Between Joseph Ruben’s “Dreamscape” and Wes Craven’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street” arriving at just about the same time, 1984 had a keen insight in to dreams and transforming it in to compelling entertainment. Whereas the latter film is a dark horror masterpiece, “Dreamscape” is its own kind of cinematic offering. It’s an entertaining and often intelligent look in to dreams that opts more for dark fantasy with a hint of adventure. It also sparks allusions, however coincidental, Craven’s film featuring dream demons and a villain who in one instance conjures up blades from his fingers to attack hero Alex Gardner. Despite the coincidence, it’s fun to imagine these films are kind of working within the same universe.
That said, “Dreamscape” is a very entertaining and underrated horror fantasy that conjures up elements of “Scanners” and “The Fury” to create what is a pretty ahead of its time premise. Dennis Quaid plays Alex Gardner, a psychic with a remarkable ability who uses his powers to bet on horses and seduce women. When the US president begins having horrific nightmares that are slowly eating away at his health, Alex is tracked down by his old mentor Dr. Novotny, as played by Max Von Sydow, and asked to help in their classified research involving dreams and the psyche. Alex is able to hone his abilities, realizing that he can use his talent for entering dreams and interacting with his subjects to help people and grant them peace of mind. But he garners the attention of fellow psychic Tommy Ray Glatman, who is growing envious of Alex’s progress, and wants to ensure he’s the only psychic in the program.
Slowly, though, as Alex learns his way around the dreamscape, he discovers that program director Bob Blair, wants to use the psychics to infiltrate the dreams of their enemies and work as assassins, killing them while they sleep. Alex soon is on the run and hopes to save the president while Tommy has his own plans. “Dreamscape” is an imaginative movie with a very original premise that always keeps true to its tone of action adventure and a touch of comedy here and there. Though Quaid’s turn as hero Alex initially establishes him as something of an anti-hero, he manages to slowly build himself up as a hero we can definitely root for. The movie even establishes his kind of journeys, as he helps a man with a fear of a cheating spouse, and even bonds with a young boy who is being terrorized by a dreaded snake man that is horrifying him and making him ill.
Director Joseph Ruben sticks true to the mold of eighties genre films, injecting a lot of awe and amazing elements to this universe, while also adding a keen sense of menace at every corner. There are a ton of horrific moments including a jump scare from a closet, and the great battle with the film’s iconic snake man. But Ruben also balances out the fantasy beautifully with a well realized dream world that our hero Alex and villain Tommy can battle in. “Dreamscape” is filled to the brim with a top notch cast, from Von Sydow, Christopher Plummer, and Dennis Quaid, to George Wendt, and David Patrick Kelly who plays a great adversary. “Dreamscape” has so much potential for follow-up films, it’s just a shame we never saw this concept and universe re-visited. It’s by no means as scary as “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” but it’s nevertheless a bold mix of horror, action, and comedy, and a very fun experience.
Scream Factory includes some keen content including an audio commentary from the 2000 DVD with Producer Bruce Cohn Curtis, Co-Writer David Loughery, and Makeup Artist Craig Reardon. If you’re a die hard fan you’ll especially love this track. From the 2000 DVD, there’s also a two minute reel of raw test footage of the Snake Man. There’s a two and a half minute still gallery. There’s also the two minute original theatrical trailer for “Dreamscape.” The hour long “Dreamscapes and Dreammakers” is a brand new and detailed look at the development and making of “Dreamscape” with commentary from Co-Writer David Loughery, Director Joseph Ruben, Cinematographer Brian Tufano, Associate Producer and Co-Writer Chuck Russell, Editor Richard Halsey, Miniature Supervisor Susan Turner, Special Photography head Kevin Kutchaver, Visual Effects Supervisor Peter Kuran, Stop Motion Visual Effects Supervisor James Aupperle, Special Makeup head Craig Reardon, Miniature Construction guru James Belohovek, and David Patrick Kelly.
“Nightmares and Dreamsnakes” is a twenty three minute look at the concept and creation of “Snake Man” who was originally, as they explain, supposed to be a Rat Man. “Dennis Quaid: The Actor’s Journey” is a fifteen minute brand new interview with star Dennis Quaid who discusses his work on “Dreamscape,” and his thoughts on astral projection. Finally there’s “Bruce Cohn Curtis & Chuck Russell – In Conversation 2016” is a twenty three minute sit down with Producer Bruce Cohn Curtis and Associate Producer and Co-Writer Chuck Russell, both of whom have a conversation with one another about their history together and their work on “Dreamscape.” If you have any other reason to see this last segment, watch it for the implied reboot of “Dreamscape.”