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DREAM DEMON Blu-ray Review – These Nightmares Don’t Need Sleep to Kill You

Starring Jemma Redgrave, Kathleen Wilhoite, Timothy Spall, Jimmy Nail

Directed by Harley Cokeliss

Distributed by Arrow Video

2e36b18a a800 40b2 a3ec eac4a7857dc8 - DREAM DEMON Blu-ray Review - These Nightmares Don't Need Sleep to Kill You

I have seen more than a few reviews compare director Harley Cokeliss’ Dream Demon (1988) to Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and that isn’t really fair, though both films deal with reality and dream worlds colliding that’s where the similarities end. For one thing, despite what the film’s poster and title implies, Dream Demon doesn’t have a demon, which initially bummed me out until I realized this film works better as true psychological horror. What can cause greater torment and unease than one’s own mind? Dreams are a fascinating concept for horror – and nothing new – but Craven’s film opened the gates a little wider for ‘80s horrors to explore those storylines. This is one of the few that didn’t rely on a Freddy surrogate to sell the terror… and maybe that’s why I hadn’t heard of this film until it arrived on my doorstep.

Diana (Jemma Redgrave) and Oliver (Mark Greenstreet) are about to be married, but instead of excitement for what should be a happy day Diana feels only anxiety and fright thanks to a recurring series of violent nightmares. Oliver is a local war hero from a wealthy family and news of his engagement has brought out the local journalistic riffraff – reporter Paul (Jimmy Nail) and his vexing photographer Peck (Timothy Spall) – who are extremely aggressive in their attempts to get statements out of Diana.

With Oliver working so often Diana spends most of her time alone… until she meets Jenny (Kathleen Wilhoite), a street smart American tourist who is plagued by visions of her own – and they tell her she used to live in Diana’s current residence. As Diana and Jenny grow closer and dive deeper into the rabbit hole of interpreting their dreams the visions Diana is having become increasingly more tangible – to the point her nightmares begin to creep into the real world and affect those who aren’t even asleep.   

Cokeliss’ abstract horror show didn’t make any waves on American shores, though the film did score some mostly-positive reviews on its home turf in England. Like I said in the intro, there isn’t a Big Bad here and that may be why there’s been little longevity for this title; horror here exists in the abstract and though Cokeliss does supply a sort-of-host to the nightmare world in Peck, after he finds himself on the wrong side of one of Diana’s dreams, his character is mainly there to chide and harass her; he isn’t exactly a malevolent force. Diana’s dreams have a surreal quality that at times feel a little Lynchian though the symbolism doesn’t appear nearly that deep.

Redgrave comes from a long line of actors but I was never completely ensnared by her performance, which often feels flat, though to be fair she does spend a considerable amount of time in distress… and this is her feature debut. Wilhoite plays the same character in just about every film – a whip smart, sassy, trash talking American with a penchant for eccentric fashion and a mouth that just won’t quit. Despite this, she balances out Redgrave’s role with aplomb. For my money the best acting here is from Spall, who is a disgusting specimen of human both in reality and the dream world. There’s more than one scene of him eating food and, well, it’s just revolting.

Speaking of which, even though the film isn’t a slasher or something in that style there are a number of scenes in which things get awfully oozy and gruesome; the kind of bodily horrors that produce a visceral reaction because everything looks so gross. Again, going back to Spall’s eating there is a scene of him shoveling in food under heavy make-up that gives him a decaying appearance which combined with his fork shoveling makes for one stomach-turner of a scene.

The only incongruous element to the story is Jenny, whose nightmares of a “young girl” (the actress playing her looks like she’s in her thirties) and an abusive father don’t gel with Diana’s paranoid visions of a bloody wedding day. There is a tenuous connection between the two but it sometimes feels like the film is trying to play equal favor to both women when this is clearly Diana’s film and Jenny is a supporting player; I don’t think her trauma is necessary to aid in Diana’s catharsis and her tale feels a bit undercooked in the grand scheme of things.

Having only seen a release on VHS here in the U.S. Dream Demon makes its HD debut with an expectedly attractive 1.85:1 1080p image that will be a monumental upgrade over whatever edition fans might currently possess. The print is free from dirt and debris. Colors are strongly resolved and Cokeliss uses colored gels frequently to get these great splashes in the frame. Black levels dip slightly in the darkest scenes but are otherwise fulsome. Film grain is structured organically and the picture has a cinematic quality. Definition is often strong throughout and close-ups yield even greater levels of fine detail that are frequently impressive.

Audio comes in the form of an English LPCM 2.0 stereo track, featuring balanced dialogue and clear sound effects alongside composer Bill Nelson’s creepy score filled with eerie tones that nicely complement the disorientation occurring within Diana’s mind. Subtitles are available in English SDH.    

Special Features:

  • Brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative, supervised and approved by director Harley Cokeliss
  • Director s Cut and Original Theatrical Version
  • Original uncompressed stereo audio
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Brand new scene-select audio commentary with director Harley Cokeliss and producer Paul Webster
  • Newly-filmed interview with director Harley Cokeliss
  • Newly-filmed interview with producer Paul Webster
  • Newly-filmed interview with actress Jemma Redgrave
  • Newly-filmed interview with actor Mark Greenstreet
  • Newly-filmed interview with actor Nickolas Grace
  • Newly-filmed interview with actress Annabelle Lanyon
  • Newly-filmed interview with composer Bill Nelson
  • Foundations of Nightmare: The Making of Dream Demon – contemporary documentary taking a look behind the scenes of the production of Dream Demon, featuring on-set interviews with director Harley Cokeliss, producer Paul Webster, actors Timothy Spall, Jemma Redgrave, Kathleen Wilhoite, composer Bill Nelson and many more
  • Image Galleries
  • Original Theatrical Trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly-commissioned artwork by Christopher Shy
  • FIRST PRESSING ONLY! Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Anne Bilson, author of the Dream Demon novelization, and director Harley Cokeliss
  • Reversible poster featuring exclusive newly-commissioned artwork by Christopher Shy
  • Dream Demon
  • Special Features
4.0

Summary

Although some of the story elements don’t quite jibe this is a thoughtful and at times artistic take on nightmares and reality. Given the limited availability of this title on home video the job Arrow has done here is exceptional, featuring two cuts of the film, strong a/v quality, and a stacked roster of bonus features.

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Written by Anthony Arrigo

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