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STUDIO Shout! Factory
RUNNING TIME 80 Minutes
• Dream Cast
• Makeup Featurette
• Behind the Scenes
• Alternate Ending
• Photo Gallery
A badly burned lunatic lives in the dreams of a pretty brunette girl as it kills off the people around her one by one. No, a different one!
Jennifer Rubin, Bruce Abbott, Richard Lynch, Dean Cameron, Elizabeth Daily,
In the mid-70s, the members of the love cult Unity Fields sought “the ultimate joining” by dousing themselves with gasoline and committing mass suicide. A young girl blown clear of the fiery explosion was the only survivor. Thirteen years later, Cynthia awakens from a coma inside a psychiatric hospital with only buried memories of that horrific day. But now, he fellow patients are each being driven to their own violent suicides. Has the sect’s leader returned to claim his final child?
If there’s a fanbase that is more forgiving than any other, it’s horror fans. At their best, horror movies are a mess from start to finish and there’s probably not one made that’s not a monument to compromise, budgetary restrictions, and broken dreams. As a result, even many of the best horror movies are filled with deep obvious flaws. Horror fans have learned to either ignore or embrace these flaws, but the average movie-going public takes them at face value, which is why the genre will always be marginalized, which is why horror movies will never have the budget and freedom they deserve, and the cycle continues.
Still, even in a genre of apologist masterpieces, occasionally a movie comes along that has nothing to apologize for. The stars align and everything comes together just right and it’s as close to perfect as any movie gets. Sometimes they’re successful (The Exorcist), others may take decades to get the credit they deserve (The Thing), and still others never find proper mainstream respect (Dead and Buried) but they’re all great and their existence should be celebrated. Well get started celebrating because Bad Dreams is here!
Jennifer Rubin (Screamers) plays Cynthia, the sole surviving member of a 70s love-cult that self-immolate themselves because Flavor Aid is for wimps, wakes up from a ten-year coma with no memory of the events leading up to her injury. She’s put into a therapy group for people with borderline personality disorder to help her heal and perhaps bring back her memories. Cynthia thinks she doesn’t belong and her psychiatrist Dr. Karmen (Bruce Abbott of Re-Animator) agrees but his higher ups insist it might help her remember.
Soon Cynthia begins seeing Harris (Richard Lynch of Alligator 2), the cult’s own personal Jim Jones, beckoning her to come join her brothers and sisters in “unity.” Harris commands her to kill herself, and if she doesn’t then he’ll cause all of the other members of her group to commit suicide suicide until she does. The plot skews very close to A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors and Harris periodically appearing as a badly wounded burn victim only makes this comparison more apparent. Even Jennifer Rubin’s character feels like a typical Wes Craven protagonist, right down to her long dark brown hair. While the plots are similar, Bad Dreams is Dream Warriors’ artistic antithesis, choosing to focus more on the psychological angle than the spectacular.
Harris isn’t just killing people in their dreams, he is manipulating the minds of mentally unstable people so they will want to kill themselves. These people are choosing their own grizzly deaths and while it may not be as eye-catching as Freddy’s bag of tricks, it’s easily twice as disturbing.
The plot also explores a different take on a character like Cynthia. She may have lost her cult in a horrifying mass suicide, but to her these people were her family and while she doesn’t condone their last act, she misses the community and the love she felt before things took a turn for the worse. It’s a rather complex take for any movie, let alone horror.
The cast is phenomenal across the board. Jennifer Rubin and Bruce Abbott have a great on-screen chemistry and you’ll spend the whole movie wondering why they never really took off as bigger names. Richard Lynch is very creepy but also charismatic and completely believable as a cult leader (unlike some people!) and the best part of his character is the way that he’s able of being incredibly menacing while only talking in soft comforting tones. Every line from his mouth is tinged with threat, but never comes across as malefic. As wonderful as the leads are, though, I’m not here to talk about them.
I’m here to talk about Dean Cameron. For a lot of people of a certain age, Dean Cameron will always be the horror movie obsessed character Chainsaw from the under-rated Mark Harmon comedy vehicle Summer School. Cameron’s character Ralph is pretty much the gritty reboot of Chainsaw: charming, funny, somewhat unhealthily obsessed with violence, and with a very dark sense of humor.
The audience’s first meeting with Ralph is pretty typical smart-ass stuff but soon the cracks start forming around his smarmy veneer and we begin seeing the unsettling personality lurking underneath. Of all the borderline personalities in Cynthia’s support group, Ralph is toeing the line more than anyone and when he finally loses it, it’s amazing. I’ve seen actors of higher pedigree try to do what Cameron does in this pinnacle scene and it usually looks incredibly immature and dumb, but he sells it. Imagine Judd Nelson’s character from The Breakfast Club if Judd Nelson had been a good actor and that’s pretty much Ralph. Dean Cameron may be one of the most under-rated actors to ever grace the silver screen and he deserved way better work than he got.
The one flaw I can find with this movie is the way it ties up at the end. There are some inconsistencies that don’t really make sense, but they’re small and the original ending (included as a special feature on the disc) does a good job of clearing them up.
Bad Dreams is a great movie that works on a number of levels. It’s creepy, it’s charming, it’s smart and it’s a goddamn crime that it’s not more well known than it is. If you have never seen this movie and have even a passing interest in horror, watch it now.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
RUNNING TIME 103 Minutes
• Interview with actress Lenore Zann
• Interview with writer Brian Taggert
• Interview with producer Pierre David
• Photo Gallery
• TV/Radio Spots
After a brutal attack from a taciturn knife-wielding maniac, a red-headed woman is taken to a hospital where the assailant stalks her, killing anyone that gets in his way. No, a different one! (The plot isn’t really that close to Halloween 2 but I’m trying to do a motif here.)
Lee Grant, Michael Ironside, Linda Purl, William Shatner, Leonre Zann
Outspoken TV journalist Deborah Ballin’s crusade against domestic violence enrages a creepy loner. He brutally attacks the anchorwoman in her home, but Ballin survives and is hospitalized. Her assailant is further enraged: He is haunted by a horrific childhood trauma… and now he has hidden himself inside the hospital to finish what he started.
The horror genre, particularly the slasher sub-genre, has often been accused of being misogynistic. That’s a bit of an over-simplification of a number of social issues that transcend genres and even pop culture itself. Still it’s no secret that a genre which punishes sexuality whilst promising titillation, and seemingly delighting in finding new ways to hurt and mutilate people, can be a bit problematic. Even I Spit on Your Grave, largely considered to be a feminist movie, has a lot of cringe-worthy moments that can’t be explained away as meta-commentary. And while more movies than not (and let’s be honest, a lot more than non-horror movies) feature either a female protagonist or end on a “Final Girl” archetype who survives due to her own drive, strength, and resourcefulness; they’re usually played as virginal “good girls” who don’t involve themselves with sex, drugs, or any vices — beyond maybe a love of junk food — like the rest of the female characters who are violently murdered along the way.
Visiting Hours was literally made to combat this sort of claim. Screenwriter Brian Taggert (Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, Of Unknown Origin, V: The Final Battle) was contacted about making a horror movie and he chose actress Lee Grant to be his lead. When Grant signed on, she told Taggert that she would like to make a horror movie that was about the feminist movement.
Deborah Ballin (Lee Grant) is a journalist covering a story about a battered wife who shot her husband in self-defense and is being charged with attempted murder. Her interview with the husband’s lawyer draws the ire of Colt Hawker (Michael Ironside): a beer-swilling brute of a man who airs his grievances with women in disturbingly violent ways.
After breaking into Deborah’s house, murdering her housekeeper, and nearly killing Deborah herself; Colt is forced to leave his task unfinished when a neighbor comes to the woman’s rescue. Deborah is taken to the hospital and put into intensive care. Colt attempts to finish what he has started, sneaking into the hospital, but his task proves to be more difficult than he imagined. He begins stalking the nurse who has designated herself to be Deborah’s caretaker (Linda Purl) in hopes of using her to get to his target.
Visiting Hours is a non-slasher (a movie that is a slasher movie in function, but lacks what many consider to be the necessary tropes of the genre such as nudity, gore, and iconic masked killers; in favor of character-driven stories and slow pot-boiler plots. See: Death Valley, Cohen and Tate, The Hitcher, and When a Stranger Calls) from a feminist perspective, but it doesn’t rely on any rote message or preachy overtones. While it does function very much as a movie about the feminist movement, it works even better as a commentary on slasher movies in general.
Our lead isn’t a pretty buxom teenager (not to say that Lee Grant is unattractive, but in any other slasher she’d be playing the protagonist’s mother) but a dignified and strong-willed woman. Colt Hawker may cause her to run and scream in fear for her own health and safety, but he never breaks her spirit. Of course he can hurt her, it’s what he does, and he’s much larger and stronger than she is. But violence is the only way that Colt will ever be superior to her and they both know it. Colt can hurt her, even kill her, but she’ll never be a victim to him.
A great debate lasting decades and generations has been held over whether a woman who runs and screams from a larger opponent is a sexist trope or just pragmatic thinking on the part of character that realizes she is physically outmatched. Visiting Hours sides with the latter; all of the women Colt attacks in this movie are physically bested but not cowed by him. This, contrasted with the pathetic picture painted by Colt’s side of the story, certainly seems to say that physical strength is a very childish measure of a person’s worth.
:isa (Lenore Zann; the voice of Rogue from the 90s X-Men cartoon) is one of the three women that Colt attacks and she tackles one of the most controversial aspects of horror and fiction in general: the rape scene. Thanks to Zann’s interference on a certain issue (the original plan was for her shirt to be torn open and her breasts exposed in the violence, which she vetoed in favor of a more tasteful shot of the camera panning up to her fearful but defiant eyes just as her shirt is cut open) the scene is played out as brutal but not lurid in the way many similar scenes tend to be. It also puts no blame on Lisa, her only mistake was seeing the scared child behind Colt’s anger and thinking she could reach that within him, not realizing that his anger rules him absolutely. This movie was made in 1982; over thirty years later this bit of politics still feels way ahead of its time.
But the movie isn’t just content to make a straw-man of Colt himself. He is unquestionably a misogynist but Taggert delivers a reason for why he is the way that he is. Flashbacks of Colt as a child reveal the family issues and trauma that causes him to hate women, however unjustified. He’s still an awful person and the clear villain of the movie, but it adds a degree of depth to his character that invites pity as much as hatred and reveals why a nice damaged girl like Lisa would want to follow him home.
I cannot overstate the strength of Michael Ironisde’s performance here. Colt is equal parts Red Dragon’s Francis Dolarhyde and Cape Fear’s Max Cady with maybe just a pinch of Highlander’s Kurgan for spice (I’m fairly certain this role got him his job on Highlander 2). His attacks are brutal and more terrifying than ten Michael Myers’. There are a lot of reasons to check out this movie just in the cast alone, but Ironside is at the top of that list.
Visiting Hours was a bit ahead of its time considering the lurid angle that the genre was heading into in the early ‘80s and critics apparently saw the whole thing as a misogynist love letter for some dumb reason. But it’s a very good movie, smartly made, and extremely entertaining. It’s a brave different direction for a slasher and a great movie all in its own right.
This set is just a Blu-ray re-release of the DVD combo pack of these two movies from a few years ago and no new special features have been added. Bad Dreams features a commentary from the director as well as a work-print cut of the original ending; a cast retrospective with Dean Cameron, Jennifer Rubin, Bruce Abbott, and Richard Lynch; and some raw behind the scenes footage. It would have been nice to get a few more special features for Visiting Hours but the interviews with Lenore Zann and Brian Taggert are very long and informative and worth a watch. It’s nothing new but it’s a sold release and very much worth owning, even if you own the DVD the upgrade to 1080p is worth it.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars