Over the years, you might hear of various films getting lost in one way or another. Whether it’s to do with distribution issues, or production companies going bust or simply not preserving their films well enough, film buffs love a discovery of an old film, or even footage from an old classic like the discovery some years back of 30 minutes of lost footage from 1927 German science-fiction epic, Metropolis. Another famous example is 1917’s Cleopatra, where the publicity shots of its star, Theda Bara, are famous but the film itself was actually somehow lost.
In 1988, a promising sounding horror was released, with a solid enough up and coming cast and a decent enough plot that seemed to draw influence from the likes of 1987’s Hellraiser and 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street. But somehow, since its original VHS release, Dream Demon got ‘lost’. Laying dormant for over 30 years since its original release, those clever lot over at Arrow Video have rediscovered Dream Demon, giving it a nice new restoration and throwing in a whole host of extras that will have fans of 80’s horror grinning with delight and sighing with relief that they can now watch Harley Cokeliss’ British horror for probably the first time since the late 80s.
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Now, regarding the film itself, Dream Demon certainly shares those aforementioned Hellraiser and A Nightmare on Elm Street influences (its title alone can’t help but bring to mind Elm Street’s infamous villain, Freddy Krueger) but unfortunately what it doesn’t do that the above films did so well is create scenes and sequences that are so dark, disturbing and powerful that they stay with you long after the credits roll. What horror fan can forget their first meeting with Freddy Krueger in 1984, in the nightmare sequence involving the unfortunate Tina, her bloodied body being dragged around her bedroom as her helpless boyfriend watches on, unable to see what’s attacking her? It’s a scene that still resonates now and is discussed and dissected by horror fans around the world. Despite promising these type of nightmarish images, Dream Demon never really delivers on the same level as its contemporaries.
Dream Demon‘s plot itself is promising enough: a young woman, Diana (Jemma Redgrave) is due to marry upper class war hero, Oliver (Mark Greenstreet) but Diana is being plagued by terrifying dreams and nightmares as she spends time at her family’s old mansion. A woman with a dark and troubled past, Diana’s dreams are becoming more frequent and more disturbing. Around this time, Diana meets American tourist Jenny (Kathleen Wilhoite) , a young woman who also has a turbulent past, and soon Diana pulls Jenny into her nightmarish world. On their tails (Diana’s anyway) are sneaky and sleazy journalists Peck (Timothy Spall) and Paul (Jimmy Nail) who want as much information on Diana as possible due to her impending wedding with the celebrity-like Oliver. Of course, they are going to get more than they bargained for.
Where Dream Demon falls down is the thing that should make it more memorable and that’s the dream sequences. To be fair, director Harley Cokeliss does a pretty good job in terms of making these scenes more strange and disturbing as the film goes on and there are a few scares to be had every now and then, but nothing to really stay with you or make you want to sleep with the lights on. The main distraction, however, during these scenes are that the set looks like it was lifted from Hellraiser. The style of the house, inside and out, can’t help but bring to mind Clive Barker’s 1987 classic. But that’s only a real distraction if you’ve seen Hellraiser more than once.
But then, aren’t Hellraiser fans part of Dream Demon‘s target audience? And when another sequence immediately brings to mind A Nightmare on Elm Street in the way it’s set and lit, you’re kind of hoping it’s more loving homage than blatant rip-off. It probably is more the former, as despite not being as memorable or disturbing as they should be, it’s quite clear that some effort, care and attention has gone into the dream/nightmare scenes, it’s just that they become a bit of a mess in the latter part of the film as you try to decipher what’s in the real world and what’s not. Which is fine in a horror, if it doesn’t become too much, but as we’re trying to figure out the importance of Jenny in all this, despite the similarities to Diana’s past, it could be seen as too much and perhaps a little confusing.
That being said, the performances in Dream Demon are mostly solid enough. Jemma Redgrave being decent enough as Diana, whose descent into madness is quite interesting to watch, and it’s also a pleasure to see Timothy Spall as he puts in a sleazy, offbeat and sinister performance as the journalist, Peck. Always an actor to rely on, Mr Spall.
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The extras on the Dream Demon disc include newly filmed interviews with director Harley Cokeliss and producer Paul Webster, as well as members of the cast and crew including Jemma Redgrave. There’s also a making of documentary, image galleries, and trailer. The director’s cut and theatrical cut versions are available to watch as well as an introduction to the film from Harley Cokeliss. First pressings include a collectors booklet with new writing on the film and a reversible poster.
Overall, Dream Demon will appeal somewhat to its target audience as it does have a strange, offbeat tone and can be creepy and fairly exciting at times, as well as having some OK practical gore effects. But those expecting a “lost classic” from the 80s could be disappointed. Worth a watch for those interested in previously lost films, and 80’s horror obsessives might get a thrill out of watching something that will have been unseen for years. Just don’t go in expecting anything special and you may find yourself watching an interestingly cult, psychological horror.
Dream Demon is out now on Blu-ray from Arrow Video.