My Brother has Bad Dreams (1972)

Shit, Karl. If your dreams are this unhealthy, I’d hate to see your sister’s.

My Brother has Bad Dreams might be the most downbeat film I’ve ever seen. So why am I not crying? Writer/director Robert Emery (Ghetto Freaks) made some good decisions. Instead of bogging the narrative down with characters we can actually relate to, Emery spiced things up with people that are bizarre. Very bizarre. So bizarre, in fact, that it’s impossible to remove this suburban nightmare from its own make-believe context. We are voyeurs into a house of repression, non-communication, and very grisly murders. Think you can relate? Our hero Karl masturbates to his sister. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Karl (looking like an older Bill Haverchuck from Freaks and Geeks) has huge problems. He’s a twenty-something man-child who lives in a large house with his older sister, Emma. At the age of ten, Karl witnessed his drunken father murder his wheelchair-bound mother with a fireplace iron. That’s not good news. Today, Karl lives a respectable life; sleeping with mannequins, sweating profusely, and wearing the same clothes everyday. Don’t forget about the sis-love, either. Or the theremin-tinged, rubber monster mask nightmares. When drifter/’Nam vet Tony revs into town on his motorbike, Karl shares a homoerotic skinny dip with the guy, then invites him over for dinner. Slow down, Karl! Being a 28-year-old virgin, Emma entices Tony for a late nite tryst. She convinces him to stay a few days. After all, Karl “needs help.” What happens next is surprising, unsettling, and incredibly effective.

My Brother has Bad Dreams isn’t the most well-acted movie in the world. There are also long sequences of dialogue, which sometimes spin the wheels. Plot? Not one to speak of, really. Luckily, none of that matters. This film breaks the rules, engrosses you, and keeps you curious. By the end, your curiosity is paid off tenfold with a climax that manages to completely shock and invoke sympathy. Not an easy task, especially for a low-budget rarity from Florida with only a handful of actors on display. If you peer behind the locked front door of Emma’s house, it’ll stick with you. Long after Karl has made his peace.

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