Young Cynthia (Jennifer Rubin) is the only survivor of a cult mass suicide which left her lying in a coma for thirteen years. Now she is awake and tormented by nightmarish visions of the long-dead cult leader (Richard Lynch) and his deceased followers, all of whom seem eager for Cynthia to keep her promise and join them in the afterlife. Cynthia has no intention of taking them up on the offer. She is still confined to hospital and has begun group therapy sessions under the auspices of Dr. Berrisford (Harris Yulin) and Dr. Alex Karmen (Bruce Abbott) who have mounted an experimental program to help patients suffering from borderline psychiatric disorders. Berrisford believes that these sessions, together with a tailored drug regime, will help Cynthia overcome the horrors of her childhood but the more Cynthia refuses the cult’s call the faster the other patients around her begin to die… and in very nasty ways. Cynthia knows it is the dead cult leader who is murdering them but nobody else believes her. If gruesome suicides, blood raining through the ceiling panels and bodies being turned into sushi by the hospital’s turbines aren’t enough to convince the doctors that she’s under supernatural attack, what’s Cynthia going do? Maybe death really is the only way out….
Bad Dreams is a late 1980s horror with an impressive pedigree. Written by The Craft’s Andrew Fleming (with a screenplay polish from Die Hard’s Steven E. de Souza) and produced by Gale Anne Hurd (whose then-husband James Cameron apparently gave Fleming a lot of uncredited help putting this feature together), Bad Dreams is a terrific little movie that isn’t as down-and-dirty as most of the more notorious independent slashers, but easily makes up in style what it misses in grit. But that’s not to say there aren’t some squelchily satisfying moments during Bad Dreams’ tight 84 minute runtime (a suicide-by-scalpel and Richard Lynch’s gruesome burn make-up are especially wince-inducing). In fact, as a total package this is probably one of the most underrated horrors of that decade, mostly because it suffered from some tenuous narrative coincidences with the previous years’ A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, not helped by the fact that Bad Dreams’ leading lady also had a memorable role in that movie.
Hopefully, 88 Films impressive new dual-format presentation will go a long way towards redressing the balance and winning Bad Dreams some well-deserved reconsidered praise, because this gorgeous print deserves to be seen. It would have been nice if 88 could have included one or two more special features (especially the rumoured alternate ending which sounds a lot more intriguing than the ending the filmmakers settled upon) but what’s here is – mostly – all quality, especially the individual on-camera interviews with Rubin and Fleming. Unfortunately the limited edition Slash ‘Em Up Slasher Guide inside the case is the only letdown. After all, if you’re not going to devote the whole booklet to the film we’ve been watching what’s really the point? But at least the thought was there…
REVIEW: BAD DREAMS / DIRECTOR: ANDREW FLEMING / SCREENPLAY: ANDREW FLEMING, STEVEN E. DE SOUZA / STARRING: JENIFFER RUBIN, BRUCE ABBOT, RICHARD LYNCH / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW