Have you ever had a vivid or shocking dream, one that makes you toss and turn and wake up in cold sweats, only to quickly forget the entire episode? You know for sure there was a dream, but no matter how hard you wrack your brain, you can’t recall exactly what it was about? What happens to these dreams? Are we destined to forever forget these tiny glimpses into our psyche, or do they harbor some deeper significance?
Jay Woelfel’s cult favorite, Beyond Dream’s Door, explores the nuances of dreaming, the influence they may have on our daily existence and the psychological impact of dreams which flit and flee our general consciousness altogether. And believe me, after seeing this film, you’ll want to keep a notepad on your bedside table to jot down every detail you can remember!
The film centers on Benjamin Dobbs, a university student who has been unable to remember his dreams since a childhood accident caused the sudden death of his parents. During his adolescence, however, Ben begins to have recurring and terrible nightmares. He explains that they aren’t exactly the same dream over and over, but more like a lengthy sequence of the same one, like each new dream is a link in a metaphorical chain. The dreams contain similar characters – a bloody creature and an imaginary younger brother – and he finds the events so overwhelming that he seeks out his psychology professor for help. Their research uncovers documents about a man who had very similar experiences as Ben, and the pages of this book seem to contain the key to the dream’s mysteries.
Trouble is, whoever Ben approaches for help in saving his quickly dwindling sanity gets sucked into the dream-world he is so ardently trying to forget. Something dreadful in his nightmares is out to punish Ben, his professor, and destroy any evidence that it ever existed – which includes the lives of all those people Ben enlists for aid!
Upon its release in the late 80’s, Beyond Dream’s Door garnered significant comparisons to A Nightmare on Elm St. (released 5 years previous), as both films work within the realms of dreams and the vulnerability of sleep. You should stop right there, as this film definitely has a life all its own. It was filmed at Ohio State University with borrowed equipment and a crew made up mostly of students seeking some extra credit, but you could never tell. The depth of the story and the lush, dreamy environments belie its ultra-low budget and the production looks like it could have cost three times as much.
The dream world, which is consistently blurred through the entire first and second acts, relies heavily on some admittedly remarkable imagery and intriguing, Argento-esque lighting. Deep blues indicate Ben is dreaming, balanced with stark, brilliant reds and subtle yellows. In the initial sequences, the dreams are hard to decipher from Ben’s real existence, and even more difficult once he brings in other players, but soon we realize the cues which point toward the subtle differences. Indeed, this lends confidence to the story, in that Ben’s dreams so affect his day-to-day existence that it is hard to tell whether he is, in fact, dreaming or not. Unusual events unfold in which you think might be a dream, when in reality they are actually happening. In many other hands, this film would have drowned in confusion and symbolic imagery, but Woelfel definitely keeps things tight and on track.
Woelfel himself wrote the music for the film, and it is nothing short of brilliant, unique and ultimately the icing on an otherwise plain-Jane student picture. It’s creepy and eerie, and removed just enough from the typical 80’s synth to create a truly distinctive feeling. Great stuff.
There are, predictably, the usual questionable traits which permeate student film – wooden acting and sloppy, hokey creature effects to name just a couple, but this film is a far more worthy horror entry than its genetics would have you believe. It’s frankly quite remarkable this was filmed by university students as it demonstrates a maturity and story-telling poise not seen in many accomplished filmmakers. Any way you scratch it, the much-delayed DVD release is a very welcome surprise after all these years!
Beyond Dream’s Door is a very low-budget, student film and at times this seeps through the otherwise spot-on production. There is no pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes on this fact, but I urge you to not let this affect your judgment on the picture. It’s got a wonderful, hallucinatory feel with sumptuous concentrations of blues and reds and a score which builds the tension and underscores the already inspired visuals. A definite must for fans of 80’s low-budget genre films and a recommended rental for any other interested parties.