Color, 1988, 79 mins. 21 secs.
Directed by Kristine Peterson
Starring Mitchell Anderson, Juliette Cummins, Xander Berkeley, Thom Babbes, Duane Whitaker
Code Red (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Concorde Pictures, one of several incarnations of Roger Corman's indie production setup also known as New Concorde and New Horizons, was really cranking 'em out like crazy in 1988 when Deadly Dreams headed straight to video among other titles like Not of This Earth, Twice Dead, and The Nest. Complete with garish cover art of a menacing wolf mask and a campaign designed to ride the wave of A Nightmare on Elm Street mania, the film is a really odd one that never quite plays its hand about what kind of film it really is until the last few minutes.
On Christmas Eve, a little boy named Alex is scarred for life when his parents are gunned down at home by Perkin (Whitaker), a disgruntled, shotgun-toting colleague who then tries to hunt Alex down in the woods. Years later, an adult Alex (Jaws: The Revenge's Anderson) is tortured by nightmares that keep springing up out of nowhere, and he doesn't get much support from his ice-cold brother Jack (Berkeley) or coked-out buddy Danny (Babbes) when he speculates that Perkins is still out there with intent to kill. A bit more sympathetic is Alex's girlfriend, Maggie (Friday the 13th: A New Beginning's Cummins), who chalks it all up to insomnia. However, is Alex really stuck in a waking nightmare, or is there something more earthly and sinister at work?
An engaging time waster on its own very modest terms, Deadly Dreams is half surreal horror film and half twisty psychological thriller, with the twain really only meeting in the second of two grim twist endings. If it weren't for the occasional helping of bare skin and blood, this could easily fit nicely with the wave of made-for-TV horror and suspense films that have become minor cult sensations in recent years, and that's not a bad thing. In keeping with his tradition as one of Hollywood's prime champions for female directors, Corman assigned this film to Kristine Peterson, who had served as an assistant director on Chopping Mall and Nightflyers, and who would go on to helm the VHS hit Body Chemistry. She brings an interesting queasy energy to the film as she tries to keep viewers off balance, which is enhanced by the fact that she throws in equal opportunity objectification of the actors with Anderson parading around shirtless for long stretches of time and sharing some strangely homoerotic moments with Babbes (who also wrote the script). It's also a little odd seeing veteran shifty character actor Berkeley turning up here before roles in films like Candyman, Heat, and Taken. Definitely not your average straight-to-video horror quickie.
Released on VHS by Virgin Vision and laserdisc by Image Entertainment at the end of the '80s, Deadly Dreams came to Blu-ray in 2017 from Code Red with a new 2K transfer that obviously blows away the ancient transfer we were stuck with before. It's about on par with the label's other Corman offerings; it still looks like a low budget production, but colors are greatly improved, clarity seems solid, and no digital scrubbing seems to be in evidence. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 track gets the job done well enough for what amounts to a pretty simple audio mix.
The film can be played in "Katarina's Cult Classic" mode, with hostess Katarina Leigh Waters firing out facts about the cast and crew after hunting down the Code Red banana man thingy while wearing a fox mask. Extras include a trio of interviews with director (and current psychoanalyst) Peterson (14m42s), writer and actor Thom Babbes (12m25s), and actor Duane Whitaker (7m32s), all of whom chat quite a bit about working with Corman (who in his usual fashion wouldn't let them make up a rain day during the shoot), Peterson's work on Body Chemistry for Corman, this film's surprisingly enthusiastic review in Variety, and the thrill of seeing posters for this in video stories when it came out. Also included are the theatrical trailer (in very YouTube-y quality) and bonus ones for Hide and Go Shriek, Scream, The Terror Within II, and Savage Attraction.
Reviewed on April 29, 2017