Dream Demon Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Arrow Video
Directed by Harley Cokeliss
Written by Christopher Wicking and Harley Cokeliss
1988, 88 minutes, Rated R
Released on June 23rd, 2020
Kathleen Wilhoite as Jenny
Jemma Redgrave as Diana
Timothy Spall as Peck
Jimmy Nail as Paul
Mark Greenstreet as Oliver
Susan Fleetwood as Deborah
Annabelle Lanyon as Little Girl
Diana Markham hasn’t been sleeping well recently, plagued by increasingly bizarre nightmares. She is an anxious bride-to-be, as her upcoming high-profile wedding to decorated naval officer Oliver Hall is already attracting members of the press. Two sleazy tabloid reporters hound Diana outside her new London home, asking all sorts of personal questions and challenging Oliver’s war record. An American tourist named Jenny Hoffman steps in and makes them leave her alone. Diana is grateful for the help and invites her inside. Jenny recently learned that her biological parents were living in this house when she was born, and she is on a quest for information. With Oliver away on business, Diana invites Jenny to stay for a few days.
Diana tells Jenny about her persistent nightmares and how they are impacting her waking hours. She is developing a constant state of fright; hearing creepy sounds around the house and having strange visions. Jenny is supportive but is in for a surprise when she sees a ghost and suffers a terrifying encounter with the tabloid photographer down in the basement. She rushes back to find Diana asleep and realizes she is trapped inside her new friend’s dream. Once awake, Jenny tells her what happened and they seek the advice of Diana’s therapist. Encouraged to remain level-headed and practical, the two ladies explore the house’s lowest level for signs of the supernatural. Diana is not always aware she has drifted off, and the pair find themselves slipping freely between dream world and reality. What happens in one realm has dire consequences in the other and now both of their lives are at risk.
In 1984, film distributor Paul Webster secured the U.K. rights to A Nightmare on Elm Street and turned a nice profit. The following year he shifted careers and became a movie producer. In an interview on this disc, he freely admits his desire to create an English rip-off version of Wes Craven’s hit film. The idea went through numerous writers before taking on a more cerebral tone under the command of director Harley Cokeliss (Black Moon Rising), who co-wrote the screenplay with Christopher Wicking (Scream and Scream Again). The end result is Dream Demon, a psychological horror film that is focused entirely on style at the expense of substance. Taking inspiration from Elm Street and blending in the sensibilities of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, this film unfolds through an endless series of dreams and nightmares.
Jemma Redgrave (of the revered Redgrave family of actors) makes her debut in the role of Diana, filling the role with a growing emotional instability. Diana is a virgin, petrified of consummating her wedding night and has nightmares of being shamed and physically abused by her fiancé. The reporters outside figure prominently in her slumber, growing more grotesque and abrasive as her condition intensifies. Despite all of the attention given to Diana and her problems, the real star of the film is Kathleen Wilhoite (Witchboard) in the supporting role of Jenny. She is the one with a history in the house and looking for answers. She is the one with the direct connection to the ghosts. Diana is essentially along for the ride in her own movie.
The most interesting character is Peck, the tabloid photographer played by Timothy Spall (The Bride). He is a true scumbag pig of a man who haunts Diana’s dreams as a gluttonous monster. Spall has the most screen presence and gets the best lines, and he leaves a lasting impression. Jimmy Nail (The Howling II) is imposing as Paul, the other reporter following Diana, who also takes on a dark persona. One peculiar bit of casting is Annabelle Lanyon (Legend) as the little ghost girl in the house. She’s the right size and has a nice look and is always watchable, but it is a stretch seeing the twenty-eight-year-old actress playing a young child.
Dream Demon thrives on dream logic and gets away with a lot of perplexing moments thanks largely to the dynamic visual style of cinematographer Ian Wilson (Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter). There are some intriguing ideas throughout – most notably the mirrored reality within the dream world and also the ability to be brought into someone else’s nightmare while still awake. The film lacks the budget of the Elm Street franchise, so visual effects are limited, but Daniel Parker’s make-up effects are effective and disturbing. Where the film sags is in its lack of an iconic villain. There is no actual dream demon in this story – no Freddy Krueger or Pinhead to cheer or jeer. Instead we are surrounded by abusive, threatening men who menace our protagonists. There are plenty of colorful twists and turns within the dream world that are worth a look, but the logic behind the actual haunting is something of a mess.
Video and Audio:
The original camera negative has received a 2K scan and restoration and the picture is presented in the native 1.85:1 aspect ratio. There is a lot to like with this new transfer when it comes to the lighting design. Colors are warm and well-saturated while black levels are rich and inky. There is a healthy amount of small-object detail, particularly in hair and fibers.
The uncompressed stereo audio is carried by a healthy DTS-HD MA 2.0 track that perfectly balances music cues and sound effects. Dialogue levels are always clear and understandable. Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
There are two versions of the film, the original theatrical version (89 minutes) and a slightly revised and shorter director’s cut (88 minutes).
The disc opens with a brief director’s introduction (42 seconds).
Director Harley Cokeliss is joined by producer Paul Webster for a scene-specific audio commentary (45 minutes) offering insight over select moments from the film. The discussion is full of interesting information regarding the production history and the work that went into its creation.
Cokeliss returns in the newly-recorded interview Dream Master (2020, 27 minutes) in which he reveals details about the screenwriting process, casting, working with practical effects and fire. He has nothing but praise for his cinematographer and members of the cast.
Paul Webster sits down for the segment A Nightmare on Eaton Avenue (2020, 37 minutes) and opens with his biographical background as a distributor and his switch to becoming a producer. He talks about ripping off Wes Craven and the evolution of this script. He goes on to share a good number of informative production stories.
In Dreaming of Diana (2020, 16 minutes), actress Jemma Redgrave offers thoughts on her character and the film’s lesbian subtext, memories from the shoot and bonding with those involved.
Actor Mark Greenstreet plays Diana’s fiancé Oliver and in Cold Reality (2020, 10 minutes) he stresses his respect for the film’s seasoned continuity person, June Randall (Quatermass II) and her attention to detail. He goes on to detail his experience in the make-up chair getting a head cast.
Sculpting the Part (2020, 9 minutes) finds actor Nickolas Grace, who played an intimidating spirit, reflective of his time on this picture. Topics of interest include working with fire and the physicality of his scenes with his co-star.
In Angels and Demons (2020, 9 minutes), Annabelle Lanyon, who played the little girl, reveals her background as a dancer and happily remembers her time on Ridley Scott’s Legend. Moving on, she tells several entertaining production stories from this film involving the statue of her character and working with the make-up effects.
Composer Bill Nelson is at the center of the featurette Demonic Tones (2020, 15 minutes) and he discusses his scoring process and writing particular themes.
The vintage documentary Foundations of Nightmare: The Making of Dream Demon (1988, 26 minutes) offers a generous amount of behind-the-scenes video, particularly of the make-up effects, balanced with cast and crew interviews and clips from the finished film. The piece is well-paced and informative.
There are two photo galleries; the first featuring promotional stills (18 images), including lobby cards and international home video artwork. The second collection contains a series of behind-the-scenes photographs (54 images).
The original theatrical trailer is included.
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