DREAM DEMON - New Life for a Lost Horror Film 

By Dark Starr

The year was 1988. A new film was playing in theaters in the UK. On the screen a young woman was being tormented by a nightmare come to life. No, it was not a new installment in the "Nightmare on Elm Street" series. It was actually a movie titled "Dream Demon." 

After the UK run in theaters the movie was slated to open in the US. That never happened, and the movie essentially disappeared. The company that had produced it, Palace Pictures, eventually went out of business, meaning the whole issue of copyright, and even where the film canisters were physically located became something of a mystery. 

The whole story of how it was eventually rediscovered is part of one of the interviews included as bonus features on the new Blu-Ray from Arrow Films. It's a rather fascinating story that gives some insights into the parts of the movie industry that people outside the business don't often see. It's a win for fans of clever horror films, though, because this is really a hidden gem. 

While there are a few scenes that feel a bit like they could have come from one of Wes Craven's films documenting the Freddy Krueger saga, this is really nothing like that series. Sure, both films blur the lines between dream and reality, but the "ANOES" series is more in-your-face and over-the-top. This one is more of a psychological horror film in a lot of ways. It has a real artistic element and some well-developed characters. It's almost like comparing a high-end fast food meal to something from a truly upscale restaurant. You might get something from the menu that has some of the same ingredients, but the two meals are completely different. 

This movie is probably not for those who like all the answers to what's going on tied up with a nice little bow. There are mysteries that remain even at the end. That's part of what keeps the movie living in your mind afterward. Again, this is not a fast food meal, but something more substantial. The fact that so much of the movie centers around a blurring of the borders between reality, memory and dream, that sense of mystery is particularly welcome. 

One thing that's important to talk about, I think, is that this shouldn't be seen as some sort of copy of Craven's "Nightmare" series. Let's face it, he wasn't responsible for inventing the whole dream horror concept. It dates back as far as Poe. It probably goes back even further. The dream world is something unusual in that it often replicates real life, so that makes it the fodder of story-telling, and when you add in nightmares, that makes it rich for horror stories. Even H.P. Lovecraft had his whole "dream cycle." So, while people might associate dreams in horror with "A Nightmare on Elm Street" and it's sequels, that's just one piece of a rich history of story-telling, and this is another. 

Speaking of Craven's films, they really did dominate the 80s in a lot of ways, for both the better and worse sides of what that means. If you often revisit 80s movies, I probably don't need to tell you that many of them seem dated. They have an 80s quality to them from the hair-styles and wardrobe to the music and the computer graphic effects. I'm sure you know what I mean. You can often spot an 80s movie as soon as it comes on. 

"Dream Demon" avoids those trappings. It feels very timeless. In fact, I had to look up when it was released because I really thought it felt more contemporary. I think that part of that comes from the costumes. Only one character, the American character who comes from Los Angeles, has any of that 80s vibe to her look. Even then, she wouldn't seem really out of place today. The fact that they didn't use the computer graphics of the era, but rather opted to use strictly practical effects helps, too. Perhaps an even bigger part is the music. Bill Nelson (who is known both for his band Be-Bop Deluxe and his solo work) did the soundtrack, and it is an interesting tapestry that really suits the film. It has almost a classic movie soundtrack, but with a more modernized aspect. 

In terms of the cast, there might be some familiar faces. There are two female leads. That's a bit of a rarity in itself, having the heroic leads be two women. I should add that of the male characters, I can't think of any of them who are decent people. They are all bad on some level. 

Going back to those actors, Jemma Redgrave and Kathleen Wilhoite are the two leads. I would guess that from "ER" to "Roadhouse," "Gilmore Girls" and more Wilhoite is the more well-known of the two. I'm mostly familiar with Redgrave as Kate Stewart on "Doctor Who." Those two do a great job in their roles, and they really seem to have some chemistry between them. 

There is really no one "bad guy" in this movie, but there are at least a couple characters that qualify a "monsters." Of those, Timothy Spall's character is the more prominent one. He's a well-known actor, but for me he's always going to be "Wormtail" in the Harry Potter movies. 

While this is more of a psychological film than it is a gore or "jump scare" kind of thing, it does have its moments of both of those. There is also just enough humor to keep it from getting oppressive. Some of that humor is a bit campy, but really in a good way. Some of the effects are a bit on the cheesy side, too, but for those who enjoy older movies with practical effects, that's a familiar thing, really. Overall, I'd say that the mood and tone along with the fact that you can never really be sure what's real and what isn't, are the most successful aspects to the movie. They really make the magic, so to speak. 

The whole packaging from Arrow Films is great. The Blu-Ray includes all kinds of extras. Not only do you get the new Director's Cut of the movie, but it has the theatrical version, too. There are, as mentioned earlier, a lot of interviews  including many of the cast, director and co-writer Harley Cokeliss, the aforementioned Bill Nelson who talks about making the soundtrack and more. There is an audio commentary option, and also a "making of" documentary that was done while they were originally filming. There are more bonuses, but those are the ones that really stand out for me. 

All in all, I'd say it's a great thing that this film has resurfaced. It's a unique and entertaining horror film that is classier than a lot of other horror from the time. It really is something worth seeing. Arrow Films could have just put together a quick transfer to digital release and put it out there, but they really went so much further than that and created a Blu-Ray that displays reverence for the quality of the film. It makes for something well worth owning.