Movies We Like
"O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams."
-William Shakespeare's Hamlet
Collectivism is a philosophy that can pose a great threat. Many people are opposed to anything that preaches anti-independence, fearing that they might never find themselves within a group that denounces the "I." Yet there are many cults, organized religions, and even governments which feel the exact opposite. For some of them, the unity of being "one" with each other is just an innocent and pure way of bonding with your brothers. But have you ever paid attention to the leader of these groups and wondered what motivated them to call on these people, or what, if anything, they have to gain from it? It goes without saying that in these groups the leader always has the power. The sheep follow the shepherd, end of story.
In Bad Dreams, there is a cult on Unity Fields led by a man named Harris (Richard Lynch). It is somewhere in the early to mid-'70s and under his protection is a modest group of about 20 people. We hear him preaching about unity and eternal love, followed by a sort of baptism where he beckons to each member and drenches them in a refreshing-looking liquid. A child named Cynthia is called, but shows hesitation. Her reaction seems unnecessary until you hear his final words, followed by the sight of him striking a match. All the gasoline-soaked members go up in flames, except Cynthia, who is catapulted into the air by an explosion. When she wakes up, she is in a mental institution and informed that she has been in a coma for over 13 years.
Most everyone around her is aware of her story before she can even begin to recollect what happened. She is put into group therapy where the young Dr. Karmen (Bruce Abbott) conducts the meetings and a fellow lunatic named Ralph (Dean Cameron) transforms the group into his audience. Cynthia (Jennifer Rubin) gains nothing from the group and usually has nothing to offer in discussion because she simply can't remember how she got there. But before long, she begins having horrific dreams (which are captured well in flashbacks) of the day the mass-suicide occurred. Now that she recalls what happened, she begins to start seeing Harris outside of her dreams. I should mention that he already had skin that looked as though he were a burn victim, but now he looks as if he has just walked out of a flame. Many compare his look to Freddy Krueger, who is burned but looks sort of mummified. Harris has a more realistic look, down to the loose flesh hanging off of his face. Within group sessions or in her room, waking up from even the smallest nap brings on hysteria and wild-eyed looks from anyone nearby. Dr. Karmen tries to dissuade her that the man she fears is actually back from the grave. And yet, members of the group begin committing suicide in the craziest ways. She warns them that it is Harris who has come for his last "love child" and takes everyone in the way with him.
The detective from the now-closed Unity Fields case and several members of the staff become more uneasy with each suicide. They tighten security at the ward, which causes Dr. Karmen to look after Cynthia even more closely. And, of course, when she woke up from her coma she was very attractive, and the young doctor has feelings for her that go beyond professional. He becomes convinced that there must be some truth to what she is saying and starts to dig deeper. What he discovers is a greater evil that rests inside of the institution and is trusted just as much as Harris was.
Now you're thinking, a Nightmare on Elm Street rip-off, but you're wrong. Freddy Krueger was a man, suggested to be a pedophile, whose house was set on flames by angry parents and who came for their children in the one place they should be safe—their sleep. In that saga, he is all there is to fear. True, you develop a slight phobia of going to sleep when you're a kid, but Freddy is the main attraction. A Nightmare on Elm Street has impressive special effects and flaunts it. Each one out-does the last, etc. Bad Dreams is a horror movie about collective thought, and Harris is simply the poster-child. It is a lot like a psychological thriller, and I wish I could explain why, but then I'd give up the twisted ending. The characters are not teenagers who've got their whole lives ahead of them and little mushy relationships, but depressed and insane adults. The special effects are not necessarily to show off, though there are some pretty rad gore scenes. The soundtrack is taken right out of the '70s, and the theme song during flashbacks is "Time Has Come Today" by the Chamber Brothers, which seems to be popular among stories with mental institutions (remember Girl, Interrupted). I recalled the quote that begins my review from the creepy classroom scene in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), and found out that it actually came from Hamlet. The star of the movie was in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 the year before, but my argument still stands.
This was a very enjoyable horror movie because there was an element of mystery to it. With most others, you can pretty much guess who is going to prevail and who the villain is, but this was different. I wasn’t expecting the ending and I wasn’t expecting so much philosophy and despair in the character development. I felt for some of these characters and wasn’t just waiting to see how they would be slaughtered. I recommend this one to someone who likes either horror films or thrillers, and especially someone who likes movies about creepy cults.