Dreamscape (Second Sight)


As Dennis Quaid comments on one of the extras for this new edition of Dreamscape, even though it was made in 1984 the movie has a very ’70s feel to it – and almost certainly wouldn’t get made today, because it’s so ‘out there’. Released the same year as A Nightmare on Elm Street, and also dealing with the subject of dreams, it actually has more in common with movies like Altered States and conspiracy films like Capricorn One – although no-one can deny some of the truly terrifying imagery used. One monster in particular probably still gives people of a certain age cold sweats…

The President (veteran actor Eddie Albert) is having post-apocalyptic nightmares, causing problems within his administration. Only one thing can fix it, the experimental programme set up by Dr Paul Novotny (erstwhile Exorcist and Ming, Max von Sydow) – which uses a machine to put already psychic adepts slap-bang inside the dreams of patients. One of his best students, Alex Gardner (Quaid), who ran off when he was in his teens and is now making a living predicting winners in horse races, is swiftly brought back into the fold; much to the chagrin of the local gangsters who aren’t best pleased at being ripped off.

Blackmailed into helping, Gardner soon finds other reasons to stick around – like Novotny’s beautiful assistant Jane DeVries (Kate Capshaw, pre-marriage to Spielberg) and the fact that he might be able to help young lad Buddy, who is suffering from crippling night-terrors. But something even more sinister is going on than nightmares, in the form of shady government overlord Bob Blair (the legend, Christopher Plummer) using psycho Tommy Ray Glatman (Twin Peaks’ David Patrick Kelly) to actively mess with folk in their dreams… including the Pres. Can Alex stop them, in the real world and also in the dreamscape? You’re just going to have to watch to find out…

I have fond memories of this film from when I was growing up – and, like other people, some not so pleasant ones. The fond recollections probably stem from the comedic moments, such as Gardner helping one man (Larry Gelman) who thinks his wife is having an affair with his brother and all of his friends – his dream is hilarious! And probably also the train scene with Capshaw, which certainly appealed to an adolescent male such as myself. The not so pleasant memories definitely revolve around the Snakeman. A pretty horrifying concept, it might have lost some of its impact over time simply due to the nature of the dated effects, but when Glatman takes on its mantle and pauses mid-transformation you still feel the hairs on the back of your neck standing proud.

What really don’t work now are the forced action sequences, like the car and motorbike chase around a racetrack – complete with A-Team-style jump – and the jarring electronic soundtrack, which is probably the most frightening thing about the whole film. Yet without Dreamscape, there would definitely have been no films like the exceptional Inception. And with extras here including ‘The Actor’s Journey’ – the fascinating aforementioned conversation with Quaid – ‘Dreamscapes and Dreammakers’ – a retrospective which includes interviews with the director (Ruben, who also helmed Sleeping with the Enemy), co-writer David Loughery, actor David Patrick Kelly, and members of the effects team – ‘Nightmares and Dreamsnakes’ – which looks back at the Snakeman – plus an in-depth producer/writer conversation, audio commentary, Snakeman test footage and more, you can’t afford to be without this slice of nostalgic SF-Horror. It even has ‘Norm’ from Cheers in it (George Wendt) – it doesn’t get any better than that… Sweet dreams! Paul Kane

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