The terribly eighties pairing of Timothy Spall and Jimmy Nail provides the star quality that is sorely lacking in this Hellraiser-inspired Elm Street wannabe. Jemma Redgrave battles heartily with a predictably underwritten and clichéd Sloane Ranger Fergie-type named Diana, who is struggling with her imminent marriage to a caddish Captain Mark Phillips-type. Vivid nightmares start to intrude on her and our reality and suddenly Kathleen Wilhoite appears as American Jenny, who may be connected to the creepy pile at Eton Avenue.
As with all dream devices, director Harley Cokeliss, working from horror veteran Christopher Wicking’s script, has to carefully delineate dream from reality in order for the viewer to fully commit to the horror. Dream Demon fails to succeed on this most fundamental criterion for two reasons: every glimpse into the other world looks like a music video, and even in the creepy catacomb location beneath the house, it seems more likely to encounter a hungover bass player than the undead. More tellingly, however, the ambitious spatial distortions of the dreamworld really needed something more than a Fritz Lang 50/50 mirror gag and creepy corridors.
Budget aside, there are some fun moments with practical gore; Nail escapes the bulk of the gore, but given his reputation of the time it would be surprising not to learn that he advised Cokeliss that less was more when making him up. There is a germ of an idea about past trauma lingering on in old property, but this is not fully realised, and the casting of Annabelle Lanyon (an adult who played child roles requiring physicality) is distracting and again reduces the intended impact.
When Cokeliss explains that he has spent years trying to unearth the negative in order for a re-release, you feel that there was probably more than happenstance and bankruptcies responsible for the mislaying. Despite this, the newly filmed extras at least explain that the BFI owned the copyright, which is supposed to be the happy ending this long forgotten film deserves, but instead feels more like a bizarre coincidence. The story of the making of Dream Demon is more compelling than the ghostly happenings onscreen – and that is never a good look.
Out now on Amazon Prime Video and on Blu-Ray from Mon 22 Jun 2020