Bad Dreams - In the mid-1970s the members of the love cult Unity Fields sought "the ultimate joining" by dousing themselves with gasoline and committing mass suicide. A young girl blown clear of the fiery explosion was the only survivor. Thirteen years later, Cynthia (Jennifer Rubin, Screamers) awakens from a coma inside a psychiatric hospital with only buried memories of that horrific day - but now her fellow patients are each being driven to their own violent suicides. Has the sect's leader (Richard Lynch, Deathsport) returned to claim his final child? Bruce Abbott (Re-Animator) costars in the intense shocker Bad Dreams from director Andrew Fleming (The Craft) and producer Gale Anne Hurd (Punisher: War Zone, The Incredible Hulk).
Visiting Hours - Academy Award winner Lee Grant (1975 Academy Award winner for Best Supporting Actress, Shampoo) stars as outspoken TV journalist Deborah Ballin, whose crusade against domestic violence enrages a creepy loner (a truly disturbing performance by Michael Ironside of Starship Troopers and Top Gun). He brutally attacks the anchorwoman in her home, but Ballin survives and is hospitalized. Her assailant is enraged: He is haunted by a horrific childhood trauma. He enjoys inflicting torture and slow death. And now he has hidden inside the hospital to finish what he started. Can anybody - including her concerned boss (the one and only William Shatner), a frantic nurse (Linda Purl of Happy Days) or Deborah herself - stop the psycho's killing spree before it reaches sick new extremes?
I have little recollection of the first time I watched 'Bad Dreams,' though I'm sure I recall liking it to some degree. I do, however, remember that it starred Richard Lynch ('Invasion U.S.A.,' 'The Sword and the Sorcerer') as a crazed and horribly disfigured cult leader who haunts the dreams of a young woman. His appearance was always creepy, flashes of his bloody, burned face etched into memory. The VHS cover for the movie was equally scary, Lynch's charred hand over the mouth of a terrified woman with bulging eyes. I also remember that it starred Jennifer Rubin, on whom I had crush at the time because she played Taryn in 'A Nightmare on Elm Street 3.' In fact, I'm fairly certain that was the primary reason for watching this largely-forgotten horror thriller in the first place.
Rubin, who looks just as pretty as I remember her and later starred alongside Peter Weller in 'Screamers,' plays the lone survivor of the aforementioned cult's mass suicide ritual, Cynthia. After 13 years in a coma, she wakes up to find herself living in the eighties, which can be a neon-colored nightmare in itself but the Killing Joke song playing in the background should soothe the pain. Anyhow, she has no memory of the murder-suicide or the psychotic hippie leader Franklin Harris (Lynch), except for a few sudden flashes, mostly of Harris when he's about to kill someone in the mental institution where Cynthia is staying. In spite of her psychiatrist's (Bruce Abbott of 'Re-Animator') best efforts, everyone in the hospital is murdered in a way that looks like suicide and all fingers point to the possibly deranged Cynthia.
Director Andrew Fleming, who a few years later found some mild success with 'The Craft' and 'Dick' and also did reasonably well with 'Hamlet 2,' doesn't quite have the chops for staging a frightening sequence. And yet, the movie is weirdly entertaining, partly due to being a murder mystery — Is Cynthia guilty? Is everyone really committing suicide? — but more importantly because Fleming designs some creepy visuals and the graphic kills come with shock value. The script, co-written by Fleming and Steven E. de Souza ('48 Hrs.,' 'Die Hard'), largely feels like a 'Dream Warriors' knockoff, especially because the plot is set inside a mental institution and a close circle of patients are victims to burned maniac that visits their delusions. Nevertheless, 'Bad Dreams' is surprisingly entertaining for killing a dull Sunday afternoon. (Movie Rating: 3/5)
Speaking of forgotten movies, it's pretty easy to see why 'Visiting Hours' has gone largely unnoticed and buried into the far reaches of a horror enthusiast's darkest, twisted memories, lost forever and never to be found again. It's just not very good, with nary a scary or remotely suspenseful moment. Amazingly, the folks at Scream Factory apparently do remember this quasi-slasher and ostensibly desire to refresh our collective memories of its existence. Frankly, I could have lived in perfect contentment without ever being reminded of it. It's like revisiting with a childhood friend. At first, it seems exciting playing catch-up and sharing fond memories, but after a while, you're disappointed and reminded of why you drifted apart.
It's made all the worse because frankly, it's a waste of William Shatner's presence and Michael Ironside's talent. (Yes, I am suggesting Ironside is the better actor of the two.) At the time, Shatner was enjoying the height of popularity with the 'Star Trek' series making a sudden comeback on both the little and big screens and about to star in the 'T.J. Hooker' series. Meanwhile, Ironside's career was just taking off after starring in David Cronenberg's 'Scanners.' Although the two don't share any screen time, Shatner, playing a TV producer, and Ironside, who actually does great as a misogynist serial killer, are about the most memorable thing of the whole production. The movie also stars Lee Grant and Linda Purl, two women pursued by Ironside's perverse desires, but they don't leave much of an impression because they're basically used as generic plot divices.
Director Jean-Claude Lord, who's never really made anything of note, does what he can with the material, written by Brian Taggert ('Poltergeist III,' 'V' original series). And still, the narrative moves with such a tepid pace that it's easy to zone-out and think of far scarier things than what Lord ever could. The plot tries to play out much like a mystery thriller while also pretending to be part of the "slasher" craze, since it features a maniac with a knife. However, there is nothing mysterious about seeing Ironside's Colt Hawker disguising himself in various costumes to kill a hospitalized TV reporter and her nurse. As for the "slasher" element, the movie's style and direction is better suited for television, playing incredibly safe and lacking in shocking gore. Its only road to infamy is that it somehow made the Video Nasties list, and that is a better mystery worth solving. (Movie Rating: 1/5)
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Shout! Factory brings 'Bad Dreams/Visiting Hours' to Blu-ray as a double-feature single-disc release under the distributor's Scream Factory line. The Region A locked, BD50 disc containing both films is housed inside a regular blue case. At startup, the disc goes to an animated screen with music where viewers can choose between the two movies, and then taken to the standard menu screen with full-motion clips.
Andrew Fleming gives Blu-ray some bad dreams with a very good and often fantastic 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that displays first-rate contrast and crisp, bright whites. From the looks of it, the source used appears to be in excellent condition, showing clean resolution and clarity, except for a couple moments of some very minor age-related discoloration. Awash with a very thin layer of grain, the 1.85:1 image is sharply detailed and very well-defined. Facial complexions are natural, with close-ups being particularly revealing. Colors are richly saturated and cleanly rendered, with primaries looking especially bold and energetic. Black levels are deep and accurate, as well, making this a nice surprise. (Video Rating: 3.5/5)
The misogynist maniac breaks curfew with a sometimes shockingly good AVC-encoded transfer that shows plenty of sharp, fine lines in the clothing, hair and furniture. Background information is crystal-clear and distinct while facial complexions reveal the tiniest blemish and pores during close-ups. Although the source used appears to be in excellent condition, there are moments where it's pretty clear the elements was been thoroughly cleaned, thankfully without ruining the overall presentation. Contrast is well-balanced and comfortably bright with brilliant whites while black levels are richly rendered, providing the 1.85:1 image with strong shadow delineation. The color palette is bold and vibrant as well, making this is a satisfying high-def transfer. (Video Rating: 3.5/5)
The long-forgotten horror thriller is committed to an enjoyable and generally satisfying DTS-HD MA soundtrack. Listeners have the choice between a newer 5.1 upmix and a 2-channel stereo track. The former is not half-bad; however, the surrounds tend to feel a bit exaggerated while dynamics can seem a tad stretched and bright. The latter is definitely the clear winner as it is closer to the original design with a wide and broad imaging that also feels natural. The mid-range is detailed with crisp, distinct highs, and the low-end offers a nice, weighty punch to the action and the awesome collection of songs. Vocals are well-prioritized and precise in the center, making it the preferred way to watch. (Audio Rating: 3.5/5)
Like the setting itself (the story mostly takes place inside a hospital), the DTS-HD Master Audio mono soundtrack is largely on the quiet side with a couple really good moments throughout. Although maintained in the fronts, the soundstage exhibits an attractive and welcoming image with great fidelity and a strong presence. Dynamic range is clean and detailed with sharp acoustical details and several distinct highs. Low bass is appropriate and as would be expected from a movie of this vintage, but it also provides some appreciable weight to the music and action. Dialogue is very well-prioritized and intelligible from beginning to end, making this lossless mix a great listen. (Audio Rating: 3/5)
Starring Richard Lynch and Jennifer Rubin, 'Bad Dreams' is an amusing horror thriller set inside a mental institution where the ghost of crazed cult leader haunts the delusions of patients. Also set inside the creepy halls of a hospital, but sadly, the more tedious of the two, 'Visiting Hours' features William Shatner and Michael Ironside about a serial killer attempting to kill a news reporter that spoke ill of him. The Blu-ray arrives with excellent video, a strong audio presentation and a healthy collection of supplements. The overall package, however, could only be most appreciated by fans that remember either film.