Friday, October 26, 2012

Bad Dreams Movie Review

I think my older sister had this on video and that's how I came to see it. My strong memories of it suggest that I saw it more than once, though. I found it scary enough as a kid.

Click here for a list of all other films reviewed and considered for this October 2012 series of horror reviews.

The entire premise of Bad Dreams falls apart by listening to the philosophy of the Jim Jones-like cult figure at the beginning who leads a 1970s hippie youth cult known as Unity Field in mass suicide. The deepest thing he espouses is that “life and death are two different states of being.” Whoa! If charismatic cult figures only peddled such cheap nonsense, they’d have few followers. One young girl escapes the flaming death trap at the last moment and wakes from her coma thirteen years later in a psychiatric institution.

The young girl, Cynthia, is haunted in her waking dreams by Harris, the soft spoken and malevolent cult leader trying to bring her back into the fold even after his death. The similarity to A Nightmare on Elm Street is fairly obvious and any claims to the contrary are belied by the horribly burned visage of the dead Harris and the fact that Jennifer Rubin, who plays Cynthia, also appeared in the previous year’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, which took place in a psychiatric hospital. If Cynthia won’t go willingly with Harris into the alternative state of death, he’ll take the members of her borderline personality disorder therapy group by staging their suicides in elaborate and disgusting ways. The central mystery, such as it is, lies in whether Cynthia is just imagining Harris’s presence. Regardless, her group mates are dying either by their own hands or by some unseen force.

The two doctors most responsible for the patients are the good looking and affable Dr. Karmen (Bruce Abbott) and the officious Dr. Berrisford (Harris Yulin). One of these men will turn out to be something other than what he pretends and the story doesn’t do such a great job of masking it. The most recognizable and memorable group member is Ralph, played by Dean Cameron, that 1980s C-list actor who appeared in a handful of roles where he played the wacky free spirit bent on subverting authority. C.f. Summer School; Ski School; the short-lived TV series “Fast Times” in which he played the famous Jeff Spicoli.

This is one of the laziest screenplays I think I’ve suffered for this month of horror films. First, I’m amazed it took a team of four writers, including Andrew Fleming, who also directed, to come up with this story. It is not, to put it mildly, overly challenging. The screenplay by Fleming and Steven E. de Souza has some of the worst writing for therapy session and learned doctors of psychiatry.

I’m not sure why anyone thought this movie was a good idea, let alone why someone sank money into it. And to be sure, the money is on the screen with a deluge of fake blood and prosthetics, Richard Lynch as Harris all made up with his charred and peeling skin, and a fire and exploding house that Fleming gets way too much mileage out of.

What’s revealed as the solution to the mystery turns out to be patently absurd and with such limited motivation I felt like I must have missed something. Again, this is just a lazy man’s screenplay like the police detective who’s been waiting thirteen years for answers about the fire (no trace of the gas cans remained as evidence?) and jumps from not knowing anything to blaming a girl who was about thirteen at the time. This is just kind of stupid and senseless. Sort of how I felt after watching it.

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