Tag Archives: Jennifer Rubin

Bad Dreams (1988, Andrew Fleming)

At the end of Bad Dreams, as GNR’s Sweet Child of Mine starts up over the end credits… I thought, at least director (and co-writer) Fleming has good taste in music. Turns out he didn’t want the song and a studio exec with a better ear put it in the film.

Bummer. It would’ve been nice to be able to pay the film a complement, even if it was a backhanded one. Bad Dreams is a crappy horror movie. There are more offscreen peculiars one could discuss but I’m going to skip them because it’s not a worthwhile rabbit hole. Though maybe it’d be a good inclusion in a piece about late eighties movies, including critical response, cable, home video, whatever.

But I’m not interested enough. I suffered through it real-time. Just like I suffered through Bad Dreams real-time.

The film is not about bad dreams, though we occasionally get to see some bad dreams so Fleming can “reveal” the story back a few minutes and a character here and there reincarnated. It the first shock death didn’t happen… well, Bad Dreams might have had an entertainingly wacky third act. Good thing Fleming turns back the clock so as to avert that possibility. Wouldn’t want Bad Dreams to be entertaining. At all.

There are a lot of problems with the film and most of them involve Fleming, either in the writing, in how he composes shots (safe for pan and scan and home video), in how he doesn’t direct the actors. Top-billed Jennifer Rubin ought to be able to get something out of the part—she’s a coma patient, awake thirteen years after her seventies cult (led by a bad, but appropriately creepy Richard Lynch—the nose hairs alone are blood-curdling) did the mass suicide thing. Only it’s apparently supposed to be a secret lost to time. The police couldn’t confirm any gas cans so they thought the house just exploded on its own, even though there were apparently documentaries about the cult where they talk about how they all want to die. I mean, Sy Richardson is godawful as the cop, but it doesn’t seem like he’s supposed to be any stupider than anyone else in Bad Dreams. The film’s characters are really dumb, with the supposedly smart ones (shrinks Harris Yulin and Bruce Abbott the stupidest of all), but… the mass suicide thing isn’t a stretch. Yet Fleming treats its reveal like a big deal. Or as big of a deal as you can when you’re shooting scenes soap operas would be embarrassed about.

I occasionally wondered if Bad Dreams started its life as some kind of TV movie—it has a lot of supporting characters, who are all one shade of bad (Susan Ruttan’s pretty awful, Elizabeth Daily’s not good, Dean Cameron tries hard and fails) but some of it’s obviously Fleming’s fault. It couldn’t make it as a TV movie, not in acting, directing, writing. Not even in the eighties. Though the terrible costumes definitely make it in the eighties. Young empathetic but clearly incompetent doctor Abbott—who doesn’t think Rubin needs any mental health care after waking up from the coma because he wants to romance her and tells her about it frequently in the second act—wears his denim collared shirt with a tie. The scariest thing in Bad Dreams is Abbott’s wardrobe.

The plot has Rubin in a mental hospital because they can’t find her family so she doesn’t get to leave. They don’t address the aging in the coma thing, from tween to twenty-something. The film’s got zero curiosity about its characters. Cameron, Daily, Ruttan, they’re all in group with Rubin; Abbott runs the group (badly), falls for endlessly traumatized Rubin. The film’s characterization of people getting mental health treatment is real bad. Real bad. Even if you factor in its the eighties, Abbott and Harris don’t even worry about people around the hospital dying until at least four in. Bad Dreams exists in the universe where lawsuits haven’t been discovered yet.

Technically, everything’s pretty bad, quite frankly. Alexander Gruszynski’s isn’t as incompetent as Jeff Freeman’s editing. Jay Ferguson’s music? Bad. The film also loads up The Chambers Brothers’s Time Has Come Today whenever there’s a flashback, which feels often. Fleming’s not just inept, he’s also obvious. His filmmaking is unpleasant to watch. And the cover of My Way when Cameron has his big—and terribly directed—freakout set piece? Icky bad.

Bad Dreams, in general, is icky bad. It’s got nothing going for it. Not even the eighty minute runtime. It’s too dumb even for eighty minutes.

And I didn’t even get into the lousy Bates house knock-off, which ends up being there for Fleming to pretend he’s Andrew Wyeth. Fleming does such a bad job of it, you forget he’s showing an actual ambition for once.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Andrew Fleming; screenplay by Fleming and Steven E. de Souza, based on a story by Fleming, Michael Dick, P.J. Pettiette, and Yuri Zeltser; director of photography, Alexander Gruszynski; edited by Jeff Freeman; music by Jay Ferguson; production designer, Ivo Cristante; costume designers, Deborah Everton, Ronald Leamon, and Patricia Norris; produced by Gale Anne Hurd; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Jennifer Rubin (Cynthia), Bruce Abbott (Dr. Alex Karmen), Richard Lynch (Harris), Harris Yulin (Dr. Berrisford), Sy Richardson (Detective Wasserman), Dean Cameron (Ralph), Susan Ruttan (Miriam), Susan Barnes (Connie), Louis Giambalvo (Ed), Elizabeth Daily (Lana), Damita Jo Freeman (Gilda), and Charles Fleischer (Ron the Pharmacist).


Screamers (1995, Christian Duguay)

Sometimes competency is a bad thing. Screamers is a fairly well-made–Duguay’s composition isn’t spectacular, mostly because the sets were all CG embellished so there was only so much he was actually shooting–but there are some excellent effects sequences. There’s some nice stop motion and then a great shuttlecraft liftoff. Duguay knows how to spend his limited budget to make the film look good. There really isn’t a genre of good lower budget 1990s science fiction because cheap CG ruined it, but Screamers could almost be a solid entry.

Except for the script. There are some really good ideas in Dan O’Bannon’s script–the stuff with Peter Weller and Jennifer Rubin being the last two people alive on a planet should have really been stretched out–but, for the most part, it’s pretty weak. It’s like O’Bannon (or maybe co-writer Tejada-Flores) had to keep taking out stuff to make it cheaper, less grandiose. They give Weller some really bad dialogue–just long and expository–and seeing Weller mull through it and pull it off is sensational. Almost the entire running time of Screamers could be spent wondering how no one ever got Weller a role for an actor of his ability.

The supporting cast is generally okay. Roy Dupuis and Andrew Lauer are both solid. Rubin’s got a rough character to essay and she runs a little too cold at times, but she’s mostly all right.

It’s not cheap enough to be chintzy. Should be better.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Christian Duguay; screenplay by Dan O’Bannon and Miguel Tejada-Flores, based on a short story by Philip K. Dick; director of photography, Rodney Gibbons; edited by Yves Langlois; music by Normand Corbeil; production designer, Perri Gorrara; produced by Franco Battista and Tom Berry; released by Triumph Films.

Starring Peter Weller (Joe Hendricksson), Roy Dupuis (Becker), Jennifer Rubin (Jessica Hanson), Andrew Lauer (Jefferson), Charles Edwin Powell (Ross), Ron White (Chuck Elbarak) and Bruce Boa (Secretary Green).


RELATED

Delusion (1991, Carl Colpaert)

Delusion opens poorly. It opens like an independent film (not a Miramax release or a Fox Searchlight, but something a guy who owns a chain of car washes invested in) and it opens poorly, like most independent films open. The acting is bad, the writing is bad (the direction is fine). I’ve seen Delusion before (I own the laserdisc), probably four times and the opening had me embarrassed. Based on those first seven or eight minutes, I would have said Jim Metzler was bad and Jennifer Rubin was bad, and Kyle Secor was good. Secor’s got a really goofy, dumb hit man role and then, at times, the character will all of a sudden have some profoundly affecting moment.

Anyway, by the fifteen-minute mark, Delusion‘s completely different. Rubin’s great, Metzler’s great and the writing’s good. There’s no distinguishable reason for the change, except maybe the first act ended or something. Then for an hour, the film’s on track toward something, with all goodness along the way. Where it’s going is never quite clear–so, in the end, where it ends up feels a little odd, with the characters talking to each other about things the viewer should have seen and should understand, but did not see and does not understand.

Another possible reason for the big change is Carl Colpaert’s direction. He really knows how to move a camera, whether Delusion‘s in its thriller mode, its drama mode, or its spaghetti western mode, Colpaert’s composition is really unbelievably good. Especially for an independent film. He knows how to use Panavision. That knowledge is rare among independent filmmakers.

Colpaert and co-writer Kurt Voss run Delusion as a road movie with the little adventures as vignettes. The most successful is the one with Jerry Orbach, who’s absolutely fantastic. The worst–the one where Delusion becomes a Miramax independent for a moment–is when a female biker picks up Metzler and tells him about her time as a soldier in the sexual revolution. Amusingly, it’s like Colpaert realized how badly it played, because it really seems like that section is cut all over.

In the end, it’s really all about Rubin. She’s funny, sad, thoughtful, tragic, smart, dumb; Colpaert and Voss throw all these things at her and she comes out shining. Watching the film, it’s difficult to believe she never made it big, because there was no one else back then who could do all the things she could do.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Carl Colpaert; written by Colpaert and Kurt Voss; director of photography, Geza Sinkovics; edited by Mark Allan Kaplan; music by Barry Adamson; production designer, Ildiko Toth; produced by Daniel Hassid; released by I.R.S. Releasing Corporation.

Starring Jim Metzler (George O’Brien), Jennifer Rubin (Patti), Kyle Secor (Chevy), Jerry Orbach (Larry) and Robert Costanzo (Myron Sales).


RELATED