By ROCCO THOMPSON
Starring Jemma Redgrave, Kathleen Wilhoite, Timothy Spall
Directed by Harley Cokeliss
Written by Christopher Wicking and Harley Cokeliss
Ostensibly an imitator of A Nightmare on Elm Street, the British production DREAM DEMON is a good deal more refined in its execution than such a comparison would suggest. Mixing psychological horror with elegant surrealism and eruptive ‘80s gore effects, Harley Cokeliss’ long-buried feature is a bewitching–and sometimes literal–cinematic house-of-mirrors that’s finally getting its due from Arrow Video.
The posh, virginal Diana (Jemma Redgrave) is looking forward to marrying her hunky, blond, war-hero fiance (Mark Greenstreet), but violent dreams point to a subconscious reticence that she can’t quite understand. Having just moved into a sprawling London flat, Diana starts to wonder whether these bizarre nightmares are something more than just a bad case of cold feet. Her theory is proven true when she’s saved from the harassment of a pair of skeevy journalists (Timothy Spall and Jimmy Nail) by an American tourist named Jenny (Kathleen Wilhoite) who has a mysterious childhood connection to the house that manifests itself in Diana’s frightening night visions.
After Palace Pictures failed thrice to get the project off the ground, the script for DREAM DEMON was retooled by American director Cokeliss (Black Moon Rising) and British screenwriter Christopher Wicking (Scream and Scream Again) into something workable, and though the finished product did well in the U.K., distribution fell apart stateside, damning the film to obscurity. Until recently, of course, when Cokeliss’ was fortunate enough to locate the film’s pre-print elements and, with the financial backing of the British Film Institute, restore and digitize his baby for posterity.
And thank the gods, it was all worth it. Not only does DREAM DEMON look like a million pounds, it also happens to be a pretty damn good movie. Though its surreal sequences could grow repetitive, the combined might of production designer Hugo Luczyc-Wyhowski and cinematographer Ian Wilson make for articulate visuals that are never anything less than magnetic. Luczyc-Wyhowski’s world of haze, fog, fire, and translucent muck is rendered even more beautiful by Wilson, whose love for dutch angles, tight close-ups, clever framing, and energetic movement imbues his camera with as much emotion and volatility as the characters it’s photographing. Jemma Redgrave and Kathleen Wilhoite are an odd couple, beautifully matched. Redgrave (the great-granddaughter of Sir Michael and niece of Vanessa) brings the expected patrician air, but dedicates herself wholly to the part, finding an emotional truth in the psychologically spotty material that’s worthy of her family name. Wilhoite is even better. Probably most recognizable to fright fans as Witchboard’s scene-stealing psychic, Zarabeth, DREAM DEMON allows her to showcase the same punkish counterculture charisma in a meatier, more complex role. The talents of the two actresses help bring out DREAM DEMON’s themes of repression and self-discovery, while their easy chemistry provides ripe fodder for deeper explorations into the film’s depiction of female friendship and queer subtext.
Arrow brings the “Director’s Cut” of DREAM DEMON to home audiences in 2K resolution with stereo sound in its original aspect ratio. This BFI-funded, color-graded and re-edited version was supervised by Cokeliss himself and is truly something of a marvel. Aside from a moment or two of noticeable damage, this is a masterful restoration job that spits squarely in the eye of all the muddy VHS transfers the film was subjected to in its day.
Special features are plentiful, with a brand new scene-select audio commentary with Cokeliss and producer Paul Webster, interviews with Cokeliss, Webster, Jemma Redgrave and various cast members and Foundations of Nightmare: The Making of Dream Demon, a contemporary behind-the-scenes documentary. Rounding out the package are image galleries and an original theatrical trailer. The package comes with a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly-commissioned artwork by Christopher Sly, a collector’s booklet with new writing on the film by Anne Bilson (who wrote the film’s tie-in novelization) and Cokeliss, and a poster.
A surreal psychological shocker boasting a pair of great performances, DREAM DEMON is a lost gem that’s been shined up beautifully by Harley Cokeliss and the British Film Institute. Arrow’s presentation is, as per usual, magnificent, and this is an automatic recommend for anyone who simply can’t get enough underrated ’80s horror.
Dream Demon is available now on Blu-ray and the Arrow Video Channel