The Chronicles of Horror Movie Night: ‘Bad Dreams’ (1988)

Posted by Damon Swindall - July 3rd 2012 @ 2:34 pm

After starting in Washington D.C. nine years ago Horror Movie Night has expanded to include chapters in Austin, Dallas and Chicago. Horror’s Not Dead’s own Brian Kelley is the originator and programmer of this illustrious weekly Wednesday night tradition which features a “classic” horror film. Each week I will be reviewing/commenting on the past week’s selection so do your best to find the film, most of which have not made it past VHS, and follow along. Better yet, start your own chapter!

VHS for Bad Dreams

Fresh off the heels of A Nightmare on Elm Street everyone was trying to cash-in on dream based horror. Wes Craven had created a new breath into the slasher genre, one that had a built in bit of terror using something people had feared for years: dreams. What was once thought to be all in your mind and something you were safe from now terrified a whole generation, either for the first time or all over again, and you weren’t guaranteed to wake. Easy to see why other filmmakers jumped all over the chance to explore this avenue, and by the time the third installment of Freddy’s exploits had hit theaters, writer/director Andrew Flemming decided to bust onto the scene in 1988 with Bad Dreams. Though the film has very little to do with being stalked and killed within one’s dreams, the similarities to the NOES series were hard to deny, especially when it comes to Dream Warriors (my personal favorite). Still, whether you think this is a rip-off or not, it’s hard to argue that this is a damn fine flick.

We open on what appears to be a lovely, serene farmhouse where it soon becomes evident that something dark is going on. Harris (Richard Lynch) is the leader of a bizarre cult that is getting ready to make that final mass suicide leap to the great nuthouse in the sky. Out of the many who perished that day in the fire one girl, Cynthia (Jennifer Rubin), managed to make it out alive – barely. She is stuck in a coma for 13 years and when she wakes, they keep her on observation in a local psychiatric ward. After everything she went through with Harris, as well as the extensive coma, they want to make sure she’s ok before letting her loose back on society. Before long we realize she is still seeing the cult leader in her dreams and he is responsible for the deaths of some of her fellow patients. As you can guess, no one believes her. Surprise, surprise.


The connection – or rip-off, depending on who you ask – people see in this film is much more than just creepy dream infiltration. Sure Harris comes to Cynthia while she sleeps and crosses over into the real world taking out the crazies one by one, but that’s not really what reeks of Dream Warriors. This comes mostly from the scenario of a psych hospital. The patients gather in groups and speak their minds angrily, while some make creepy jokes. There are even a couple of the same character types from the third Kruger film just in different forms. In DW there is a young girl who is angry, smokes a lot, and has a large face-covering hairstyle. In this film we have that girl’s personality split between two separate characters. On one hand there is an older woman who chain smokes whilst complaining and then there’s a younger girl who looks like she could be the stunt double of her DW counterpart. Fun fact – said girl is played by Elizabeth Daily who you might know from the role of Dottie in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure or from her many voice over gigs, namely as Tommy in Rugrats and Buttercup from The Powerpuff Girls.

These character amalgamations are nothing, however, when you consider that the lead in this film also stared in DW! Rubin might play the hero/ex-cult member here, but previously she lost a battle to Freddy as the recovering heroin addict Taryn. She has always been one of my favorite characters from my favorite NOES film, just look at her in her dream state… all punked out with a mohawk and blades? Yes please. She also has one of the best deaths with her gaping, fish-mouth-like track marks begging for a fix. Glad to see she got another job where she was showcased more so soon after. Even if it is such a similar feeling film.


Another correlation, sort of, is the soundtrack. Both films have some pretty kick ass tunes on display. In one movie you get the best Dokken song on the planet, “Dream Warriors”, and in Bad Dreams there are great tracks like a cover of Sid Vicious’ cover of the Frank Sinatra/Paul Anka song “My Way” by Mamby Pamby & The Smooth Putters. There’s also some 60s rock/garage courtesy of The Chambers Brothers and The Electric Prunes as wells as Guns N’ Roses killer “Sweet Child O’ Mine” playing over the closing credits. All in all, a pretty bitchin’ soundtrack!

Once you look past the similarities between this film and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, which I think are kinda thin after a few surface only details, there’s a great movie inside. The deaths are inventive and the FX elevate them to very memorable. There are some pretty hysterical moments involving the violence especially in a hallucination sequence where our hero doctor, Alex Karmen (Bruce Abbott, Re-Animator), viciously kills his boss by repeatedly running him over with a car. I was grinning like a fool during that scene. The only thing that bums me out is since it didn’t really happen I can’t include it in my official kill count, best death, or kill compilation video. Sadface.

So kind looking, yet creepy.

Of course, Richard Lynch is a major highlight of the film. The character actor brings a very restrained, yet creepy, performance to the screen that will definitely leave you a little uneasy in your chair. Unfortunately, as you may know, Lynch passed away last week of a heart attack at the age of 76. By some weird coincidence Bad Dreams had been programmed for the very day that he died. Not only that, but that same evening’s Weird Wednesday film (from the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin) also featured Lynch in The Sword and the Sorcerer. Programmers for both HMN and WW had no way of knowing he would die, but somehow both had films starring the man on the same day he left us. Weird stuff, but a nice way to honor the recently departed nonetheless.

If you didn’t watch along this week I highly suggest you seek out this film. Look past the reputation that this is just a Dream Warriors rip-off and you’ll be pleasantly surprised. You will also be happy to find that there has been a recent DVD re-release of the film by Shout! Factory. Not only can you get this disc for around $13 with some great bonus features, including a commentary (!), but you also get a second disc with a second movie that we will be watching in a couple months at HMN – Visiting Hours.

So what are you waiting for? Pick it up now!

Until next week – I’m off to dream about Jennifer Rubin.

Body Count: 37 (counting the cult members in the fire
First Death: 3:30
Best Death: Blood Raining Down from Air Conditioning Vents
Number of Times I Thought About Dream Warriors: 6
Number of Times I Thought About Re-Animator: 2

Coming soon to Horror Movie Night (Chronicles are posted one week after screening):
-6/27/12: Dead Dudes in the House (1991)
-7/4/12: Don’t Go in the House (1980)
-7/11/12: Don’t Panic (1989)
-7/14/12: HMN 10th Anniversary Super Spectacular!!!
-7/18/12: Don’t Go in the Woods… Alone! (1981)

Raining Blood!

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