Directed by: David DeCoteau
Starring: Thomas Bern, Ashlyn Gere, Sylvia Summers
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It’s hardly a secret that a surprisingly large percentage of superstar actors of the past thirty years began their career somewhere within the slasher genre. Whilst those specific faces (George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Eva Mendes etc) went on to find fortune and fame beyond the realms of masked killers and screaming teens, there were a few artists that seemed content to dwindle in the security of B-movie minor-budget rhapsody. These include the likes of Fred Olen Ray, David A. Prior, Steve Jarvis, Linnea Quigley and the most relevant for this write-up, David DeCoteau. Today, I want to explore with DeCoteau as the example if it was the fact that he had reached the height of his talent that forced him to stay in the kingdom of penny-budgets or if it was a choice that he made due to his love of cheese on toast horror…
Dreamanic was his first excursion into slasher land and although not particularly groundbreaking, it does have a few novel aspects that warrant a mention. Female scribe Helen Robinson has given us a story unique enough to make this one of the select few of the 600 or so genre entries that juxtaposes elements from giants Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street, without straying too far outside of the stalk and slash guide book. Whilst titles such as Pledge Night and the rancid The Oracle gave up their places in the cycle by edging too far into the realms of supernatural futility, Dreamaniac remains true enough to the trappings to be worthy of inspection here on a SLASH above…
The movie centres on a gang of fun loving stereotypical period teens who end up battling a deranged menace. Boasting a baby face that makes him look like an extra from The Sorcerer’s Stone, protagonist Adam (Thomas Bern) shows his eighties credibility by spending most of the flick running around in a groovy Def Leppard t-shirt. Despite looking like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth, surprisingly Adam is a part time Satanist with a passion for black magic rituals. His bubble-haired girlfriend Pat (Ashlyn Gere) has no idea that her beau spends his spare time conjuring dark spirits from beyond the grave, and often she wonders why he spends so much time alone in his room. In an attempt to bring him out of his shell for a few hours, Pat has organised a huge party at her boyfriend’s vacant abode. The guest list includes all the typical sure-fire body count ingredients and before long they arrive and get the beer flowing.
Unbeknownst to them, Adam has summoned a porn star-like succubus from another dimension and it goes without saying that she has arrived with a taste for blood. Before long the corpses begin to mount as the maniacal fiend begins seducing the male guests and then butchering them in various imaginative ways. Will anyone be able to stop the demon? Or will the rampage continue for the chance of a profit-escalating sequel?
After the inevitable Halloween-alike synthesizer score, DeCoteau leads us along a surprisingly unique path that’s filled with imaginative twists, turns and stepping stones. There’s a fair bit of originality in the bogeyman’s Freddy/Michael Myers conjunction that allows the movie to develop a few authentic ideas. Towards the finale, we get zombies and various other supernatural gimmicks that add a welcomed touch of spice to the story; and the borders of the standard slasher template are elasticated to stretch into new realms. When compared to the majority of features from the same year like Evil Laugh or Night Ripper, DeCoteau’s effort offers much more in terms of creativity and flair. Although the “too gory for the silver screen” boast from the hyperbole packaging is definitely a half-truth, there are one or two credibly handled splatter scenes. Tom Schwartz’s power drill decapitation can rank amongst the neatest killings of the genre and the gruesome hand impalement that precedes it is also impressive.
Sadly, despite a couple of ambitious camera angles, it is fairly easy to see why DeCoteau has never taken his career above SOV and DTV status. At times, the movie fails to generate any kind of atmosphere at all, which is extremely disappointing. The constant homo-erotic references that would become his trademark are in full flow and there’s the usual amount of cheese and ear numbing hair metal to keep things nostalgic.
As is the case with so many eighties slashers, the film’s biggest flaw is the humdrum work from the bubblegum cast. It’s also worth noting that these ‘actors’ have the worst hairstyles ever featured collectively in a runtime. It is kind of like a hair horror movie or something ; – with the real bogeyman being the stylist that’s holding an afro-comb in the dressing room. Even if the dramatics are most definitely those of the ‘high school play’ variety, funnily enough there was a soon to be “award winning screen actress” amongst the hopefuls. Ashlyn Gere (yes her again), the ‘star’ of Evil Laugh and Lunch Meat would give up on feature films and go on to become a big name in the porn industry. She even directed her own adult movie! I must admit that I like female killers very much, but the nut job here is not the best advertisement for psychos in stilettos. We want our maniacs to look creepy and disfigured or at least slightly deranged. This succubus is little more than a washed-up Kim Basinger… no fair!
Pushing the imaginative work of the screenwriter to one side, there’s not much here to warrant hunting out a copy of Dreamaniac. Despite giving you the false hope that it’ll taste like a Nandos after a night on the San Miguels, it ends up more like a greasy kebab that you found on the table the next morning. It’s just that it fails to build on a promising foundation. There are a lot better efforts floating around, but I guess that for people like us – the slasher enthusiasts – it’s worth seeing for a couple of cool gore scenes.
The highlight of Decoteau’s career thereafter – I mean, his biggest motion picture – would be Puppet Master III. He did return to the slasher genre, with The Frightening, Final Scream and the sequel to Jeff Obrow’s Legend of the Mummy, which funnily enough plays more like a stalk and slash flick. Aside from that, he would remain a big-enough figure in B-Movies to have made a name that almost everyone in horror is aware of, which is a considerable feat. I cannot be sure if he is satisfied that he has reached the peak of his ambition, but I think he can be proud of his contributions to cinema. His ship never quite rolled in close enough to take him to the level of the names that I mentioned in my opening paragraph, but he carved out a career that has seen him roll out almost a hundred titles. Not bad for a guy that constantly works on the smallest of budgets.
Final Girl: √√