When director Harley Cokeliss made the British horror film Dream Demon in 1988, he probably did not envision the multiple setbacks that would keep audiences from actually being able to view the film. The film was able to get a small run in theaters in its native Britain, but securing eyeballs in the United States proved to be a more difficult task. Before the film could try to make a mark here, the distributor fell upon hard times, disrupting the planned theatrical release. Dream Demon was unfortunately a victim of bum luck, and did not have much of a presence outside of a possible VHS at a local movie rental place. On top of this, the original elements of the film were lost for years and years, meaning Harley could not even attempt to give new life to his picture if he wanted to. In a bit of good luck, the elements were finally discovered in recent years, and Arrow Video has given it the top-notch release it has been missing for three decades. It may not be some undiscovered horror masterpiece, but it has enough going for it that you should check it out.
The first thing to know going into Dream Demon is that it is a slightly misleading title. There are no literal demons anywhere in the film, and, despite channeling the spirit of A Nightmare On Elm Street, there is no central figure that is causing our protagonists harm. The name of the game here is trauma, both impending and buried in the past. Diana Markham (Jemma Redgrave, of the Redgrave acting dynasty) is an upper class schoolteacher who is a bit nervous about her upcoming wedding with her fiancé, Oliver (Mark Greenstreet). In the opening scene, Diana is dreaming about her wedding day where Oliver is incredibly nasty and violent towards her, to which she responds with a bloody decapitation. Diana is troubled by this and other violent dreams, but her therapist assures her it is all just a manifestation of stress due to her upcoming nuptials. With this being a horror film, the audience knows that this is likely a potential warning sign that Oliver may not be as great as he appears to be. As Diana continues to have darker and more violent dreams, she begins to question whether or not her dreams are actually dreams.
On the way to her new home, Diana is harassed by Paul (Jimmy Nail) and Peck (Timothy Spall, Harry Potter franchise), an unscrupulous reporter and photographer trying to get the dirty details of their forthcoming union. Diana is helped by American tourist Jenny Hoffman (Kathleen Wilhoite, Gilmore Girls) to get back to her house unscathed, where Jenny reveals that she is potentially linked to Diana’s new house. The intersection of these two characters is the crux of the film. While the virginal Diana struggles with the major change in store for her, Jenny is trying to piece together what happened during her childhood that she has blocked out. After Diana has a dream where Peck is killed, she discovers the next day that he has gone missing. As dreams and reality start to blur, Jenny gets drawn in to the terror of the dreamscape filled with nightmarish figures. The chemistry between these two actresses is engaging, but the film seems to be trying to stuff too much plot into this one movie. The sexual repression manifested through horrific images is a good plot thread; and confronting the ghosts of childhood trauma is always a solid bet, but both get short shrift during this brief runtime. The film does its best to set up some rules for the world, but it seems content to throw them out the window when its convenient.
Dream Demon is a film with an uneasy tone that lulls you into thinking you are watching a frightening film. Unfortunately, when you reach the end of the story, you realize that certain elements of the story do not make a lot of sense. There are two competing stories happening here that do not blend together in a believable way. Plot threads are brought up and discarded with wanton disregard for cohesiveness. While not top tier of 80s psychological horror, the other elements of the film work well for me. The surreal nightmare sequences have some interesting visual flourishes that show the power of practical in-camera effects, and the prosthetics can be delightfully disgusting. The tone is established by the sinister synth score that is completely a product of its time, in a good way. Even the acting is mostly good for this level of film, with special attention paid to the deliciously over-the-top Timothy Spall. Dream Demon has a lot to appreciate, but the film would be a much stronger one if they would have picked one good idea and saw it through to completion.
This new Blu-Ray from Arrow Video rescues Dream Demon from obscurity with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.85:1, newly restored by the BFI from the original 35mm interpositive scanned in 2K resolution. Since the previous releases were relegated to VHS, this is an astronomical improvement that is really quite a wonder. The film has an incredible grain structure that preserves the filmic look of the picture, showcasing subtle details in the production design in the apartment. Skin tones look natural, with a warm push in the lamp-diffused interiors. Colors pop off the screen nicely, especially in the bright reds of the blood. Black levels are satisfyingly deep in the dream world of the nightmares. Facial details come through very clearly, maintaining fine lines and hair. Fans of the film probably never expected to get such a lovingly restored presentation, so this disc should knock them dead.
The original optical negative reels of the stereo mix have likewise been remastered at the BFI National Archive’s sound facility. This Blu-Ray provides an effective LPCM 2.0 track that does a standout job of creating a sinister atmosphere. The remaster has eliminated any noticeable hissing or age related wear and tear that likely would have plagued the VHS release. Dialogue comes through crystal clear without ever being trounced upon by the score or any sound effects. The synth-heavy score from composer Bill Nelson is a highlight of the film with its moody tones that will stick with you long after you have finished the film. This is a really solid audio track that serves the movie well.
- Introduction: Director Harley Cokeliss gives less than a minute long introduction to the film where he expresses his appreciation that the film has been saved after all this time.
- Original Theatrical Version: The only discernable difference is an alternate ending, which addresses the fates of Paul and Peck at the expense of a more sinister tone.
- Dream Master: A new 27-minute interview with director Harley Cokeliss in which he discusses his odyssey to rediscover the film negatives, the development of the production, filming styles and more.
- A Nightmare On Eaton Avenue: A new 37-minute interview with producer Paul Webster in which he discusses how he got into producing, acquiring films from the US for distribution, casting the film, missing the first Sex Pistols gig and more.
- Dreaming Of Diana: A new sixteen-minute interview with actress Jemma Redgrave (Diana) in which she discusses her experiences with filming, her interpretation of the films core relationship, dangerous moments on set and more.
- Cold Reality: A new ten-minute interview with actor Mark Greenstreet (Oliver) in which he discusses why a big-name script editor drew him to the project, his experience with prosthetics and more.
- Sculpting The Part: A new nine-minute interview with actor Nickolas Grace (Jenny’s Father) in which he discusses how he got involved with the project, why he enjoyed playing a nasty character, wanting to do his own stunts and more.
- Angels & Demons: A new nine-minute interview with actress Annabel Lanyon (Little Jenny) in which she discusses her background in dance, filming with Ridley Scott on Legend, the problem with wigs and more.
- Demonic Tones: A new fifteen-minute interview with composer Bill Nelson in which he discusses his early days of composing offbeat music, the experience of Dream Demon being the first film he scored, recording in his house, how the added music scared him and more.
- Foundations of Nightmare – The Making Of Dream Demon: A 26-minute documentary from the time of production that provides a lot of fun, candid footage. Discussions range from the core narrative of the film, practical effects, makeup, casting and more. This is a really fun addition.
- Original Theatrical Trailer: The two-minute trailer is presented in high definition and provides something of a greatest hits collection of sequences from the film.
- Image Galleries
- Promotional: A collection of various interesting covers, posters and promotional stills for the film.
- Behind The Scenes: Candid photos from the original production of the film.
- Scene Select Audio Commentary with Harley Cokeliss and Paul Webster: The director and producer of the film provide commentary for 46-minutes of the movie. The two discuss the development of the film, the princess Diana allusions, the power of lighting and more. The two still seem passionate about the film after all these years, and they provide some interesting insights.
- BD-ROM Content: Includes the original screenplay, selected continuity script notes, and complete storyboards by comic book artist and illustrator John Bolton
Dream Demon is a film believed to be lost to the sands of time, which has been granted a new life from Arrow Video. The film itself struggles to find the necessary cohesion to make it a compelling narrative, but there are enough technically interesting elements for hardcore horror fans to check this one out. Arrow Video has delivered an outstanding A/V presentation and a slew of interesting special features that reveal what the creators were trying to say with the film. The level of care that has been put into this release should thrill fans of the film.
Dream Demon is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: MVD Entertainment Group has supplied a promo copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.