Dream Demon (1988): Revisiting my first horror film after 20+ years


After not seeing Dream Demon for over 20 years, I’ve given the film a re-watch, to discover a whole new message and meaning in a second viewing.

The other day I was trying to remember the first horror movie I ever watched. After a detailed scan of my memories, I remembered the one night I spent at a friend’s house when I was 7 or 8. My friend’s mom let us rent Dream Demon from the video rental section of the local Kroger supermarket.

I barely remembered anything about the movie except that it scared me half to death and that there was a lot of bright white rooms and a creepy kid. I had an idea that I should revisit this film, and see if it still scared me as an adult.

Dream Demon is touted as the Brits’ stab at the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, but that doesn’t really quite do it enough justice. Sure, there are a lot of nightmares, but there isn’t a singular “Demon” to speak of, necessarily. The real demon of the film is memory and the horrors that lurk in the depths of the human mind.

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Kathleen Wilhoite stars as Los Angeles “native” Jenny Hoffman. It turns out that Jenny is adopted and her real birthplace is London. The house she was born in now belongs to soon-to-be-married always-sleepy British socialite, Diana, played by Jemma Redgrave. Diana is plagued by nightmares, in addition to the paparazzi. Diana’s soon-to-be husband is a Falklands War hero. Due to this fact, two sleazy reporters won’t leave her alone (one of whom is played by versatile British character actor Timothy Spall, who’s been in everything from the Harry Potter films to Phillip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams).

Jenny rescues Diana from a particularly unsavory encounter with these reporters and they quickly become friends. As it turns out, the house which Diana’s father just purchased for her wedding present was actually Jenny’s family home, although she has no memory of ever being there. The more time that Diana and Jenny spend together, the dreams get worse, and start to meld with reality. The only way to end this living nightmare is for Jenny to come to terms with her tormented past, which is entangled in her forgotten childhood home.

Revisiting Dream Demon as an adult solicited an entirely different emotional response from me than in my original viewing. The dream paparazzi monsters were absolutely the scariest part to me as a kid. Now, the scariest part is the painful process of embracing one’s past, whether it’s bad or good. I am a child of adoption, and though I never knew my biological parents, I can wholeheartedly relate to Jenny’s trauma and her feeling that she doesn’t really know herself.

The message at the heart of this film is that friendship, particularly between two women, is one of the strongest forces in the world. It can put and end to a nightmarish situation, or at least put it into palatable perspective. This is a message I found very moving and I wish more films would explore these themes.

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I highly recommend Dream Demon if you enjoy horror films with a more artistic approach. Fans of the Nightmare On Elm Street series will enjoy a different take on the theme. I could also see fans of Peter Greenaway and Ken Russell films getting a kick out of it. The one thing I can say is good luck finding it! Your best bet would be scouring the depths of second-hand auctioning websites for a DVD or VHS copy. I would love for this to get a proper Blu-Ray release, so fingers crossed. Until then, happy hunting! It’s totally worth the search to see this film.