throw in a marvelously paranoid turn by George Wendt as conspiracy theorist Charlie Prince and you’ve got all the tools available to see you safely through any narrative lulls.

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As we have already ascertained, the effects are reasonably primitive, even for the early eighties, but never enough to recommend a cease to your investment. Stop-motion techniques, in particular, may be long in the tooth given technology’s massive advancements but everything seems to fit within the infinite boundaries of Dreamscape, despite Maurice Jarre’s overblown score threatening to derail the dream sequences at any given moment by effectively sapping the tension (whilst remaining the very guiltiest of pleasures of course).

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Ultimately, Ruben’s film is a solid thriller evocative of its time and thoroughly deserving of fond remembrance for all of us fortunate enough to fall under its spell while our young minds were still wiring. Should you choose to tackle it thirty years on then I would make two suggestions upon commencement. Firstly, allow your mind to be free and, failing that, sink a six-pack. Don’t linger on its frailties and instead celebrate them as you’ll be robbing yourself of a unique experience if you choose not to. Secondly, and most critically, make sure you’ve got some cheddar on hand. I’ve already necked mine; be seeing you on the other side.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10

Grue Factor: 2/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Grue was never likely to be a menu option and the closest we come to discernible splatter is the messy excision of a man’s heart from his ribcage. For those amongst us prone to the occasional wet dream, Ruben generously shoehorns in a brace of mammalia and Quaid in his skivvies for the other way inclined. For Keeper, gore and nudity place poor second on this occasion, courtesy of that dubious snake-headed fellow who, to this very day, still frequents my own dreamscapes just to encourage me that there’s no shame in wetting your bed sheets at forty. He’s the sole reason I get up in the dead of night for a whizz thus missing valuable dream time.

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Read A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) Appraisal

Read A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge Appraisal

Read A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors Appraisal

Read A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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