Search this blog and The Mike's favorite blogs!

March 18, 2009

Bad Dreams

1988, Dir. by Andrew Fleming.

If you've ever heard of a guy named Freddy Krueger, you know that dreams were a bad place to be in a horror film in the last half of the 1980s. Jennifer Rubin knows this all too well.

Right after making her film debut as former heroin addict Taryn in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 (and if you've seen that film, you definitely will remember her disgusting demise), Rubin took the lead in Bad Dreams, a thriller in which she plays a young woman who survives a suicide cult but is left in a coma, and then wakes up in the late '80s (and apparently she hasn't aged in the approximately ten years since the incident, which the movie doesn't really go in to). Anyway, comas have bad results psychologically in movies, and this one is no exception. What follows is a film that's eerily similar to the aforementioned Elm Street sequel, but has enough of its own ideas to remain watchable.

The Plot
After the burning down of the country home of the Unity Field "religious sect", a young woman named Cynthia (Rubin) is found still alive. She's in a coma for a decade, and then awakes to find herself in a Los Angeles mental hospital. She meets the group she'll be part of which has different people of different ages and diagnoses, all of whom are unstable and unwillingly ready to be the fodder of some kind of villain.

That villain arises when Cynthia begins to see visions of the leader of Unity Field, Harris, who takes both his human form and a burnt-up/bloody/creepy form. The latter is scarier, of course, but Harris still has some of his cult-captain-charisma left in his rotting corpse, and he begins to influence the actions of the group members, with deadly precision.

The Good
Bad Dreams doesn't appear to be an original or interesting piece of film early on, but it bucks a few preconceptions as it progresses. It took me a long time to get over the similarities with ANOES3, which is one of my favorite horror sequels of the time period, but by the time the third act of the film was kicking in I had forgotten those thoughts and found myself caught in director Andrew Fleming's film (BTW, the director has since gone on to make films such as The Craft, Dick, and Hamlet 2...and I would not have pegged him for having a film this dark in him). The plot goes toward a psychological explanation in the final act which, despite being flimsy in reality, makes it a little more intriguing than many horror cliches of the era.

Rubin is quite passable in the lead, playing the "survivor girl" role well. Richard Lynch provides sufficient creepiness as Harris, too. It's a shame the rest of the cast (anchored by Re-Animator's Bruce Abbott as the young doctor taken by caring for Cynthia) isn't as effective, but there aren't many large problems with them either. Also on the plus side, the 84 minute flick is well-paced and never dull. There's an "original" ending on the DVD that would have given the film a better sense of closure, and probably upped my grade of the film considerably, but the film we're given instead still does enough to leave a positive first impression.

The Bad
One of the biggest problems facing the film is the side characters, most of whom fit very easily into stereotypes that other horrors of the decade had created. There's the overly dramatic '80s teen punk girl, the young handsome doctor with a heart of gold, the uncaring older psychiatrist, the self-centered hotshot, and more. Rubin's Cynthia is also not original when compared to characters like Heather Langenkamp's Nancy in the Elm Street films, but she at least puts enough into the role to make the character seem worthy of notice.

As stated above, the ending lacks some closure. I didn't think too poorly of it on first thought, but watching the director's original ending in the special features left me longing for a little more. The film deals with psychological issues in a ham-fisted manner, and the additions that were planned for the ending (minus the last 30 seconds or so), would have given the psychological issues facing Cynthia a little more depth.

Random Moments
  • I can't say too much about this moment without spoiling part of the film, so I'll just say this: A bottle of formaldehyde? Really? That makes sense? Just a random bottle of formaldehyde?
  • The film's end credits are surprisingly accompanied by GNR's 'Sweet Child 'o Mine'.
  • I've pimped the original ending throughout this review, but I do need to mention that, if they were to use that ending, the last 30 seconds of it need to go.
The Verdict
Bad Dreams doesn't do everything right, and definitely has problems in character development and originality. But there's a lot of good in its ideas, and Fleming, Rubin, and company do enough to keep it entertaining. I'm always more forgiving with horror films of the '80s that don't start their title with Friday the 13th or A Nightmare on Elm Street, so I'll give Bad Dreams a recommendation as an enjoyable midnight horror for fans of the genre's most commercial decade.

The Mike's Rating: Solid Selection

No comments: