Thursday, March 24, 2011

#230. Bad Dreams (1988)

Directed By: Andrew Fleming

Starring: Jennifer Rubin, Bruce Abbott, Richard Lynch

Tag line: "When Cynthia Wakes Up. She'll Wish She Were Dead..."

Trivia:  In Mexico, the film was released under the title THE DEADLY NIGHTMARE

What initially sold me on Bad Dreams was its kick-ass trailer. I'd never even heard of this film before, but from the preview alone, I knew I had to check it out. Naturally, I was prepared for the off-chance it wouldn't measure up to my expectations, but I just had to see for myself.  Well, the fact is Bad Dreams doesn't “measure up”, but that's not to say it's without its charms. 

In the mid '70s, a cult group, led by a man named Franklin Harris (Richard Lynch), committed mass suicide, and only a single member, a young girl named Cynthia (Missy Francis), survived. After 13 years in a coma, Cynthia (now played by Jennifer Rubin) wakes up in a hospital psychiatric ward.  To help her adjust to life in the late 1980's, Cynthia attends group therapy sessions, and from the looks of it, she's the most normal of the bunch. That is, until she starts seeing Franklin Harris again, who claims to have returned from the dead to 'collect' her. Whereas Cynthia's driven to the edge of insanity by these visitations, it's the members of her therapy group that start turning up dead. The doctors believe these unfortunate patients are committing suicide, but Cynthia knows Harris is responsible. 

As I said, Bad Dreams does have its moments, many of which involve the members of Cynthia's therapy group. In fact, the film's best scenes revolve, in one way or another, around these characters. E.G. Daily does a fine job as Lana, a quiet girl who hadn't spoken for weeks before Cynthia arrived, and Susan Barnes us also solid as Connie, the former reporter who smokes like a chimney and has a very bad attitude. The best of the lot, however, is Ralph, played to perfection by Dean Cameron. Ralph is an oddly twisted guy, charming one minute and downright nasty the next, who's also prone to self-mutilation (at one point, he stabs himself through the hand, then smiles as he watches it bleed). Cameron brings a disturbing edge to Ralph, and damn near steals the film. If everyone in Bad Dreams were as sharp and engaging as these characters, it would've been one for the ages. 

But, unfortunately, the others aren't interesting at all, and the biggest let-down was Jennifer Rubin's Cynthia. There are times when she's quite good; for instance, she plays fear well enough.  Whenever Cynthia's scared, or screaming her head off, Rubin manages to kick the intensity up a notch, but for the most part, her performance was off-key, and when your lead is weak, it tends to stand out. Even Harris, the madman returning from beyond the grave, never feels like much of a threat. Where he should have been a psychopath, Lynch plays Harris as if he were a misunderstood '60s flower child. These missteps, combined with a clumsy and somewhat ludicrous ending, prevent Bad Dreams from being anything more than your run-of-the-mill horror film. 

Overall, Bad Dreams was interesting enough, and certainly worth a watch.  But the potential was there for it to have been so much more.

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