FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

May 22, 2014

Juliette Cummins Week Day 4: DEADLY DREAMS

Jeezalou, the late 80s were a dark time for horror. Despite an unwillingness to let go on the part of a few franchises, the slasher cycle was well and truly over, and it would be decades before the genre regained some of its bite. With the exception of a bright spot here and there, it's as if the world was simply horror-ed out for a while, you know? And while I'd like to say that Deadly Dreams (1988) is some lost classic or undiscovered gem...sigh. It is not.

But it is the movie crammed with the most homoerotic subtext since A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge, so hooray, all is not lost!

The story begins on a magical Christmas Eve. While his father argues on the phone about someone named "Perkins", young Alex opens an early gift and is thrilled that he's received what every boy- nay, what every child- wants: a glass reindeer.

This idyllic celebration is interrupted by a knock at the door. Alex opens it to reveal Perkins himself, wearing a hunter's outfit and a wolf mask and brandishing a shotgun. He blows away Alex's mom and dad like something out of Martyrs lite! Like, really, really, really lite!

Perkins tells Alex to run, then takes potshots at him as the kid escapes, which is really not a nice thing to do, if you think about it. Right as he's about to blow Alex away...

...Alex wakes up! Phew, it was just a dream, and Alex (Mitchell Anderson) is now all grown up and safe and sound in his college apartment that he outfitted exclusively with items from the Pier 1 Imports clearance bin.

Yes yes, Alex is plagued by dreams of Perkins the hunter. Or is Perkins actually hunting him? Well, Perkins is long dead. But what if he isn't? But he is. But then he's over there! Oh wait, that was just a dream. But then there's Perkins! Oh, but that was a dream, too. And so on.

There is a lot- and by "a lot" I mean "a metric fuck ton" of this "oh, it was just a dream" shit throughout the movie. Sure, maybe the title might give it away...but geez, the pattern gets so boring after a while when you realize that no one is ever really in jeopardy. Or are they?

No one believes that the hunter from Alex's dreams is real- not his best friend Danny (Thom Babbes, who also wrote the script), an obnoxious, self-professed ladies' man who uses his pre-med schooling for access to prescription meds. Cops assume Alex is on drugs. His new girlfriend Maggie (Juliette Cummins) thinks he probably just needs more sleep. Older brother Jack (Xander Berkeley) thinks Alex needs to "man up", you know, and quit with these lofty dreams of being a writer. Instead, he advises Alex to invest the trust fund he's about to receive into the family business. I just love that Jack has furnished his office with one of those lightning balls from the Executive Collection at Spencer's Gifts.

But Perkins keeps showing up at the darndest times, in Alex's dreams and in his reality. What are dreams? What is reality? Damn, Deadly Dreams will mess with your head!

Well, I don't want to give too much away here, because there are some pretty decent and nasty twists throughout. Then again, Deadly Dreams isn't that great. It's more thriller than horror. it's never received a DVD release and it's fairly obscure even on VHS, so are you really gonna track it down to check it out? I guess you'll just have to live in suspense until you do!

At this point, you're probably thinking, "Okay, so where's all this gay you were talking about?" Hmm, where to begin.

Let's begin with Danny, who is immediately jealous of Maggie for no apparent reason. "What can you possibly see in her?" Danny whines at Alex, who gives some blah blah answer when he should have just said, you know, who wouldn't fall for a girl who can do this? It's Cynthia Rothrock meets Fame, fer cryin' out loud.

Danny and Alex snipe at each other like an old married couple, which culminates in Alex yelling "I jinx you, pig bitch!" during a game of pool. After taking a Polaroid of a sleeping, topless Alex (because, uh, he thought Maggie was there, too! Even though she's clearly not!), Danny hops in for a cuddle.

Later he tries to convince Alex to go hunting with him. As he enthusiastically cleans and brandishes his rifle, he begs Alex to come along since he clearly "needs a little release."

Then he aims the gun at Alex and talks about the way "you can feel this rush come over you!" But he's totally only talking about hunting. Yes. Hunting.

There's just so much more, even beyond that Mitchell Anderson (who actually is a big gay) spends most of the film shirtless for one reason or another. And I mean, come on...

That shirt! I'd say I'm reading too much into it but it's all pretty obvious if you watch the film. And anyway, subtext is the best (well, second best after...text...I guess), so tough!

It's too bad that Deadly Dreams is so GD lethargic, because there's a decent movie in there somewhere, and when the film's nasty side shows it's enjoyable (and I'm not just talking about that spinning bed sex scene) (you guys, there's a spinning bed sex scene). Unfortunately, it's buried beneath a big pile of too many dreams and it's not remotely "horror" enough.  Alex is a rather annoying leading man- when he's not yelling, he's whining- and you don't ever really care if Perkins is only in his mind or not. I will say, however, that he has my sympathies for continually being given shitty, shitty gifts, from the glass reindeer to the mounted deer head that Maggie buys him.

Most of all, it's good to finally see Juliette Cummins in a lead role instead of relegated to basically "Victim Number 4" status.

Is the payoff at the end of Deadly Dreams worth all the drowsy downtime it takes to get there? Probably not. Then again, what else are you gonna do with your life, hmm? Even sub-par 80sVHS horror is better than what you have in store, I'm sure.

1 comment:

Thomas Nul said...

Can't win 'em all as the cliché goes. Too bad you didn't take to this one. I'm of the mindset (few and far between it seems) that this is a lost gem. Personally I loved the headfuck "is it real or not" aspects of it, but then again I gravitate towards that type of stuff. Its defiantly one of the more psychologically ambitious American genre offerings from this period and that reoccurring sight of the killer wearing the wolf mask is quite striking. Oh well at least you gave the film some coverage.

If this film hasn't totally soured your opinion on director Kristine Peterson, check out her 1992 film Lower Lever. Its badass.