"I take orders from the Octoboss."

Dream Lover

May 6, 1994

The erotic thriller DREAM LOVER is so far the only movie directed by Nicholas Kazan, a writer who’s an Oscar nominee for REVERSAL OF FORTUNE and on my shit list for MOBSTERS. James Spader (SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE) stars as Ray Reardon, successful architect, charmer, admitted bad husband, but supposed to be well-meaning and sweet. At his divorce hearing he fires his lawyer and lets his now-ex Martha (Kathleen York, unaired DARKMAN tv pilot) have everything. Sitting in the courthouse afterwards they look like they’re on a first date that’s going really well. They talk about how much they still love each other but she can’t stay with him because he hit her. Which seems more than fair to me! He tries to downgrade it to a slap or accidental bump and justify it as a response to her cheating on him, and this does not offend her. She puts her head on his shoulder and tearfully promises that the woman he finds who’s right for him will be “the luckiest woman alive.”

He’s got this buddy at work named Norman, played by Larry Miller (SUBURBAN COMMANDO) in the classic Dennis Miller/Denis Leary/Kevin Pollack type role of the comedian playing a horny best friend who’s sexist in a supposedly lovable way. Norman invites Ray to a gallery show to try to set him up with a woman (Blair Tefkin, V, FRIGHT NIGHT PART II), and while trying to escape her he spills wine on Lena Mathers (Mädchen Amick, TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME, SLEEPWALKERS) and she chews him out.

Later he runs into Lena at the grocery store. She recognizes him, apologizes, and one thing leads to another – “one thing” being he takes her for sushi and walks her home, “another” being he stakes out her loft until he can approach her again and it leads to a multi-day sex marathon that dissolves to their wedding.

Then we race through time. A closeup of Lena leaning back moaning turns out not to be an orgasm, but giving birth. Now it’s their second anniversary, when a woman approaches Lena calling her Sissy. Ray starts noticing something’s weird, especially after he meets someone through work (Gretchen Becker, MANIAC COP 3: BADGE OF SILENCE) who went to Swarthmore at the same time as Lena and mentions some huge scandal that Lena claims not to remember. Ray turns private eye, goes to her home town and shows a photo around, and is told she’s a scam artist by ex-boyfriend Buddy (William Shockley, who I recognized as the rapist singer from SHOWGIRLS, but didn’t know was also the rapist who gets shot in the dick in ROBOCOP). From there he tracks down her parents (Kate Williamson [“Old Lady,” RED SHOE DIARIES] and Tom Lillard [“Police Sergeant,” ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK]), who don’t fit her description as horrible abusers and who were told they couldn’t meet him because he’s in the CIA.

Lena explains that she reinvented herself to get away from an unhappy life in a podunk town. Ray says he loves her “no matter who you were, no matter who you are, no matter who you will be.” But shit just keeps coming up! They have another kid who everyone jokes doesn’t look like him, he overhears a sexy-sounding phone conversation, a temp (Janel Moloney) who he recognizes as one of Lena’s only friends at their wedding tells him she was hired to go… it’s not good.

More and more lies are confessed to, a matchbook clue is followed, and in the tradition of his first marriage he hits her during a confrontation about cheating. Even though he punches her in the face with a full on action movie sound effect the movie makes it clear that she’s not really hurt or upset when she gets him committed for 72 hours of observation. In a hearing he explains what happened and sounds crazy, it comes up that he hit his first wife, and he flips out, goes on a tirade and fights with the orderlies. Not making a good case for himself in my opinion and also in the opinion of the authorities who keep him locked up.

So, along with his lawyer pal Elaine (Bess Armstrong, JAWS 3-D, also had a cameo in SERIAL MOM) and new mental hospital buddy Billy (Scott Coffey, WARRIORS OF THE LOST WORLD) he executes a master plan to outsmart Lena, which means (SPOILER FOR THE SHOCK ENDING) he lures her to the hospital and strangles her under the theory that he won’t be responsible because they’ve already had him declared legally insane. So Martha was wrong, she’s not the luckiest woman alive. It’s an effectively fucked up conclusion because it plays like a clever victory over a bad person but it also confirms that he always was a dangerous psycho. (Unless we’re supposed to agree with his abuser reasoning that she forced him into it.)

Like so much of the genre, this is a really paranoid world view, the fear of women using their evil sex powers to mount massively complicated schemes against us poor hapless men. But I think it’s a fairly entertaining one of those. It’s a nice touch to underpin the wronged protagonist with Spader’s famous smarm, as well as to make him exhibit stalker behavior well before we find out that she’s been stalking him. Amick is a good femme fatale, pulling off fragile-broken-enigma when she meets him, then playing innocent/dumb while all the questions are raised about her past, and finally being happy to unleash her full malevolence.

For the record I think it’s corny that Kazan tries to justify the title with intermittent dream sequences set at a carnival, but at least Paul Ben-Victor (ASSAULT OF THE KILLER BIMBOS, BODY PARTS, COOL WORLD, EXTREME JUSTICE, TRUE ROMANCE) got work playing a clown.

DREAM LOVER was reportedly released in the U.S. on May 6, but it must’ve been very limited. It opened at $44,701 and grossed $256,264. So 3 NINJAS KICK BACK did way better – that’s why we didn’t get DREAM LOVER KNUCKLE UP. But the original will always be out there, either on DVD or in an ancient Showtime signal still making its way to distant stars.

Thank you to jojo for mentioning this one in the comments, because I was gonna skip it.

Also released somewhere or other on May 6, 1994: PHANTASM III, IMMORTAL COMBAT

This entry was posted on Thursday, May 9th, 2024 at 12:49 pm and is filed under Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

17 Responses to “Dream Lover”

  1. You’re welcome!
    (although I actually don’t think I brought it up, only that I’ve seen it)

    I saw this via local TV station used to dedicate the Sunday night/Monday morning slot to “steamy” fare (Bedroom Eyes starring Mini Rodgers was played multiple times, if that gives an idea of the fare reserved for this slot). Seeing that this one starred James Spader made me think it would probably be weirder than most movies in the time-slot, yet I was still pretty surprised by how smarmy, stalker-y, and s&m-y, and kind of anti-steamy it was.

    I don’t even remember the dream sequences… Maybe the commercials were over those parts?

  2. Related anecdote: I guess Criterion was streaming this a few months ago, a co-worker watched it, and came in the next day saying

    “I just watched this completely fucked up James Spader movie last night”

    I was like “Uhhh… You’re going to have to be a bit more specific than that”

  3. Oh, I guess technically Majestyk brought it up (as a Spader movie he hadn’t heard of) and jojo who said the title. So thank you both!

  4. I always wonder about those guys like William Shockley who repeatedly get cast as rapist or nazi or whatever. Like I was watching star trek the other night and recognised an actor playing a nazi from a different older star trek series where he was also a nazi.
    Like man its gotta be rough on your self esteem to know that when casting agents are like “man I need someone that looks like a scumbag rapist… fuck I know just the guy!”

  5. Sounds like a proto Gone Girl.

  6. Glaive Robber

    May 9th, 2024 at 7:32 pm

    Unaired Darkman pilot?? What’s the story THERE?

    This sounds like a VERY 90’s movie. Unconventional leading man, arbitrary dream sequences, major role for a great stand-up comedian (Larry Miller had BRILLIANT routines), deeply confused sexual politics.

  7. The movie is called NIGHTMARE LOVER in Germany and that’s all I got.

  8. grimgrinningchris

    May 10th, 2024 at 5:53 am

    I’m not sure why I have never seen this. Like most, I love Spader… and Amick was one of my biggest 90s actress crushes between Twin Peaks, Sleepwalkers (an objectively bad movie that her and Alice Krige nearly… NEARLY save) and the Nic Cage (and Jon Lovitz and Dana Carvey and Richard Jenkins) Christmas/crime comedy, Trapped In Paradise. Did Vern ever review that? I need to look.

    I also loved attempts (usually failed, but often interesting) at “elevated” erotic thrillers.

  9. Great. Now I have George Clinton’s voice singing “Erotic thrillers, come aliiive!” in my head.


  10. Sounds like a proto Gone Girl.

    You know, that never occurred to me (Gone Girl was still like 10 years away when I saw this), but I’d be very, very, very surprised if the person that wrote the novel said they never saw this.

    Like, suspiciously surprised.

  11. grimgrinningchris

    May 10th, 2024 at 11:22 am

    Like I said, attempted (if rarely achieved) elevated erotic thrillers. Which Gone Girl (both the trashym airport bookstore page turner novel and its more artful movie adaptation) would definitely fit in with- and it seems as though there are a handful of more specific story similarities between the two. Can’t say for sure since I’ve never seen this movie (but now want to, more than ever) but it does seem that way from descriptions. Also, some of these similarities could be full on regular tropes of a genre I only have a passing knowledge of.

    Since I have been tying punk rock stuff in with some of the recent discussions, here is some trivia (though I think I have mentioned it elsewhere on here too)… the son of Danielle Steele – for decades the reigning queen of trashy romance and murder thrillers (which I am sure this movie took some inspiration from as it was made at a high point in her popularity)- like the John Grisham or James Patterson of that world… her son, was the singer of a popular 90s hardcore ska-punk band from the Bay Area called LINK 80 (think more Operation Ivy meets Dead Kennedys than like Reel Big Fish or Goldfinger or something). And the guitar player for that same band… directed the last 2 SCREAM movies as well as the sorta newly released and seemingly mostly well liked here, ABIGAIL.

  12. It’s funny that you mention that punch sound effect Vern. My friend was an assistant editor on this movie and we joked about that punch. He said it was a temp sound for a festival cut but it ended up in the final film. We often jokingly threaten one another with a “Dream Lover punch.”

  13. That has got to be the best behind the scenes info I will ever hear about DREAM LOVER. Thank you.

  14. Am I missing something, or does the woman in the film not do a whole lot of nefariousness? This all seems like slightly above normal relationship craziness to me. Hardly seems worth killing her over.

  15. Well, she (spoiler) gets him committed to an insane asylum as part of (I think) a money scam with her other guy. That’s the nefariousness, not a reason to kill her.

  16. @jojo:
    I always thought thar the completely fucked up Spader movie would be CRASH in the “my co worker saw something” analogy.

  17. I always thought thar the completely fucked up Spader movie would be CRASH in the “my co worker saw something” analogy.

    While Crash is usually the first thing that pops in one’s mind after hearing that descriptor, it’s also a lot like saying ‘car with wheels’ or ‘rude Parisian’.–in that — you’re going to need a bit more information to narrow it down.

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