Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Bad Dreams (1988)

Suicide Club

In my twenty-eight years on this planet, I've seen (literally) thousands of horror movies. Once in a while, I find myself amazed (or even shocked) that there are a number of classics that slipped through my viewfinder. I remember wandering the horror aisle at Video Center as a youngster and seeing the cover art for Bad Dreams many times. It's one of those covers that's forever imbedded in the "Why The Hell Do You Still Remember This?" part of my brain, along with Hide and Go Shriek, Bad Taste, and Graveyard Shift. Somehow, I never got around to renting it as I was probably too engrossed in piles of Best of the Best and No Retreat, No Surrender sequels, along with anything Bolo Yeung or Billy Blanks was in at the time. Thanks to Netflix Instant, I was finally able to check out this late-80s horror title, and I'm glad that I did. While Bad Dreams will unlikely cause you any trouble getting to sleep at night, its intriguing story, surprising amount of gore, and attractive lead actress will make it worth your while. I mean...sex and violence...isn't that what dreams are made of?

When Cynthia was a little girl in the mid-70s, she lived on a commune with a group of peaceful, pro-love hippie types led by a devious man named Harris (genre icon Richard Lynch, Puppet Master III, Rob Zombie's Halloween). Things weren't looking so peaceful when Harris turned out to be the leader of a suicide cult, covering his willing victims (and himself) in gasoline before torching their large home. Thankfully, Cynthia knew something wasn't right and fled the room, only to be knocked unconscious by falling debris. Rescued by firemen, she was placed in a hospital where she remained in a coma for thirteen years. Now it's the late 80s, and Cynthia (Jennifer Rubin, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors) has finally come to, only to find herself out of touch with a world that went on without her. Waking up in a psych ward, Cynthia is immediately put under the care of Dr. Berrisford, who wants to help her remember the events that took place on the commune. Her group therapist and love interest Dr. Alex Karmen, however, feels that Berrisford is pushing Cynthia too far and doesn't agree with his treatment methods. As Cynthia attempts to regain her memory and strength, things get worse when she starts seeing the disfigured apparition of Harris haunting her in the hospital, returning to claim his "love child" and sole survivor of the mass suicide. Soon, all of Cynthia's new group therapy friends are committing violent suicides and she's caught in the middle of it all. Has Harris come back to finish what he started? Is Cynthia going crazy? Or is there something else going on altogether? Well...I could tell you, but then I'd just be a dick.

Bad Dreams is a successful horror movie for many reasons. Made in the late 80s, it captures the crisp and professional look from that era which made b-movies look like blockbusters. It also features a lot of story, which is a nice change of pace from the to-the-point splatter flicks of that time. We learn a lot about Cynthia's past on the commune through gorgeously shot flashbacks, and the story stays gripping until the film's final (and pretty damn neat) twist.

Nearly every actor in the film plays their part perfectly, with some overacting a tad, but in that forgivable 80s genre fashion. Jennifer Rubin is a ridiculously attractive woman, so it's easy to keep your eyes glued to the screen, not to mention keeping your ears open to hear her cute mousy voice which is only rivaled by that of E.G. Daily (One Dark Night, Pee-wee's Big Adventure) who has a small role as one of her group therapy members.

Though the film relies a lot on its story to progress, it definitely doesn't skimp of the red stuff. Many of the suicides that occur are quite gory, particularly one that sees a couple meet their end in a giant turbine which results in one poor maintenance man getting covered in a bloody mess. When Harris returns in Cynthia's visions, his appearance is truly ghastly, as his face has been burned and charred beyond recognition. Though it's done with late 80s effects, the mass suicide scene it's creepily effective, as we see every person catch on fire, beginning with peacefully accepting it to screaming in sheer agony. The sounds of women and babies crying don't make it any easier on your senses, either.

The lovely E.G. Daily...the sole reason I can't hear the voice of Tommy Pickles without getting an erection
Also boasting a pretty sick soundtrack (Mamby Pamby and the Smooth Putter's cover of Sex Pistol's cover of Sinatra's "My Way" is awesomely fitting in one devil-may-care sequence), Bad Dreams is definitely an underrated little gem. It may not be the best horror film in the world, but in a time where sequels and remakes reign supreme, it's nice to see a movie that solely existed in its time and fit in perfectly with the other great genre films of the late 80s. As for now, I must go. The thunder is rumbling, the rain's about to fall, and my house is growing darker by the minute. This is the perfect chance to pop on an old VHS, take a nap, and if I'm lucky...have some bad dreams.

 3.5/5 Stars

And just in case any of you are having trouble sleeping, here's a lovely photo of Jennifer Rubin to help those nightmares go away...

You're Welcome :)

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