Tuesday, June 8, 2010

BAD DREAMS (1988) - an Elm Street sequel gets reworked as a warning against hippie mind control (and this includes Phish concerts)

Jennifer Rubin, haunted by the spirit of a Jim Jones wannabe, sees an ad for new Purplesaurus Rex Kool-Aid and goes bananas.

Jennifer Rubin’s first two films (that would be this one and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3) appear to have typecast her as the somewhat haggard but still sexy brunette who lives in a mental hospital; a bit crazy and paranoid maybe, but still a fan of Dokken, albeit one who is repeatedly stalked in her dreams by a dead psycho with a burnt face. Looking back, I have to conclude that either her acting range was transcendentally narrow, surpassing even Keanu Reeves, or that she was really like that. Either way, she’s my kind of woman.

Rounding out the cast is Bruce Abbot (the criminally underrated co-star of Re-animator), Sy Richardson (always a total bad ass), Elizabeth Daily (who, in retrospect, looks eerily like a long lost Olsen twin), and the semi-immortal Dean Cameron, an actor so good he manages to breath life into roles as diverse as “Chainsaw”, “Pizza Guy” and “Rockula” (the latter a role in the film of the same name, which manages the mean feat of being released in the 90’s despite starring Toni Basil and Thomas Dolby).

Apparently, this film begins with a group of hippies in the late sixties or early seventies, although there is no voice over or text stating as such. Nevertheless, I managed to piece things together upon noticing that “Time Has Come Today” was blaring on the soundtrack, and not one person on screen had apparently ever been exposed to the magical invention known as the haircut. An evil, crispy Richard lynch (typecast as usual, a la The Seven-Ups) has his own tribe of hippies, and one day he decides that Jim Jones didn’t go far enough, and convinces them that peace and love can only be achieved by dousing yourself with gasoline and lighting a match. This is a searing (pun intended) commentary on idol worship and mind control, pointing to a…hey, is that an Electric Prunes song playing on the soundtrack? Man they friggin’ rock. So…yeah.

Well, Jennifer is the lone survivor of the fire, and wakes up from a coma after thirteen years, finding herself in a nutball farm with a bunch of wackos. This hospital “group” is headed by Dean Cameron, who implements "experimental methods" and “has his detractors”. This is movie speak for “the line of sanity between doctor and patient is being blurred.” I, for one, trust Dean Cameron’s expertise in this situation.

Wait a second…holy shit…Bruce Abbot is actually the doctor! Dean Cameron was just tricking the group (and the audience) by pretending to be the head shrink. Oh well, he sure had me convinced. As it turns out, Dean Cameron is the token goofball crazy. Figures. They give him the most one-dimensional part in the script and hope he can save it. What a trooper.

Jennifer finally gets around to telling her back story, confessing that her little hippie group was trying to love each other through intense heat, but that she now realizes that the whole thing was a bunch of bullshit. I’m glad she realizes that the first step to recovery is recognizing the problem; that when someone tells you to set yourself on fire, you should probably start asking some questions. As if the sinister motives of Richard Lynch weren’t already apparent, his ghost starts making these patients kill themselves through their dreams (I hope Freddy Krueger earns some royalties from this guy).

The characters further talk through their problems. Elizabeth Daily has a nice scene where she confesses to Jennifer that she has a hole where her heart used to be (she’s one of those sad bastard chicks). Jennifer summons some of that hippie spirit and tells her to fuck off. Dean Cameron asks whether or not his parents will get a refund if he kills himself (answer: no).

There is a touching scene where a couple professes their love for each other by walking into giant turbine fan, thereby clogging up the ventilation system with sweet kisses and severed limbs. In response to this messy happening, Dean Cameron sticks a knife through his hand and then breaks a pot of coffee over a security guard’s head, asking him if he takes cream and sugar (smart ass). He then walks down the hall to the tune of “My Way”, performed by “Mamby Pamby and the Smooth Putters” (Paul Anka would be proud…or not), and grabs Jennifer (looking pretty damn good in her fisherman pajamas), dragging her down to the storage basement. He tears the shit out of it (the basement, not Jennifer), quotes the hip hop song “Unity” (his ipod must be all over the place), slashes his wrist about 10 times, electronically alters his own voice somehow, plants two scalpels in his chest, spouting off “later!” before dropping the fuck dead. Why? Because he’s Dean Cameron, and Dean Cameron doesn’t play by the rules. The problem with this incredible flip out is that he is no longer in the movie. That’s okay. I’ll just go rent Ski School 2 again.

In the end, Richard Lynch is just a figment of Jennifer’s imagination, and the real culprit is the head doctor, who gave the characters drugs that would make them suicidal, apparently because, well…doctors are assholes, I guess. No problem. Jennifer pushes him off the hospital roof, right through the roof of a convertible. Sy Richardson is pretty nonplussed about the whole scene, and then "Sweet Child O’ Mine" kicks in over the end credits, and I can only imagine that Sy is rockin’ out off screen. Either way, I guess psychiatry is a crooked business, and cults continue to unfairly take the blame for society's problems. So a small group of wackaloons decide to off themselves. This is a problem how exactly?


  1. Rubin's an odd actress. Not necessarily talented, but she has a likable pseudo tough girl presence that I guess kind of flickered out once 1990 rolled around.

  2. Yeah, she later got into those sexy erotic thriller roles. She rocked the "I may be burned out, but I'm not gonna take it from the man" vibe early on.