Beyond Dream’s Door (1989)

What happens to dreams when they’re forgotten? Do they just fade away into the cold, dark corners of your psyche? Do they disappear silently, without so much a word or a fleeting look? Or do they go out with a whimper and a resigned sigh?

Or do your forgotten dreams go out fighting, with white-knuckled shrieks of bloody, bloody revenge? Then, do they all come together and force their way back into your consciousness and leap into reality? And when they do, do they take the form of the monster that haunted your childhood nightmares—meaning, do they look like a dinosaur that’s been turned inside out?

Ben, a grown-ass man plays hide-and-go-seek with an intense little boy. Since Ben is a grown-ass man, he’s too big to hide under a bed. So he hides behind a bookcase. A bloody, gnarled claw reaches for him and strangles him. The boy looks on.

Wait! It was all just a dream!

After Ben’s parents died when he was nine, he stopped remembering his dreams.

Here’s a fact: I don’t remember any of my dreams. OK, fine, that’s a lie. I remember exactly two. One is about how former NBA player Steve Nash got bored at my dinner party. I don’t know shit about sportsball or Steve Nash, but there he is, hanging out in my wretchedly boring dream. In my other dream, a nonthreatening lazy lion is on my front lawn and I get annoyed that I have to use the side door to enter my house, which isn’t even that nice—meaning my literal dream house is kind of a dump. I’m convinced that my dreams are totally unimaginative and endlessly tedious, which is why I don’t remember them.

Turns out, though, dreams don’t like to be forgotten. They certainly do not. Ben’s dreams cross over into reality and wreak havoc. Soon he encounters severed heads, a gaggle of zombies, and a man with no hands who mops up a puddle of blood left by a vicious, lumbering T. rex. Ben’s dreams are out for revenge. But they’re also out for something specific—a poem he received from the dream version of himself.

“Beyond dream’s door is where horror lies,
Where love may sleep with sorrow’d eyes,
Where demons wait to greet the ones,
Who dare not reach its darkened shores,
Beyond dream’s door tomorrow dies.”

This poem is dreadful, but whatever, the dreams want it and they’re on the warpath to get it. With the help of some psychology graduate students, Ben must trap the monster from his forgotten dreams.

The plot of Beyond Dream’s Door is more or less inscrutable. The script suffers from gaping holes; characters and plot lines disappear and events go unexplained. Scenes don’t propel the plot forward, but rather move it laterally toward, though not into, an abyss of confusion. And yes, it feels like a Nightmare on Elm Street rip-off at times. But, you don’t watch this film for the plot. You watch it for the impressive technical filmmaking and to get drawn into this well-crafted, surreal, little world. In terms of cinematography, lighting, editing, framing, composition, and all things having to do with the actual making of a film, Beyond Dream’s Door is unparalleled in its budget. There are multiple camera angles, trick photography, fast-paced cuts, tracking shots, experimental dream sequences, and a multitude of sets that are skillfully lit. This feels more like a studio picture than something a DIY filmmaker created after cobbling some money together. This is not a movie where the director put up a camera and had people act in front of it. Each scene has several edits and angles that constantly change. This is a film that was painstakingly composed, but with just enough room to play with different techniques. What’s even more impressive is that it’s director Jay Woelfel’s first feature-length film.

The special effects are skillful, too. In one scene a book turns into a snaggletoothed monster that chomps on a leg. The terrorizing dinosaur is onscreen long enough to impress, but not long enough to show its DIY flaws. Shadows and silhouettes are expertly employed to make up for a meager practical effects budget.

If there’s one thing I take away from Beyond Dream’s Door, it’s knowing that all my forgotten dreams will attack me. But a bored Steve Nash and a stupid lion aren’t going to do much harm.

If there’s one more thing I take away from this movie it’s that Jay Woelfel went on to be the composer for Human Prey, which is a waste of time that you should not watch, unless you like wasting your time. Then by all means, do it. Do you.

Or, you can watch this instead.

From the Archives