Dream Demon from 1988 is easy to write off as another A Nightmare on Elm Street rip-off. A woman named Diana (Jemma Redgrave) is about to be married. Suddenly, she starts experiencing nightmares. When a new friend (Kathleen Wilhoite) is also pulled into this world, the two must work together to solve the mystery. However, the nightmares become worse and Jenny is soon becomes a part of Diana’s nightmarish world.
Director Harley Cokeliss (spelled “Cokliss” here) does a great job of mixing the real and dream worlds. Until the frightening twist, it is impossible to tell if what is happening is real or fantasy. After the revelation, there is great use of light and shadow. Cokeliss also does some great work behind the camera. There are obscene close ups that invade the personal space of the audience. This is not limited to just the dream world adding to the film’s mystery.
The opening of Dream Demon is incredibly violent. It is an over the top 1980s moment that will bring a smile to any gore hound’s face. Those expecting a bloodbath will be disappointed, however. There are some disgusting makeup effects and another moment involving an ear. But for the most part, the movie is tense but relatively bloodless.
The villain in the movie is not the traditional knife wielding maniac. Dream Demon is about the battle to accept one’s past. The story also deals with fear of the future. Even more surprising is the strong theme of friendship. In this case, it is about the power of female friendship. This was not a theme visited often in the 1980s-much less in horror movies. Dream Demon is refreshing in its female leads are fully realized characters and not there for titillation.
Dream Demon sounds like a generic Hallmark movie masquerading as horror. This is not the case. The performances from Redgrave and Wilhoite are fantastic. Redgrave effortlessly plays the almost too innocent bride to be. Wilhoite is excellent as her caring friend. The two have great chemistry together. The film grabs its audience from the opening scene. Once Diana and Jenny meet, Dream Demon finds its rhythm and becomes something special.
Dream Demon is much more than a cheap copy. There are some similarities to A Nightmare on Elm Street, but they are purely cosmetic. (Besides, by 1988 Nightmare was not really something a horror movie should aspire to be.) The story goes in a completely different direction. The unique themes and great acting allow it to be judged on its own merits.