Thirteen years ago there was a tragedy at a remote country house involving a community of cult members, but precisely what occurred there has been shrouded in mystery, as the sole survivor has been in a coma ever since being rescued from the burning building, and although she has grown up, Cynthia (Jennifer Rubin) is not telling anyone anything. That is until she unexpectedly awakens and begins to talk... it seems that what happened was the cult leader sacrificed his followers by burning them alive, and himself with them. But what if his spirit lived on - and wanted Cynthia to join them?
When Bad Dreams was released, it was perhaps the best time for it and the worst time. Best because there was a rash of such "is it a dream or is it real?" horror movies out then, so the perfect opportunity to cash in, but worst because of that same reason, and audiences felt they'd seen it all before. Not least thanks to this bearing some resemblance to A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: The Dream Warriors, which also featured ex-model Rubin (though in a supporting role there), and a villainous apparition who thanks to the actor playing him had a fire scarred face, that actor being Richard Lynch as Harris, who had made a career as the bad guy.
In a way this could be seen as Lynch's last attempt to make himself a household name in a horror role which looked to be custom made for him, but if that's what he hoped (actually what he hoped was to demonstrate his range, not that he had the chance here) then those hopes were dashed when this was consigned to the video stores after its cinema outing, maybe surprising since Gale Anne Hurd was the producer, right after The Terminator and Aliens had energised her career. But that derivative quality was never going to provide much beyond that seen it all before feeling, that in spite of Steven de Souza on scripting duties (with debuting director Andrew Fleming) the same year his groundbreaking Die Hard screenplay was filmed.
So like Elm Street 3, this takes place in a mental asylum, and the patients in Cynthia's support group begin to die off in mysterious ways, apparently by their own hand though our heroine thinks she knows better. Bad Dreams was undoubtedly one of the most suicidey movies in the eighties horror cycle, with characters offing themselves every ten minutes, if not sooner, yet that Freddy Krueger machination of the supernatural presence actually killing the victims may have made the viewer take against the production - that was until the big twist in the last fifteen minutes which made you reassess the plot of what had gone before. Now, for many this made it even worse, but if you were willing to go with this revelation, it did create an interesting new area for what appeared to be a cliché.
Lynch was probably the biggest name here if only because he had the longest list of credits, but the psychiatrist Dr Karmen was Bruce Abbott, who shocker fans would recognise as the hero of Re-Animator (assuming you didn't think of Jeffrey Combs as that hero), and he did well enough in a character who seems like the usual, ho-hum good guy authority figure until he has a major freakout which makes him a lot more colourful. Also showing up were Harris Yulin as Cynthia's doctor who wants what's best for her - and his research - and E.G. Daily as one of the patients, best known as a voice on Rugrats and The Powerpuff Girls, or if you wanted to get obscure the "they'd never make that now" video for her hit single Say It Say It. It would be the morbid setpieces which stuck in the memory, with a graphic depiction of the cult's suicide, or various demises such as what happens when two people stick their bodies into a turbine, which was just as well because the psychology didn't stand up to scrutiny; as something more different than it seemed however, Bad Dreams wasn't so bad (though the Sid Vicious impression was). Music by Jay Ferguson.