Way back in 1984, the same year A Nightmare On Elm Street haunted our dreams, there was another film released with a curiously similar premise. Hot off his groundbreaking role in Jaws 3-D, Dennis Quaid starred in Dreamscape opposite Kate Capshaw, same year she did Indiana Jones…can you spot the six degrees of Steven Spielberg situation going on there? For added fun, there’s even resident Exorcist exorcist Max Von Sydow!
Dreamscape freaked me out when I was a kid and I’ve been contemplating adding it to my horror collection for a while. It’s definitely entertaining—and definitely one of those hokey PG-13 sci-fi horror flicks you’d watch dozens of times on cable during long summer days back in the mid-80s. Well dag, why am I even hesitating in adding it to my collection? The nostalgia alone is reason enough to own it! Unfortunately, both the DVD and Blu-ray releases are edited versions! Oh the f*cking humanity!!!
Dreamscape is definitely no Elm Street. It’s more a psychological sci-fi thriller with a couple of standout horror elements. The situation is pretty simple. There’s this experimental dream clinic where people with the ability to enter the dreams of others are being studied. Essentially, they’re lab rats (which Dennis Quaid so conveniently points out). There’s plenty of exposition and character development, including the obligatory 80s sex scene (Quaid making Capshaw’s fantasies come true in her dreams!). Quaid is also pretty sure one of his fellow caged rats is up to no good and possibly killing people in their dreams. Which is perfect for the bad guy looking for a way to assassinate the president (the president being Eddie Albert of Green Acres fame!!!).
The freaky cheese begins with Quaid trying to help a scared young boy get past his night terrors. He enters the boy’s dream for one hell of a trip—and a confrontation with the boy’s boogeyman, who is not wearing a dirty red and green striped sweater. This boogeyman is actually…a snake man!!! Eek! A snake!!! Pretty sick scene, especially when you are a young teen in the 80s and claymation/stop motion animation whatever-it’s-called technology is actually cutting edge. Yeah, the snake man kind of looks like he slithered his way out of 1933’s King Kong when he moves. I can only imagine how CGI-tastic he would look in a remake. I think what makes him work in this film is that he’s not overexposed and all up in your face, as is the problem with horror movie monsters these days.
There are numerous parallels to the Elm Street movies—some ideas even ahead of the Freddy franchise. First of all, there’s the dream clinic angle. There’s the fact that if you die in your dreams, you die. There’s the ability to manipulate your dreams, like in Elm Street 3. Then when Quaid confronts his dream-nemesis at the end of the movie, it’s like a Freddy free-for-all. Let’s see. The bad guy at one point uses finger knives. Yep. He rips out a heart, and quips, “Have a heart!” Very Freddy, post Elm Street 2. The killer dreams he has ninja abilities, just like the kids could imagine super powers in Elm Street 3. The final nightmare eventually leads Quaid into a fiery underworld reminiscent not only of Freddy’s boiler room, but also his fiery lair in New Nightmare. The Dreamscape lair is protected by devil dogs/hell hounds as in Elm Street 2. And there’s even a character taking on the appearance of another character’s father as in Elm Street 3!
One segment is uber creepy and NOT like anything you’ve ever seen on Elm Street, but may have experienced if you’ve ever played Resident Evil Zero. Zombies on a train! This scene puts the snake man to shame! Too bad it’s such a short scene, because it definitely gives the entire film horror cred.
The other standout moment is the very “Amazing Stories” twist at the end. Not a major twist, but still mysterious enough to get the Twilight Zone theme dancing in your brain.
I must say, after the debacle that was A Nightmare on Elm Street 2010, I think the producers should have focused their attention on remaking 1984’s other nightmare movie, Dreamscape. This one is a classic premise ripe for a horror overhaul.