“When Cynthia wakes up, she’ll wish she were dead.”
Director/Writer: Andrew Fleming / Writers: Michael Dick, P.J. Pettiette, Yuri Zeltser, Steven E. de Souza / Cast: Jennifer Rubin, Bruce Abbott, Harris Yulin, Richard Lynch, Dean Cameron, Susan Ruttan, Damita Jo Freeman, E.G. Daily, Susan Barnes, Louis Giambalvo, Sheila Scott Wilkinson, Sy Richardson.
Body Count: 9 (+24)
Laughter Lines: “If you wanna fit in with the 80s, you’re at least two divorces, a condo, and a yeast infection behind the times.”
Of all the Elm Street rip-offs, just a glance a the name and details of this should tell you it’s one of the most overt. Although, being pedantic about it, Bad Dreams targets Elm Street 3 for much of its pilfer source, not least by casting from that movie Jennifer Rubin (who played ex-junkie Taryn) as the lead.
Rubin is Cynthia, the sole survivor of a mass-suicide at the Unity Fields cult in 1975, where self-styled prophet Harris (Lynch) poured ladles of gasoline over his flock before burning them and himself to death. Thirteen years later (finally not five, ten, or twenty!) Cynthia wakes from a coma and is placed into the mental care of Dr Alex Carmen and joins his therapy group of oddballs to assist her integration into the 80s (see Laughter Lines).
Among the other group members are anger-prone Ralph, sex obsessed couple Ed and Connie, seldom spoken Lana, jittery journalist Miriam, and Gilda, who just mutters stuff about destiny. Their issues aren’t particularly clear or realised well, unlike the Dream Warriors kids, where individual personalities were nailed down with ease by Craven’s script.
Cynthia neither fits in, nor wants to be there, but when she starts to see her dead cult leader in elevator or walking down the corridors, she thinks he’s come back for her to complete the transition to the next plane of existence blah blah blah. These visions coincide with the apparent suicides of the other group members, who drown, fall out of high-storey windows, and in one icky case throw themselves into a giant ventilation fan, causing blood rain throughout the clinic.
The cops who have been waiting thirteen years for answers around the cult’s demise see Cynthia as the common link between the deaths, despite the fact she has alibis for each, Dr Carmen is fired, and Cynthia put into isolation where
Freddy Harris can get to her more easily.
At this point, Bad Dreams releases its twist, revealing circumstances to be much more earthbound than we’ve been led to believe. It’s unexpected and a decent deception, but it renders a majority of the film redundant and leads to a soggy climax that feels half-baked before the credits just start rolling and Sweet Child O’ Mine kicks in.
It’s a bit of an ‘Oh… okay’ moment, but the film is at least well made, boasts some interesting supporting characters and witty dialogue here and there. The flashback scene to the cult wilfully burning their own faces is intensely and unsettling. More time with the therapy group characters would’ve added some sorely missing depth to proceedings and meat for the actors to get their teeth into.
So how much does it borrow from Kruegertown?
- Set on a psychiatric care ward a la Dream Warriors
- Heroine repeatedly taken back to a creepy old house in her dreams/flashbacks
- Death by fire
- Ghoulish otherworldly stalker who the ‘adults’ can’t see (sometimes) appears all burnt up
- Cynthia put into isolation ‘for her own good’
- Doctor dismissed by hospital for getting too involved
- Two cast members from Elm Street movies appear
Blurbs-of-interest: Harris Yulin was later in Wes Craven’s My Soul to Take; Richard Lynch was in Laid to Rest, Curse of the Forty-Niner, and Rob Zombie’s Halloween re-do; Charles Fleischer, the doctor from Elm Street 1, appears here briefly as the pharmacist.