The Movie Waffler New to Shudder - DREAM DEMON | The Movie Waffler

New to Shudder - DREAM DEMON

New to Shudder - DREAM DEMON
Two young women experience terrifying dreams in a London house with a dark past.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Harley Cokeliss

Starring: Jemma Redgrave, Timothy Spall, Kathleen Wilhoite, Jimmy Nail, Susan Fleetwood

Dream Demon poster

Along with its own numerous sequels, Wes Craven's 1984 hit A Nightmare on Elm Street gave rise to a wave of movies that incorporated dreams and hallucinations into their plots. You can see why filmmakers were attracted to such an idea, as it allowed them to indulge in the sort of surrealist imagery usually forbidden in mainstream narrative cinema. While some of these movies drew acclaim, most notably Adrian Lyne's 1990 thriller Jacob's Ladder, most faded into straight to video obscurity. 1988's Dream Demon is one such example.

dream demon review

Directed by American import Harley Cokeliss, this British production boasts the debut performance of Jemma Redgrave as the virginal Diana, a wealthy young Londoner set to be wed to prissy Naval officer Oliver (Mark Greenstreet). In the weeks leading up to the wedding she begins to experience incredibly vivid nightmares. One day, while hounded by a pair of sleazy tabloid hacks (Auf Wiedersehen, Pet stars Timothy Spall and Jimmy Nail), Diana is rescued by Jenny (Kathleen Wilhoite), a spunky, punky American girl who recently learned that she was adopted and that her real parents once lived in the home now occupied by Diana.

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The two young women become friends and seem to share a strange psychic bond, with Jenny finding herself dragged into Diana's dreams whenever the latter nods off. The basement of Diana's home seems to act as a gateway to an alternate dream dimension, where the pair experience nightmarish visions of a young blonde girl sporting angel wings. When Spall's photographer disappears in the house, Nail's reporter investigates, only to find himself also sucked into Diana's hellish dreamworld.

dream demon review

As you might imagine from this sort of thing, Dream Demon is low on plot. There's a mystery of sorts involving Jenny's quest to find out what happened to her birth parents, but Cokeliss is more concerned with crafting dream sequences. Trouble is, he's no David Lynch, and such sequences, which take up a considerable amount of the running time, simply aren't very visually interesting. We spend far too much time watching Redgrave and Wilhoite walk through corridors constructed from backlit pallets while Bill Nelson's generic synth score hums in the background. Much of it has the aesthetic of a sub-par Duran Duran promo.

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I will give Cokeliss this - his film appears to be the earliest example of the technique that's come to be known as the "Demonic Head Shake." What this involves is an actor being filmed at a low frame rate while shaking their head. When the film is played back at normal speed it creates a distinctive blurry motion. The gimmick would crop up in everything over the next decade from the aforementioned Jacob's Ladder to Marilyn Manson videos, but Dream Demon may have gotten there first.

dream demon review

Palace Pictures, who produced Dream Demon, had their roots in London's Scala, a cinema known for its round the clock screenings of cult movies. If you were programming a 24 hour horror festival, you might be tempted to schedule Dream Demon for the 5am slot, as it's probably most effective when viewed in a state somewhere between lucidity and sleep, when it's allowed to intermingle with your own dreams. That said, whatever visions your own slumbering mind might dream up will likely be more inventive than anything you'll find in Cokeliss's film.

Dream Demon is on Shudder UK now.