Director: Joseph Ruben
Cast: Dennis Quaid, Max von Sydow, Christopher Plummer, Kate Capshaw
Reviewed by Brian M. Sammons
I love movies with rubber reality, where the laws of the universe as we know them do not apply. There is no better way to do that than with a movie that deals with dreams, and one of the best, earliest, and sadly these days, most forgotten is 1984’s Dreamscape. This dreamy movie beat out the far better known A Nightmare on Elm Street to the theaters by a few scant months, but unlike some folks, I don’t claim that Wes Craven’s movie was influenced by this one at all. Despite both having the plot point of if you die in your dreams, you die for real as their main thing. Oh, and a psycho killer with knives on his fingers. But really that’s it. And honestly, as much as I love me some Freddy flicks, when it comes to the dream world stuff, this movie pulls it off far better than any of the Nightmare movies ever did. Maybe that’s because this film had a real budget behind it, not to mention a ton of star power from the likes of Dennis Quaid, Max von Sydow, Christopher Plummer, Kate Capshaw, Eddie Albert, George Wendt, and one of my favorite cinematic psychos, David Patrick Kelly, most notably from The Warriors and The Crow fame. And yet with that said, everyone the world over knows the Nightmare movies, but Dreamscape has largely been forgotten. Three big cheers then to Scream Factory for not only remembering this movie, but giving it the Blu-ray release it so richly deserves. So grab a pillow, put on your favorite pajamas, and let’s dive into the weird and wonderful world of Dreamscape.
Dennis Quaid plays a gifted psychic named Alex who is recruited by the old professor who once studded his powers, Dr. Novotny (played by the always impressive Max von Sydow) into a secret government experiment. It seems that the doc has discovered a way to hone psychic powers and sci-fi tech to allow someone to enter another person’s dreams. The reasons to do this are many. Some are altruistic, like helping people who suffer from various sleep and dream disorders. Some reasons are less so, such as spying on enemies in their sleep, or perhaps even killing them in their dreams so that they die for real. But for the time being, the researchers and even the country as a whole has a more pressing problem than moral dilemmas — the President of the United States, played to perfection by Eddie Albert, is suffering night terrors about the possibility of an all-out nuclear war. Naturally the leader of the free world can’t have that, so the dream delvers are called into to help.
As you would expect, things aren’t that cut and dry. There is a viper in the midst of the REM explorers in the form of a psychic psycho with no morals and a ton of baggage. This dream demon, played by perennial bad guy David Patrick Kelly, is learning how to sharpen his already considerable talents into a well-honed weapon. When he’s ready he’ll need no machine to invade the sleeping thoughts of others, turning all of their dreams into nightmares, on Elm Street or anywhere else for that matter.
Now while Dreamscape is more than ably directed, has an awesomely 80s soundtrack, and a bunch of muscle in the acting category, the best thing about it is how it portrays dreams. No matter if they are using the dreamlands for laughs, or for some scares, the end results are always amazing, wonderful, and at times, scary as all hell. Two nightmarish bits have always stuck with me from the first time I saw this movie on cable TV some three decades ago: one are the horrific post nuclear war dreams of the President. As a child of the eighties, those same images were already in my head, and the heads of thousands, if not millions of others. So yeah, they were pretty damn scary. The other bit was the Snakeman. That’s all I’ll say about him here, as truth be told, I still find him creepy as all hell.
On to the dreamy extras Scream Factory did for this new Blu-ray release. First there is a new 2K scan of the movie, making it look better than ever before. Then there is an audio commentary track with producer Bruce Curtis, writer David Loughery, and special effects artist Craig Reardon. There is a retrospective called “Dreamscapes and Dreammakers” that runs over an hour long, and collects interviews by a ton of people involved with the movie, both in front and behind the cameras. “Nightmares and Dreamsnakes” is a 23 minute featurette on the memorable Snakeman from the movie. There is a nearly 15 minute interview with star Dennis Quaid, and a conversation between producers Bruce Curtis and Chuck Russell that’s over 23 minutes long. There is also some test footage of the infamous Snakeman makeup, a still gallery, and theatrical trailer.
Dreamscape is the often forgotten dreams-can-kill-you movie from 1984, and it’s time to change that. It’s a smart and funny sci-fi-horror flick that is often scary as hell and has some truly nightmarish images. If you have already seen it, then you know this. If you have yet to experience this film, it’s way past time to do so. And good news for both camps: this is the best version of this movie to be released yet. So consider it very highly recommended.