Release Date(s)1988 (June 23, 2020)
Studio(s)Palace Pictures/British Screen Finance (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: A-
Though Dream Demon lacked theatrical distribution in the US and wasn’t released on home video until the mid-1990s, it still managed to find a minor cult audience who appreciated it more for its ideas and its visuals more so than its horror elements. Released in its home country in 1988, doing fairly well and receiving mild critical praise, it quickly slipped out of the public eye.
Diana (Jemma Redgrave) is soon to be married to Oliver (Mark Greenstreet), a wealthy socialite. She begins having terrible nightmares involving him, partly stemming from her virginity and a fear of sex. Set up in a house in London while Oliver is away on business, the nightmares continue. Arriving soon after is an American woman named Jenny (Kathleen Wilhoite), who has some kind of connection to the house. Also hounding Diana’s every move are two reporters, Peck (Timothy Spall) and Paul (Jimmy Nail), but as her dreams begin to invade reality, her fears, as well as Jenny’s cloudy past, begin to intermingle, and soon she can’t tell what’s real and what’s not.
Dream Demon clearly takes jabs at parodying the public fervor that surrounded Princess Diana at the time, but it’s also clear that its influences come from A Nightmare on Elm Street and Hellraiser—especially in the visuals (with a bit of Billy Wilder thrown in for good measure). Unsurprisingly, the film is often dream-like: slow at certain times but quicker at others. Its story is not incredibly difficult to discern, despite how it doesn’t really spell anything out, but along with its eventual outcome, it still winds up convoluted despite itself. Without going into spoilers, the fate of certain characters are never resolved and some of their actions make little sense.
Performances are mostly passable, but the effects and visuals are the key to appreciating Dream Demon. It’s an interesting film that has a lot more going on in it than what’s on the surface, bringing up a lot of psychological issues that characters may or may not be experiencing, which are totally dependent on individual interpretation. The film came at a time toward the tail end of the slasher boom of the 1980s, and outside of a couple of blood-spurting moments and disgusting make-up effects, it’s more of a curiosity that lingers with you—more so than most of its ilk.
Presented as the main feature is the director’s cut, which is 88 minutes. Presented elsewhere is the original theatrical version, which is just a shade beyond 89 minutes. Nothing is substantially different between the two versions other than a trimmed ending. Arrow Video presents both versions of Dream Demon on Blu-ray for the first time utilizing a 2K restoration of the film’s original 35 mm interpositive, which was carried out by the British Film Institute.
It offers an organic experience with obvious but well attenuated grain and high levels of detail. Some of the dream sequences have a slightly diffused quality, and the overall presentation itself is mildly soft, but in a natural way. The color palette has decent variety, sporting strong reds and blues, and natural skin tones. Black levels are deep with good shadow detail, while brightness and contrast levels are ideal. It’s also a clean transfer with only mild instability during the credits, but it’s free of any obvious wear and tear.
The audio is presented in English 2.0 LPCM with optional subtitles in English SDH. It doesn’t offer a substantial, speaker-to-speaker stereo experience, but everything comes through with potency. Dialogue exchanges are clear and discernible—running straight down the center most of the time—while the synth-driven score is somewhat robust, though not entirely effective. Sound effects have decent push, particularly during dream sequences, and there is mild placement in the far left and right from time to time. The track is also free of leftover hiss, crackle, distortion, or dropouts.
The following extras are also included:
- Introduction to the Director’s Cut by Harley Cokeliss (HD – 0:42)
- Original Theatrical Version of the Film (HD – 1:29:23)
- Dream Master: Harley Cokeliss on Dream Demon (HD – 27:22)
- A Nightmare on Eton Avenue: Paul Webster on Dream Demon (HD – 37:22)
- Dreaming of Diana: Jemma Redgrave on Dream Demon (HD – 16:00)
- Cold Reality: Mark Greenstreet on Dream Demon (HD – 9:44)
- Sculpting the Part: Nickolas Grace on Dream Demon (HD – 8:58)
- Angels and Demons: Annabelle Lanyon on Dream Demon (HD – 9:20)
- Demonic Tones: Bill Belson on Dream Demon (HD – 15:13)
- Foundations of Nightmare: The Making of Dream Demon (SD – 26:26)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 1:56)
- Promotional Image Gallery (HD – 17 in all – 2:50)
- Behind-the-Scenes Image Gallery (HD – 53 in all – 8:50)
- Scene-Select Audio Commentary with Harley Cokeliss and Paul Webster (46:21)
Harley Cokeliss discusses how he came to the film, working with Christopher Wickling, storyboarding and casting the film, working with special effects, deleted scenes, the score, the film’s release, and finding the film elements years later. Producer Paul Webster discusses how he first got into the film business, working for Palace Pictures, putting Dream Demon together, discussing what the film was originally meant to be, casting and finding locations, shooting the film, releasing it, and his opinion on it in retrospect. Jemma Redgrave talks about how she was cast, working with Cokeliss, her research for the role, working with the cast and crew, her attention to safety during difficult scenes, and her opinion on the film today. Mark Greenstreet speaks about getting involved with the project, working with the cast and crew, the experience of having a plaster mold of his head made, and working with Cokeliss. Nickolas Grace speaks about getting into acting, getting offers after being in Brideshead Revisited, doing a fire stunt, working with a young actress, and his feelings about the film today. Annabelle Lanyon talks about being a young dancer, appearing in Legend, working on Dream Demon, being given the statue of herself as seen in the film, and what she thinks of the film now. Bill Nelson speaks on how he got into music, being chosen to do the score, how it was created, and mixing it in the studio. Foundations of Nightmare is a vintage making-of that interviews many of the key cast and crew. The theatrical trailer is an HD recreation (the director mentions in his interview that the original negative for it is missing). The promotional image gallery contains 17 stills of home video artwork, lobby cards, and other promotional materials. The audio commentary is informative to some degree, but it’s a shame that it doesn’t last for the entirety of the feature.
Also on the disc is the film’s original screenplay, continuity script notes, and the complete storyboards by illustrator John Bolton—all available via BD-ROM. Included within the package is a fold-out double-sided poster with new artwork for the film on each side, and a 32-page insert booklet featuring cast and crew information, Field of Dreams by Anne Billson, Reawakening the Demon by Harley Cokeliss, and restoration information.
Dream Demon is certainly not a film that horror fans looking for miles of blood and guts only are going to enjoy. It’s more sophisticated than that, and despite not being perfect on all sides, it has more on its mind than just carnage. Arrow Video’s presentation is fantastic, breathing new life into a film that few remember, or have even heard of, but should definitely give a spin.
– Tim Salmons