Intervision brings us more shot-on-video regional horror rarities with the DVD double bill DREAM STALKER and DEATH BY LOVE.
DREAM STALKER is the story of Sacramento model Brittney (Valerie Williams) who swears eternal love to her motorcycle racer boyfriend Ricky (Mark Dias, NIGHTFORCE) before he is killed in an accident. Burying herself in her work for three years and moving up in the modeling world, Brittney starts having nightmares in which Ricky tries to kill her. In scientifically analyzing her dreams, German-accented Dr. Frisk (effects artist Keith Lack) determines that Brittney's nascent psychic powers have the power to telekinetically amplify her nightmares and prescribes rest and relaxation. Unfortunately, each time Brittney falls asleep, Ricky's possessive spirit is able to interact with the real world and he starts murdering anyone who might convince her to move on. Stealing away to her family's country cabin, she runs afoul of a camp for troubled youths run by old flame Sage (Michael Houlton) and forms a budding relationship with old high school classmate grown studly Greg (John Tyler), providing romantic rivals and a few delinquent would-be rapists as potential victims of Ricky's rampage. Shot on now cheap and gauzy-looking broadcast analog videotape and rife with eighties/nineties big hair and enormous should pads, DREAM STALKER takes its cue from the Elm Street series (with a side of THE SLAYER). More effectively (if rudimentarily) plotted than acted or directed, the film at least holds viewer attention even as its developments are entirely predictable (only scuttling viewer expectations when Brittney wakes up before Ricky can kill someone). Production value is iffy but the filmmakers do deliver the requisite gore and T&A as well as a handful of atmospheric moments.
DEATH BY LOVE opens with renowned sculptor Joel Frank (Alan Grant) meeting cute with fellow jogger Amy (Yvonne Aric). After a romantic montage of frolicking and fireside lovemaking, Amy professes her love for Joel. Amy is not long for this world, however, as she is soon discovered by her neighbor drained of blood. Surprisingly, Joel is not the prime suspect and allowed to leave town for his woodsy retreat where he can start work on a new sculpture with his too-close older business manager Eleanor (Tamara Betz) running interference for him. Meanwhile, detectives Rick (Brad Bishop) and Mike (Donald Hendrix) respond to a landlord's complaint about a creepy resident and discover the lair of killer Edgar Peterson (Frank McGill, DARK HARVEST), a childhood friend of Joel's who has been following his movements for five years and has murdered at least four of Joel's previous girlfriends. They surmise from the evidence that Edgar is a devil worshipper, and that he believes Joel is he devil (hence the exsanguinated sacrifices). Joel has quickly fallen into bed with local realtor Renee (Erika Mills) and it is becoming more and more likely that she did not make her big move to New York. When Joel comes back from a business trip with yet another lady love (Peggilee Wupperman), Rick and Mike stake out his house waiting for the killer to strike; but Edgar is conflicted when he discovers the identity of Joel's new squeeze.
A Dallas-lensed regional vanity project written/produced/directed by and starring building contractor Grant, DEATH BY LOVE finds its star and his comely co-stars traipsing about private properties as naked as jaybirds waxing romantic too long between murders - with further padding from sub-Crockett and Tubbs Rick and Mike - before a surprising (in a WTF sort of way) twist that makes ambiguous Edgar's next moves. Grant is dull but McGill is creepy enough that one realizes that the film could have used more of him earlier on. Production values are a little better since Grant seemed to have been relatively well-heeled or at least better networked than some of his contemporaries, and the prosthetic make-up is fairly good if not particularly terrifying. The end result has its meagre charms in spite of bum writing thanks to the obvious determination of its auteur and fair to good performances.
Both SOV films were released to tape by DREAM STALKER producer Artistic License's own short-lived video label (DEATH BY LOVE both separately and in a double bill with DARK HARVEST, presumably shortened as they are both 90 minute films and the running time of the tape is listed as 132 minutes). DREAM STALKER probably looked crisper played off of tape on a CRT television but here looks expectedly softer and gauzier. Shadows and blacks are grayish and more saturated colors are noisy, and the master has a few blips of damage but it probably looks as good as it can digitized. Better photographed on higher quality analogue video equipment, DEATH BY LOVE has a more stable image and colors but will never be mistaken for film or digital video. The relatively clean Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtracks consist of a lot of live sound, slathered music, and spare application of foley effects. Optional English SDH subtitles are provided for both.
As if these two rare SOV films were not enough, Intervision and Severin have produced a handful of new extras to accompany them. DREAM STALKER co-star Dias is interviewed in "Remembering Ricky" (21:30) in which he recalls going to Los Angeles to be an actor and landing a small bit in NIGHTFORCE with Linda Blair, taking on New York only for his appendix to burst, and first becoming acquainted with Artistic License with a supporting part in LEARNING CURVE. He recalls DREAM STALKER's original script "Kinetic Nightmare" being better than the finished product which he feels was both dumbed down and lost some footage and scenes due to poor organization and technical issues. He enjoys it now with distance and feels it is better than it has any right to be yet felt as actor at the time that it could have been better. In "Dirtbike Dreams" (11:31), executive producer Tom Naygrow (NUDIST COLONY OF THE DEAD) recalls tension with the director who had his name removed from the film because he objected to the inclusion of some of the content that he shot (he goes unnamed here while his name was bleeped out in Dias' interview). He recalls some of the same anecdotes as Dias, including an aspiring stuntman who offered to do a twenty-foot fall for free only to shatter his leg (the production insurance initially would not cover his hospital bill but relented in the hopes of attracting more film productions to buy their policies).
In "Alan Grant Remembers Death by Love" (9:10), the writer/director/producer/star/make-up artist reveals that he planned to be an actor but was drafted. Later, he worked as a nightclub singer and entertainer before going into contracting. He remained interested in the arts and took up sculpture, drawing, and painting. His first experience with the movies was working on special effects for a video project in Arizona that was never completed. Deciding to return to Texas and do his own production, he recruited inexperienced Bil Andrews from the Arizona project as videographer for their shared enthusiasm and set about raising money from family and friends. By the time editing and scoring were completed, his one contact in distribution had gone out of business and he had to market the film himself at a convention in Los Angeles. He is still self-conscious about some aspects of the film but looks back on it fondly. In "Yvonne Aric and Brad Bishop remember Death by Love via Video Skype" (10:05), Aric reflects on her one and only film credit as an experience she wanted to have before settling down (awkward love scenes and all) while Bishop provides a broader picture. A softball player who tore his ACL before the shoot, Bishop recalls that Grant wanted him in the film enough to shoot around the fact that he could stand and walk a little but not run and speaks fondly of co-star Hendrix. The disc is packaged with reproductions of the original video art (the DEATH BY LOVE one being a bit indistinct) with a blurb from Bleeding Skull (the site where I first heard of DREAM STALKER). (Eric Cotenas)
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