Gale Anne Hurd

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).


Alien Nation (1988, Graham Baker)

A film like Alien Nation encourages a lot of thought. For example, I think I’ve decided I want to say the film is badly directed (by Baker) while being poorly lighted (by Adam Greenberg). I already know I wanted to say it was atrociously edited. Kent Beyda’s cuts don’t just jump (there’s a car chase where it appears the cars have turned around and gone back the way they came), they also pop. The sound levels pops, which isn’t exactly Beyda’s fault, it’s more Baker’s fault or the producers’ fault, but there’s got to have something Beyda could do to trying to keep the background noise between shots consistent. Or maybe not. Maybe that base level of post-production care is beyond Alien Nation.

I mean, fixing the editing wouldn’t fix the music and fixing the music wouldn’t fix the script and fixing the script wouldn’t fix the acting. I suppose it’s possible a better script would’ve helped the performances but Baker’s still such a crap director, it’s hard to imagine it.

About the only thing good about Alien Nation is the make-up. Only not so much on the featured cast. Like Terence Stamp’s Mr. Big. His alien make-up is bad. And alien cop Mandy Patinkin’s make-up is occasionally inconsistent between scenes. At least it’s not between shots in scenes, which–really–is kind of a surprise given the way the rest of the film plays out, production-wise.

So Patinkin is the idealistic alien cop while James Caan is the grumpy, bigoted (and questionably skilled) human cop. Writer Rockne S. O’Bannon writes terrible police procedural, but he also writes terrible cop banter. The bonding scenes between Caan and Patinkin are painful. Partially because they’re so poorly written, partially because you just feel so bad for the actors. Caan’s got a lousy part from the opening. Patinkin has potential for a good part but the script is so bad. And the direction, can’t forget Baker’s bad direction. Oh, and if Patinkin does manage a decent delivery–you know, if his makeup isn’t off-center–it’s more likely than not Beyda will screw something up in the cutting.

There are no winners in Alien Nation. There are no gem performances. The production design isn’t special. Maybe the best performance in it is Roger Aaron Brown and only because all he has to do is act like James Caan is a tiresome prick. Caan is a tiresome prick. Alien Nation takes place over like three or four days. It’s about one case. Caan gets Patinkin as a partner for the single purpose of exploiting him being an alien to solve an alien-related murder case.

Odd thing? They never catch the guy Caan is after. They never even try to find out his identity. It’s not only a mess, it’s a forgetful mess.

Not even the short runtime–maybe ninety minutes even–helps things. Because it’s not like the scenes are short. The scenes are painfully long. Watching Baker and O’Bannon try to change tempo during a scene? It’s excruciating.

The whole thing is excruciating. The anguish starts with the opening titles and goes all the way to the finale voiceover.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Graham Baker; written by Rockne S. O’Bannon; director of photography, Adam Greenberg; edited by Kent Beyda; music by Curt Sobel; production designer, Jack T. Collis; produced by Gale Anne Hurd and Richard Kobritz; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring James Caan (Matthew Sykes), Mandy Patinkin (Sam Francisco), Terence Stamp (William Harcourt), Roger Aaron Brown (Tuggle), Peter Jason (Fedorchuk), Tony Perez (Alterez), and Leslie Bevis (Cassandra).


The Relic (1997, Peter Hyams)

Considering Peter Hyams’s career as a director began in the early seventies, it’s strange to see him reference Alien and the 1976 King Kong—these films being made after he got his start.

The Relic has the one big problem of Hyams’s career overall—he photographs his films himself and he usually uses this “realistic” palette. That palette is often murky and gray and Relic fits the pattern. It’s unfortunate, not just because it makes scenes sometimes hard to understand (as people move through a dark museum, bumping into strange objects), but also because it cuts down on the film’s sensationalism. And, at its heart, The Relic is a solid, unambitious b movie.

Hyams’s direction—lighting aside—is good. He has fantastic shots and a good pace.

But what’s so good about the film is the acting. Hyams gets this personable, charming performance from Tom Sizemore, which is both a lot of fun and very interesting to see Sizemore essay. It’s against type for him and he excels at it.

Penelope Ann Miller gets top billing and she’s superb. She gets to do a lot (including run from a CG monster) and does it all well. She and Sizemore are great together—but she’s great with everyone in the film, whether Linda Hunt and James Whitmore as her mentors or Chi Muoi Lo as her academic adversary.

Lo is hilariously slimy.

The third act has problems—especially the tepid ending—but The Relic’s an okay monster thriller with excellent performances.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed and photographed by Peter Hyams; screenplay by Amy Holden Jones, John Raffo, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, based on a novel by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child; edited by Steven Kemper; music by John Debney; production designer, Philip Harrison; produced by Gale Anne Hurd and Sam Mercer; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Penelope Ann Miller (Dr. Margo Green), Tom Sizemore (Lt. Vincent D’Agosta), Linda Hunt (Dr. Ann Cuthbert), James Whitmore (Dr. Albert Frock), Clayton Rohner (Det. Hollingsworth), Chi Muoi Lo (Dr. Greg Lee), Thomas Ryan (Tom Parkinson), Robert Lesser (Mayor Robert Owen), Diane Robin (The Mayor’s Wife) and Lewis Van Bergen (John Whitney).


Dante’s Peak (1997, Roger Donaldson)

Dante’s Peak came in the slight post-Twister disaster movie resurgence–and might have helped end it–but it really doesn’t know how to be a disaster movie.

Leslie Bohem’s script film follows Jaws‘s plot structure–no one listens to Pierce Brosnan’s roguish geologist (has Brosnan ever been asked to do an American accent, it seems to be part of his persona to never do one) until it’s too late–only replacing Richard Dreyfuss with Linda Hamilton as sidekick. Romance develops and Brosnan’s bachelor warms quickly to Hamilton’s two really annoying kids. They aren’t really annoying until the volcano, which means at least they’re tolerable for an hour.

When disaster does strike, it’s amusing to watch all the friendly neighbors try to kill each other to get onto the highway faster–after the movie opens saying it’s the second-best place in the country to live. Maybe in the first they’d help each other.

It’s probably Hamilton’s best film role as an actor. She’s not asked to do much (it’s a little unbelievable she could put up with her kids at the end, or her evil mother-in-law, boringly played by Elizabeth Hoffman).

The film takes place in a rural mountain town and–shockingly–never tries to show racial diversity among the town population. Nor does it try to make anyone likable; watching the disaster doesn’t encourage much emotional response. It’s boring.

Donaldson’s direction is mediocre at best (he’s not an action director) but the visual effects are good.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Roger Donaldson; written by Leslie Bohem; director of photography, Andrzej Bartkowiak; edited by Howard E. Smith, Conrad Buff IV and Tina Hirsch; music by John Frizzell; production designer, J. Dennis Washington; produced by Gale Anne Hurd and Joseph Singer; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Pierce Brosnan (Harry Dalton), Linda Hamilton (Rachel Wando), Charles Hallahan (Paul Dreyfus), Jamie Renée Smith (Lauren Wando), Jeremy Foley (Graham Wando), Elizabeth Hoffman (Ruth), Grant Heslov (Greg, USGS Crew), Kirk Trutner (Terry, USGS Crew), Arabella Field (Nancy, USGS Crew), Tzi Ma (Stan, USGS Crew), Brian Reddy (Les Worrell), Lee Garlington (Dr. Jane Fox), Bill Bolender (Sheriff Turner), Carole Androsky (Mary Kelly) and Peter Jason (Norman Gates).


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