An eighties cult horror film that somehow slipped by me back in the day. BEYOND DREAM’S DOOR is now available on DVD, thankfully, and I’ve finally seen and admired it as the uniquely tripped-out classic it is. If you missed out on the film yourself then now’s definitely the time to rectify that error!
BEYOND DREAM’S DOOR was a 16mm student project, made in 1988 by writer-director Jay Woefel. Woefel was a recent graduate of Ohio University, for which he’d already shot a short version of the same material in 1983. Budgeted at $60,000 and staffed by film students, the feature version of BEYOND DREAM’S DOOR (which incorporated footage from another film project by the director entitled COME TO ME SOFTLY) was the first-ever feature shot at Ohio U.—and, for that matter, in the state itself!
The film premiered to a fair amount of positive critical attention—Joe Bobb Briggs, Chas. Balun and The Phantom of the Movies all viewed BEYOND DREAM’S DOOR and liked it—and was released on VHS by the late Vidamerica (who went bankrupt in 1991). After that the film fell off the radar for over a decade, finally resurfacing as a special edition DVD courtesy of Cinema Epoch. It contains the director’s cut of the film along with extensive behind the scenes footage, audio commentaries and the two shorts mentioned above. My advice? Get a copy. It’s worth it.
Eric Baxter, a psychology professor, is contacted by Ben Dobbs, a distraught student tormented by scary dreams involving a toothy monster. Baxter sends Ben to a dream lab presided over by Baxter’s young assistant Julie. She asks Ben to think back to the first dream he can recall, which turns out to be an idealized reverie involving a bright red balloon. Later he describes for Baxter another dream set within an old warehouse that happens to closely resemble an abode that exists nearby. Baxter takes Ben to the place, which has a trap door standing wide open. Ben decides the creature terrorizing him in his dreams came out of that very door.
It’s around this time that Ben’s dreams begin spreading beyond his immediate sphere and into the lives of Baxter and Julie. Baxter discovers a pair of shark-like teeth on his front porch, and Julie notices the dream balloon Ben described following her around.
From there reality dissolves entirely. Baxter’s shark teeth inexplicably vanish and then reappear, a book turns into a snapping creature that bites people’s ankles, zombies pack the landscape, flesh wounds bleed rainwater, Ben meets himself in the guise of an old man and Julie becomes a headless corpse. Presiding over it all is a shadowy man with no arms and the toothy monster that initially haunted Ben’s dreams. It’s Ben who appropriately enough seems to know how to break free of this irrational universe: go back to the warehouse he dreamed of earlier and shut the creature up inside the open trap doors. That of course is easier said than done!
This is perhaps the ultimate dreams-within-dreams movie, offering a surprisingly complex, poetic no-budget mindscape. It’s been accused of ripping off A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (still current when BEYOND DREAM’S DOOR was made) but in fact it’s nothing like that movie or its sequels, being a near-totally unique product. The only comparable film I can think of is David Lynch’s INLAND EMPIRE, which has a similarly open-ended, free-form structure. Like that film, this one may be total nonsense, but has a sincerity to it, and an authentically dreamlike feel that compels interest—and suggests a buried logic that may not actually be present.
The tacky synthesizer score, stilted performances and inconsistencies in the film stock all irritated me initially, but those annoyances gradually melted away. That’s due largely to the fact that director Jay Woefel’s confidence increases as the film advances. His pacing is tight and the chatter kept to a minimum, while there’s a fair (but never excessive) amount of gore, some pretty good monster effects (Woefel wisely keeps his giant toothy creature largely in darkness), and, at a sprightly 80 minutes, the film never overstays its welcome.
BEYOND DREAM’S DOOR
Director: Jay Woefel
Producer: Dyrk Ashton
Screenplay: Jay Woefel
Cinematography: Scott Spears
Editing: Susan Resatka, Randy Spears
Cast: Nick Baldasare, Rick Kesler, Susan Pinksy, Dan White, Norm Singer, Darby Vasbinder, Marge Whitney, Lucas Simpson