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Bad Dreams (1988) Home Video Review

Flattering Yourself is the Lowest Form of Imitation

I had a vision yesterday morning.  For a few minutes my mind’s eye split in two, with each half showing a movie.  On the left screen was the movie Bad Dreams, which I was actually watching; on the right was an imaginary film that faded up from black to reveal an old, small movie theatre at dusk.  A white title card popped up that read, “1987”.

Cut to a nearly empty auditorium inside, where two men in the middle of the theatre are hunched over the seats in front of them.  They’re chattering like the coke-heads they probably are, and scribbling illegible notes on the back of a box of Raisinettes and a family-size tub of popcorn.

They look excitedly from their notes up to the screen, up and down; and occasionally to each other, back and forth.  They’re fidgety, too, as they try to catch whatever it is they’re writing in the ever-changing light coming from the screen.

The two guys, Andrew Fleming and Michael Dick are watching A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.

Andrew:  No, no, no!  We can totally do this!

Michael:  Come on, man, your movie comes out in just over a year!  No one’s gonna believe you.

Andrew:  Sure they will.  Look, we’ve already changed six names.  I figure we only need five more and we’ll have a completely original screenplay.

Michael:  How you figure?  So far everything we’ve put down here is a carbon copy of Elm Street 3.

Andrew:  Did you get Tide in your time bag?  This shit is 100% all me, baby!

Michael:  You’re going to make a film where a maniacal sex offender gets burned to death, re-appears in the dreams of a bunch of people in a psych ward, and then kills them off in ways that make their deaths look like suicide.

Andrew:  Right, but my take is totally different.  This guy, he’s not a child molester.  He’s the leader of a death cult who may or may not be fucking the young girls in his congregation.

Michael:  So the movie’s about a death cult now?

Andrew:  No, that’s, like, ten minutes of the whole thing.  The rest is the psych ward and suicides and stuff.  Oh!  And get this:  There’s a streetwise nurse who befriends some patients in a therapy group.

Michael:  Like Lawrence Fishburne?

Andrew:  Kooky, but I like it!

Michael:  So did Frank Darabont and Chuck Russell.  See?  Fishburne just made his big entrance on the screen.

Andrew:  Okay, so our nurse will be a chick. Easy fix.  Done.  Whole new movie.

Michael:  About that therapy group:  Isn’t it going to be really obvious that we’re ripping off Dream Warriors if we have a cast of teenagers fighting a dream demon in a hospital?

Andrew:  Fine.  They’re not teenagers anymore.  They’ll be…all ages.

Michael:  All ages?

Andrew:  Yeah!  We’ll have a married couple, a girl who doesn’t talk much, a foul-mouthed tough person…a…um…a rich kid who likes to cut himself, and our main girl who just woke up from a 13-year coma after surviving a fire at the cult compound.

Michael:  A bunch of old people and some 20-year-olds?  What teenager is gonna relate to that?

Andrew:  It’s not for teens!  I’ve  just decided we’re making a psychological thriller for adults.

Michael:  But no adults are gonna buy into the rest of the story.  It’s just connective tissue for a bunch of lame kills.

Andrew:  Here’s how we get around that.  We have a twist, see? And that twist is this:  We establish at the end that our bogeyman never existed!

Michael:  Huh?

Andrew:  Yeah!  See, it turns out that the head doctor on the psych ward is just doing mind-control experiments on his patients, giving them the wrong drugs so they’ll freak out and off themselves.  So the cult leader/monster thing is just, like, a suggestion that got in all their heads.

Michael:  So, our villain isn’t back from the dead—he’s a side effect?

Andrew:  Exactly.

Michael:  That’s really shitty.  The audience is gonna be pissed.

Andrew:  Not if we build and build and build, and then yank the rug out at the very end.

Michael:  Um…

Andrew:  Oh!  And I almost forgot:  We got confirmation today that Charles Fleischer’s gonna play a doctor in our movie.

Michael:  Charles Fleischer?  Didn’t he play a doctor in the first Nightmare on Elm Street?

Andrew:  Uh-huh.  That guy’s fuckin’ hilarious.  I love him.  Oh, and there’s word that we might get Jennifer Rubin to play the lead girl, Cynthia.

Michael:  Jennifer Rubin?

Andrew:  Yeah, she’s real hot right now, ‘cause her latest movie is, like, one of the highest-grossing horror films ever.  Shit, I can’t remember the name of it.

Michael:  It’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 3.

Andrew:  Hey, no kidding?  I really hope she signs, then.  Oh, wow—!

Michael:  What?

Andrew:  Look at that!  Did you see that?

Michael:  See what?  No.  What?

Andrew:  Up there!  That drug addict chick just manifested her dream power, man!  Now she’s a hot punk girl with switchblades an’ shit!  God, what I’d do to her.  Who is that?

Michael:  That’s Jennifer Rubin.


Michael:  Look, man, I’m happy you got your first movie deal and all that, but what you’re talking about is just wrong.  You’re taking someone else’s story and filling it up with bad creative choices to cover up for the fact that you have nothing to say and no tools to express yourself with if you did.

Andrew:  So, you don’t want a co-writing credit?

Michael:  A what?

Andrew:  We take this popcorn box home, transcribe it and the Raisnettes, and we’ve got ourselves a five-figure screenplay.  Gale Anne Hurd told me herself that she’ll let me direct anything I slap on her desk.

Michael:  Didn’t she produce Aliens and The Terminator?

Andrew:  She did.  That’s why my only wardrobe note is that the Ralph character has to be wearing a Terminator t-shirt in that one scene.  It’s my little “thank you” to Gale.  So, you in or not?

Michael:  Depends, I guess.  Who’re you thinking about to play Harris, the cult leader?

Andrew:  We put out feelers for Travolta and Cruise.  Both passed, Gale said.  But she’s three cases of Jack away from landing Richard Lynch.

Michael:  Whoa.

Andrew:  Yup!  It was my idea.  I thought, “Who better to play a crazy burned-up guy than an actual burn victim?”  We wouldn’t even need to use fright makeup.  But we probably will.

Oh, and we’re gonna go ultra-cheap with the special effects.  I know a guy, works in a Caro syrup warehouse, and he can get us all the fake-looking blood we want.  And I’ve got a team of pyro wizards working on a shot of the cult house exploding.  We can go back to over and over and over and over again, and pad this thing out to 80 minutes.

Michael:  You sold me.  This movie’s gonna be amazing.  Twenty years from now, people are gonna be, like, “Freddy who?”  Fuck Frank Darabont!

So that’s the vision.  I’d actually gotten a couple hundred words into a legit review, when I threw down my pen in boredom (yes, this was written in a notebook; sometimes long-form is the only way to fly). 

I don’t know that any of the above is true. But after having barely made it through Bad Dreams, it’s hard to imagine any other explanation.

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