Bad Dreams Review
Written by: Tim Hannigan
Anchor Bay is one of the greatest things to happen to horror since Caro Syrup. The company has produced the most memorable horror DVDs on the market, and has given horror fans definitive editions of some of the best horror flicks ever made. While it re-packages various editions of classic horror movies, it has also given new life to lesser-known horror films which receive the full-blown special edition treatment the big studios reserve for more successful motion pictures. New to DVD, with all the bells and whistles, is the 1988 film "Bad Dreams".
Bad Dreams tells the story of a Jones-town inspired cult called Unity Fields, who plan a mass suicide by fire. The cult seeks to shed their physical bodies to transcend self and forever join together through the unifying act of death. The cult’s leader, Harris, anoints the members with gasoline and sets their creepy home ablaze. Jennifer (Elm St. 3) Rubin plays Cynthia, the lone survivor of the deadly fire. She is left in a coma for over thirteen years, and when she finally awakens, she struggles to recall the details of the cult’s demise. The psychiatric hospital where she stays assigns her to a borderline personality disorder support group in order to re-introduce her to the 1980s (who better to introduce her to the 80s than a bunch of psychotic/neurotics). She begins to see Harris, who informs her that the cult has been unable to unify on the other side since Cynthia failed to maintain her promise. He needs Cynthia to take her own life, so he begins to take the lives of those around her in an attempt to force her to give in and commit suicide – or at least until there is a twist ending which ruins all of the promising elements the movie had.
Bad Dreams is one of dozens of films which emerged in the mid-1980s to try and cash in on the slasher craze. I recall the trailer for the movie airing on television and stating "Leatherface gave you a buzz, Jason cut you up, Freddy stuck it to you and now Harris is really going to finish you off". The film has an extremely strong premise and a fairly memorable horror icon in Harris. Everyone involved in making the film is very talented, including producer Gale Anne (The Terminator) Hurd and screenwriter Steven (Die Hard) de Souza. Unfortunately something gets lost in the film and, looking back on it almost twenty years later, the film falls flat.
My biggest problem is the twist. There’s really two movies trying to be told within the same film – one involves a cult leader back from the dead trying to claim the one person who broke their suicide-pact, and the other involves a bunch of bipolar patients being exploited by their psychiatrist. When the two are tied together, it creates huge logical leaps, and eliminates all of the promise of a new horror villain and potential franchise similar to the Elm Street films. I guess it’s appropriate to have two competing stories in a film that focuses on bipolar disorder!
There is some gore. More gore than a lot of theatrically released films from that time. When Harris appears in full burn make-up it looks amazing, but over-all the kills are not that memorable. The deaths mostly appear off-screen in order to sell the plot twist of the film.
The movie is worth re-visiting if you haven’t seen it in years and I would recommend it to anyone who has yet to see the film if for no other reason than taking a trip back to the horror boom of the 1980s and to imagine the film that it could have been.