11 of Richard Lynch’s “Greatest” Hits (to the Balls) – 5. BAD DREAMS (1988) Review

Sometimes people are shocked to find out that I’m actually a horror fan. I think it’s because I waste so much of my time bitching about how every single horror film these days is crap that it sends out the wrong impression. Alas, for my inaugural horror review… I have not much to say. I mean, it’s not terrible, but it’s not great either. It has its moments, but it’s mostly because of its generic nature that I find it hard to find much to talk about.

Poster for Bad Dreams (1988).

Plot: a young girl named Cynthia (older version played by Jennifer Rubin) becomes the only survivor of a mass suicide by some sinister hippie cult led by a charismatic leader named Harris, played by Richard Lynch, whom Jim Jones wishes he could have been. Cynthia wakes up from a coma thirteen years later, and undergoes psychiatric care under Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott), who’s working with Herbert West to reanimate the dead… Oops, wrong movie. She begins to have severe hallucinations and nightmares that coincide with other patients’ deaths.

Bad Dreams has been accused of being an A Nightmare on Elm Street rip-off. And it’s a pretty reasonable accusation. It was part of a spate of dream-dealing horror movies, probably all inspired by the success of Elm Street, out in mid-to-late 1980s, including Deadly Dreams, Dream Demon and Dreamaniac. Hell, Dreamaniac has a tagline: “You don’t have to live on Elm Street to have a nightmare”, so it’s not like they were being subtle about it. But really, you could just accuse if of being nothing more just another psychological horror with some gore scenes thrown in for good measure.

Gore scenes are few and far between in this movie.
No, the hand doesn’t come to life and attack our protagonists.
(Pictured: Bad Dreams [1988].)

At first it starts with, what else, bad dreams. After coming out of the coma, she begins to have disturbing hallucinations of Richard Lynch. Then her hallucinations begin to accompany very strange deaths of her fellow patients. The detective (played by Sy Richardson) initially suspects Cynthia. Who’s killing the patients? Are they committing suicide? Is she really crazy? Are the hallucinations legit? Etc. It’s pretty run-of-the-mill.

Richard Lynch on fire and in bloodface in Bad Dreams (1988).

Richard Lynch gives a very chilling performance in this film, which is surprising since the writers don’t actually give him much to do, other than spout new-age hippie dialogue bullshit and he spends half the film in bloodface. Two things I’ve realized about Richard Lynch since beginning this retrospective: he’s actually a damn good actor who, for some reason or another, got stuck in these B-movie roles; and there are few other actors who embody the word “cult film” like Richard Lynch does.

“We’re going to have a literal baptism by fire.”

He’s been in films by Corman, Pyun, Deodato, Zito, starred alongside Rubin, Abbott, Carradine, Norris, etc, and has done everything from sword-and-sorcery to horror to Cannon Group action goodness. But he’s such a damn fine actor. Here, he makes the rest of the cast look like a bunch of amateurs, including horror and cult film veterans Jennifer Rubin and Bruce Abbott, Sy Richardson and Harris Yulin.

Dean Cameron playing a mental patient in Bad Dreams (1988).

Jennifer Rubin does an alright job as our paranoid and potentially-psychotic lead. I think her connection to A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors and similarity to her character in that film (along with a host of other obvious similarities) suggests to a lot of people that this film was a rip-off of that franchise. Makes sense. Rubin isn’t half-bad, and her performance is certainly a step up from the one in Dream Warriors, though that might have more to do with the fact that she gets most of the running time here.

Plus, she’s nice to look at. (Jennifer Rubin, Bad Dreams, 1988.)

For those of you looking to see another Bruce Abbott classic like Re-Animator, prepare to be disappointed. Sure, you’ll all be glad to know that he spent part of his time masquerading as a psychiatrist between reanimating the dead in Re-Animator and Bride of Re-Animator, but he ain’t doing much here. He spends the first hour or so being the “it’ll be okay” guy, and then he pops a pill and attempts to ram somebody with his car, and then becomes an unlikely savior. For the first hour he’s there but sort of not actually there because he’s not really doing anything, if you get me.

“Fear not, I’ve been working with Jeffrey Combs to reanimate the dead. I will bring Dean Cameron back to life!”
Yeah, Dean Cameron dies in this film.

The picture is elevated infinitely whenever Richard Lynch is onscreen and marginally when Bruce Abbott is, and, sadly, these two are underused. Another problem is that they don’t really do a good job of balancing the elements – potential suicides, whether or not Rubin is a killer, and if Richard Lynch is literally coming back from the grave like Bruce Abbott was reanimating his dead body – to confuse the audience. The ending seems to literally come out of nowhere because the film doesn’t really spend a lot of time trying to find the root causes of the deaths. They sort of just occur.

There are some creepy moments, admittedly. Unfortunately, the atmosphere of this film isn’t able to sustain itself, and we get a lot of goofy moments. At times I’m not sure if they’re going for ‘scary’ by having these psychotic patients attempt to creep the viewers out, or if it’s done as deliberate dark humor. Like Dean Cameron going on a crazy rampage and a drunken couple caught in a turbine or something and the crazed ex-reporter.

“Aloha, Mr. Hand.”
Somebody stabbing themselves in the hand, from Bad Dreams (1988). Whose hand could that possibly be?

Or Sy Richardson’s reaction at the bad guy’s death: a shrug and a “meh” look.

Warning: the following footage contains depictions of an indifferent black person.

Repo man’s always intense. Except when it’s time not to give a shit about a dead guy. I like this bit because of one main reason (the peripheral reason being that Richardson’s appearance always takes me back to Repo Man): I think his expression can pretty much sum up the movie. It’s a good way to pass an hour and a half, but at the end, you really don’t give a fuck.

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