Wes Craven's A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984) has a lot to answer for. I've said it before, but the bastard son of a thousand maniacs himself spawned a thousand wise-cracking buffoons. The slasher movie in the late 80s mostly collapsed under the weight of these clowns. The industry clearly didn't take the subgenre seriously, so why should audiences? However, there were a few exceptions that took the narrative bending surrealism of Craven's film and did something leftfield with it. Peterson's subgenre effort is one such movie. Whilst not perfect by any means, DEADLY DREAMS is an interesting - if not exactly fast moving - twist on a now over familiar story.
College student Alex (Mitchell Anderson), is recovering from a twin tragedy from his childhood. Not only were his parents gunned down by an angered business partner in front of him on Christmas Eve, but he was also given a particularly nasty white glass reindeer (surely not at the top of every little boy's present list!). The killer of Alex's parents, Perkins (Duane Whitaker), who wore a mask made from a real wolf's head, subsequently turned the gun on himself. Ten years later, Alex is just about to turn 21 and he's still trying to get over his parent's deaths - and, presumably, that glass reindeer. His recovery isn't helped by the fact that he keeps dreaming that Perkins, in the creepy wolf mask, is back from the dead and trying to kill him. Not only that, but Perkins seems to be intruding into his daylight hours, too (in finest Michael Myers tradition by popping out from behind the neighbourhood bushes at inconvenient moments).
Alex's best friend, Danny (Thom Babbes), tries to reassure him that a long dead psycho hunter isn't out to get him: "Do you realise we're in the middle of hunting season? ... Every redneck is looking for Bambi's mother!". He's also under pressure from his older brother Jack (Xander Berkeley - who went onto star in CANDYMAN (1992)), who is trying to get him to put his inheritance back into the family business. Respite comes when he meets Maggie (Juliet Cummins (already a slasher veteran of FRIDAY THE 13TH: A NEW BEGINNING (1985) and SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE II (1987)), a tough dancer who eventually seems to warm to Alex's bookish charms. He even stays with her even when she gives him a stuffed stag's head as an early birthday present - to add to that sodding white glass reindeer.
However, Alex continues to see Perkins skulking about and dreams his own death at his hands. His troubles get even worse after the murders he sees in his dreams appear to spill over into real world ...
As you might expect, DEADLY DREAMS exploits that hoary old cliché when what appears to be reality turns out to be a dream. Bobby Ewing coming out of the shower taken to the max. Sometimes it works really well - Alex dodging blades coming through his bed as he lies there only for it to emerge bloodily from his chest - but it does make for a faltering narrative. As well as aping the success of NIGHTMARE, DEADLY DREAMS harkens back to an earlier time, where rich heiresses are driven mad for their loot - the fact that Alex is due to inherit a lot of money will only escape the most slow-witted. To its credit the film keeps you guessing whether what afflicts Alex is supernatural, or something more mundane though no less deadly.
The performances - especially Anderson as Alex, who delivers in a particularly demanding part - are all very good. All the more remarkable given that the four main characters carry the vast majority of the movie. DEADLY DREAMS eschews the jokey nature of most the late 80s slashers, and plays it completely seriously. This sombre tone works in the film's favour, but the somewhat languid pacing might put many off.
For those that stick around to the end are rewarded as the film goes off on tangents you might not expect in the average slasher movie - and is topped off with an especially effective 70's style cynical twist that took this slasher movie veteran completely by surprise.
female:1 / male:8
1) Female killed with a shotgun
2) Male killed with a shotgun
3) Male shoots himself (off screen)
4) Male shot repeatedly (dream sequence)
5) Male impaled on hunting knife (dream sequence)
6) Female stabbed in face (dream sequence)
7) Male shot (off screen)
8) Male has throat cut with hunting knife
9) Male killed (off screen)