"After brutally murdering an attendant, a deranged mental patient flees into the night. His only possession is a carved wooden flute. Not far away, in a nightmarish vision, a high school student sees the murder and the escape - an hears the killer playing a weird and mournful tune on his flute. That tune haunts her in the days that follow whenever she hears the sound, which no one else can hear, the killer is committing another murder. Donna Wilkes plays the terrorised student, Marion Hauser, who finally encounters the killer in the act of burying a victim and is herself pursued. What follows leads the girl to the very brink of insanity in a paralysing climax to the film."
Oh my. Try thinking of HALLOWEEN (1978) spliced by a mad scientist with a daytime soap like SANTA BARBARA, with acid tabs as a garnish - and, well, you'd be getting pretty close to this utter lunacy. DREAM SLAYER must be up for the prize as the downright most ludicrous and frankly bizarre early 80s slasher of them all - and that's really saying something!
It doesn't hold its nutty punches from the off, when a young boy, Paul Foley, (shown in a flashback to 1955) witnesses his father shoot dead his mother and her lover before turning the gun on himself. Rather than run screaming to the neighbours or phone the cops, the young boy displays textbook post-traumatic stress disorder by surveying the bloodshed and then playing a little ditty on his flute!
We fast forward to 'Stanford Bay, 1982', when the young boy, now grown into long-in-the-tooth 'teen sensation' Frankie Avalon (!), breaks the no flute curfew at the asylum (where he was presumably placed for crimes against music). So angered is he by an orderly's negative review of his wind instrument he subsequently kills him and then runs off tooting into the night.
Now, if things weren't already odd enough, this psychotic flautist has somehow developed a psychic link with a young, disabled High School student named Marion (Donna Wilkes). Poor Marion has to lie very still every ten minutes or so whilst the camera zooms in on her eyes and then everything gets that weird polarised colour hue as she hears the toot of Paul's flute and witnesses his killing spree. At first she thinks she's just dreaming it all, and tells her fisherman boyfriend Joey (William Kirby Cullen) that, "I keep seeing this same lunatic killing people - crazy, like!". Nobody much believes Marion, especially as she keeps going boss-eyed whenever she hears that damned flute that no else can. And, just to add that extra soap opera feel, Marion's home life isn't too rosy either: her drunk of a Father (Richard Jaeckel) gets violent every time he thinks of her with Joey, plus he was responsible for her being in a leg brace after crashing a car whilst blotto. Marion's mother (Antoinette Bower - a veteran of PROM NIGHT (1980)) just wrings her hands and looks concerned.
Meanwhile, Paul and his flute are hacking their way through the local vicinity. He's quite happy and convivial until people criticise his incessant flute playing. One kindly motorist, who picked him up in his 'passion wagon' is driven to near distraction: "Jesus Christ! You've been playing that same thing for over an hour!". A hatchet to the forehead is all the thanks he gets for his constructive criticism. He also offs a hitchhiking High School student after they spend a night of passion at a motel, when she can't take his tooting any longer.
If DREAM SLAYER hadn't already stretched credulity to breaking point then it ladles on the not too plausible notion that Marion developed her psychic link with Paul because of a blood transfusion after her accident. However, as daft as that might be, this isn't even used as a plot device to bring them together. No, Marion (after having a leg brace taken off, but still dragging her leg behind her like Igor on one of those old Frankenstein movies) just happens across Paul burying his latest victim by the beach! This uber-coincidence follows a glass shattering ballard called 'It's all in your mind' (believe me, I wish it was!), as Marion wanders forlornly amongst seagulls (have the remote handy when this comes on is my top tip). He spots her and they chase each other until she runs into some class mates, including what looks like an albino with a bowl cut, who tells the others to go look for the psychopathic murderer whilst he takes Marion home (some friend, eh?).
However, her escape is only temporary and now Marion is firmly on Paul's shitlist and he's got a special tune just for her!
Considering the out-there nature of DREAM SLAYER I was surprised to see quite how polished the whole thing is. This isn't just some low budget pot boiler, given the good camera work, comfortable production values and expansive cast. Thankfully, also, despite his TV roots, Levi knows how to amp up the slasher movie thrills: and the sawmill showdown at the end is a twenty minute cat and mouse chase par excellence; topped off with a jaw-dropping forklift finale! The cast all do pretty well to keep a straight face - and Donna Wilkes is especially good as the put upon teen. Of course, the main talking point is ex-50's teen heartthrob Frankie Avalon, who, only four years previously had been serenading High School students in GREASE - and had now graduated to butchering them with a hatchet! I guess this was the male version of old time female movie stars donning the pan stick for horror flicks, like latter day Joan Crawford and Bette Davis - and follows Tab Hunter's equally scenery chewing turn as a sex killer in SWEET KILL (1972). All things considered, Avalon does pretty well as the killer switching from handsome lothario to sweaty, hatchet wielding psycho with ease. He deserves some kind of Oscar at least for not cracking a smile as he whelps, "I really like you, Marion!" as he hunts her down with a forklift!
HALLOWEEN is obviously the film's main influence. Marion lives on a street that is a spit for those found in Haddonfield, plus Paul takes to hiding behind hedges and waiting outside her classroom window in his passion wagon (and, you guessed it, when she looks again he's gone!). However, Levi ups not only the sheer did-I-really-see-that? lunacy but also adds a few splashes of goopy gore for good measure. DREAM SLAYER may have also done a little bit of inspiring itself. There's the obvious similarity with Wes Craven's later A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984) - although, I would still suggest that THE SLAYER (1982) was probably a much more likely inspiration. However, I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER (1997) has a suspiciously similar small fishing port setting.
DREAM SLAYER certainly isn't the best slasher from the early 80s, but it wins points for its sheer out there quality (including an audaciously stupid twist ending) and some bone-fide slasher movie thrills and spills.
BODYCOUNT 8 female:2 / male:61) Female found shot