Cynthia has a little problem. See, when she was a little girl, she fell into a cult run by a guy named Harris (who, thankfully, is more charismatic than his name would suggest). This cult committed mass suicide and Cynthia, narrowly escaping death, fell into a coma. Thirteen years later she wakes up, understandably freaked out. For her, after all, the tragedy took place only yesterday.
Placed in a psychiatric care facility, she finally begins trusting her doctor (played by Bruce Abbott) and begins to come out of her shell. That’s when Harris, now quite dead, comes back to take her with him. And he will kill everyone around her until she agrees to go.
To say that the themes in “Bad Dreams” are dark would be an understatement. Suicide runs throughout the film and, as those involved appear to be mostly in their late teens, it’s a disturbing thread that ties things together. Were this film shot in a visual tone closer to its dark subject matter, it may have become a classic. Instead, “Bad Dreams” is a product of its environment: a glossy, slickly produced 1980’s horror film that features humorous moments, some of them unintentional (such as Harris’ burn makeup).
I’m certain many reading this review have already said “Wait a minute – this sounds suspiciously like “A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors”, and that’s a shame. First, because I can’t hear you and people will probably look at you funny if they catch you talking to your computer screen, and second, because you’re right. And wrong.
You’re right, because that’s what nearly everybody thought when this film was released. I’m a bit perplexed as to how the producers could have thought otherwise, especially when you consider that star Jennifer Rubin had actually been in “Dream Warriors” only the previous year. Even the films’ posters are similar.
You’re wrong though, because “Bad Dreams” has a completely different tone; it’s dark and uncomfortable in spots. And, of course, it has Bruce Abbott. Horror fans will recognize him from the genre classic “Re-animator” and, although he plays a more sedate role here, he’s just as good. One of my favorite scenes (in any horror movie, actually) is gruesomely funny. In it, one can see Abbott conjuring the spirit of Bruce Campbell, and it’s a shame Abbott’s career didn’t follow The Chin’s same prolific path. If anything, “Bad Dreams” is worth watching once just for this scene.
There’s not a lot of love out there for “Bad Dreams” and that’s a shame. While not a classic, it’s certainly not a bad film and, viewed today, it may actually be considered by some to be a breath of fresh air in the midst of all the rehashes and remakes being churned out. Fans of non-traditional or 1980’s horror should check it out.
Pros: Slickly produced with a strong cast. A couple of decent special effects sequences.
Cons: Very little attempt made to make the psychiatric setting feel real. Abrupt twist is a bit too wonky to work.
Review Rating: 3 out of 5 times sarcastic-witted Ralph opened his mouth to speak, I wished he would just die already.
“Bad Dreams” (1988)
84 Minutes; USA
Rated R due to graphic violence, language, and adult situations.
Jennifer Rubin (Cynthia)
Bruce Abbott (Dr. Alex Karmen)
Richard Lynch (Harris)
Dean Cameron (Ralph)
Harris Yulin (Dr. Berrisford)
Susan Barnes (Connie)
Directed by: Andrew Fleming
Written by: Andrew Fleming and Steven E. de Souza, based on a story by Andrew Fleming, Michael Dick, P.J. Pettiette and Yuri Zeltser
Viewing Format: VHS.