DREAM NO EVIL (1970) – This film, written and directed by schlockmeister John Hayes, made me wonder who I have to sue to make up for not having seen this gloriously bad movie before now. Dream No Evil is often pigeon-holed as a horror film but actually it combines a number of genres, none of which are well-represented. For a glib summary, let’s call it “A David Lynch film if all the David Lynch was drained from it.”
Brooke Mills stars as Grace MacDonald, whose character we viewers first meet in a flashback to when she was a little girl who had been abandoned at an orphanage. The child has recurring dreams about her father coming to take her back but that never happens. Ultimately she is adopted by the Bundy family, consisting of a preacher father who is also a faith healer and his two sons, Patrick and Jessie. Grace becomes part of the clan’s itinerant tent-show revival lifestyle.
Cut to years later. The Bundy patriarch has passed away, his “good” son Patrick (Paul Prokop) has left the family business to become a doctor, while his oily son Jessie (Michael Pataki) has taken over as preacher and faith-healer.
Jessie has mismanaged the traveling Bundy act into poverty and has been exploiting the now-adult Grace as the star attraction in his roadshow masses. In a truly bizarre concept, the highlight of one of Jessie’s sermons is when Grace, clad in a spangled swimsuit like a circus performer, climbs a thirty-foot ladder and dives onto an enormous cushion right when Jessie refers to sinners being “cast down into Hell.”
Yes, that is the highlight of his masses/ revival meetings, which are attended by equal numbers of males AND females. I guess we’re supposed to assume that the appeal for the men in the audience was the chance to see an attractive woman in scanty clothing, but you’d think a revival crowd would denounce Grace’s outfit as sinful. Or denounce the feelings she causes in some audience members as sinful.
Her dive down onto the cushion takes literally about a second but coming as it does right when her foster brother refers to being cast down into Hell, it’s always a hit with the crowd. (Don’t these people have televisions?) After Grace’s dive, Jessie does his faith-healing bit and presumably passes the collection plate.
By that point the bad/ weird movie pleasure-centers of my brain were tingling and Dream No Evil just gets worse and weirder from there. It turns out the nubile Grace is engaged to be married to her other foster brother Patrick, the one in his final year of medical school. Yes, I know they’re not blood relatives but they’ve been raised as brother and sister since childhood, and yet nobody in this flick finds it at all noteworthy.
Upping the sleaze angle is the fact that Jessie also has the hots for Grace and openly leers at her during the “rehearsals” for her dive from on high. He even mutters to his dead father about how lucky Patrick is to be marrying the woman. Needless to say, psychotronic film favorite Michael Pataki absolutely NAILS the lechery, insincere piety and overall sliminess of the preacher character.
Patrick, meanwhile, lives in a boardinghouse run by a cranky, nosey older woman (Pearl Shear). Also boarding there is another medical student, Shirley (Donna Anders), a sultry young lady who is so hard to wake up in the morning that you’d think she’s a junkie, but nope. She’s just weird, like everyone else in this production, and routinely needs shoved under a cold shower to make her get her butt in gear to start the day.
Patrick and Shirley keep their rooms as stiflingly littered with anatomical charts and models of organs as a little boy of the time would keep their room littered with slot car tracks and plastic army men. The landlady is always trying to push the two students together but so far Patrick has stayed faithful to his true love Grace.
In fact, Patrick soon sets aside the medical books to go visit his foster sister/ fiancee when the revival show/ diving act is appearing close enough for him to drive to. We soon see that Grace has continued her obsession with her father and tries to track him down in every town that her and Jessie’s roadshow passes through.
We also see that Grace refuses to have premarital sex with Patrick, who even commits the ultimate turn-off of saying “Please!” at one point. This particular night Grace’s excuse is that she has a particularly hot lead on her father and wants to check it out after Jessie’s mass is over. Patrick doesn’t believe she’ll ever find her father and leaves in horny disgust to get it on with Shirley back at the boardinghouse.
Later that night, Grace’s perseverance at last pays off as she tracks her real father to a cheap hotel for retirees/ dirty old men. The local pimp, played by perennial bad guy Marc Lawrence, shows up at the hotel periodically to peddle his elderly, chunky prostitutes to the barely alive residents. I don’t say that to be cruel. It’s part of the eeriness of the movie to behold the limp, close to death old men and the overly made-up (to Whatever Happened To Baby Jane level) hookers in their incredibly bizarre mating ritual.
Marc Lawrence’s pimp character tries to recruit Grace to serve as one of the younger, prettier prostitutes he peddles to younger, more affluent men. She refuses on religious grounds and ultimately the conversation turns to her father. As luck would have it, this pimp is also the local mortician (How can you NOT love a movie this relentlessly strange?) and he informs our heroine that her father passed away a few days ago and is at his funeral home waiting for embalming.
(Some of his hookers and their johns look like they’re ready for embalming, too. But seriously, there are CLOWNS who would tell these ladies to tone down their makeup.)
At the embalming room at the pimp/ mortician’s funeral home/ bordello (What a movie!), Grace sees her dead father, played by THE Edmond O’Brien, on the slab. She keeps insisting he’s still alive, but the mortician compassionately but firmly keeps telling her he’s dead. He even checks the vital signs for her. Hey, he may be a pimp, but he’s GREAT with his funeral home customers!
Grace remains in denial and wishes her father back to life. The top-billed O’Brien rises from the slab and stabs the pimp/ mortician to death. Marc Lawrence’s hesitant, non-committal dying scene is hysterically bad. Words can’t do it justice, you simply have to see it.
Dream No Evil remains steadfastly self-defeating by having the narrator blow any potential surprises down the road by telling us in no uncertain terms that Grace is crazy and really killed the man herself, but is seeing things as if her father really did come back to life. Director Hayes will NOT have you viewers making his movie better than it is with your speculations! So knock it off!
That sets the tone for the rest of the movie. Grace, thinking she and her father are living in a nice farmhouse, is really living alone in a filthy, rundown and abandoned house. Mostly we see the illusion, with just periodic shots of the grim reality as Grace dotes over the father she thinks she’s finally found. O’Brien acts like a stern but loving father with periodic forays into odd hostility.
Grace has even provided an imaginary white horse named Sultan for her fantasy world. She apparently hallucinates Pataki/ Jessie coming for a visit, since he converses with the unreal father. In a moment that will send you into Bad Movie Nirvana, Edmond O’Brien has Grace fetch his squeeze-box and has her dance a literal Irish Jig while he plays it. Everyone acts like this is the most natural activity in the world, even though it’s 1970!
And best of all, EVEN MICHAEL PATAKI DANCES A JIG FOR A LITTLE WHILE! This was the point where I started contemplating legal action. SOMEBODY has to pay for me never having heard of this movie until now!
Later, in what is apparently a real visit from Jessie, Grace starts kissing him and undressing for him, only to see her father kill him like he killed the mortician/ pimp. She doesn’t want her father arrested and separated from her again so she covers for him and disposes of the corpse.
Back with Patrick, he and Shirley are becoming closer. One afternoon she cooks and serves him a VERY rare duck and, in what plays like a bizarre forerunner of the chicken dinner in Eraserhead, this bird bleeds profusely. Patrick upsets Shirley by pointing out “Your duck is bleeding really badly,” a line which has now replaced “You bastard, you killed my duck” from The Doors as my favorite piece of duck-related movie dialogue.
SPOILERS: Eventually, the police start to close in on Grace over the dead bodies she thinks her father is leaving in their wake. Patrick and Shirley show up to inform Grace that he is dumping her, which really pushes her over the edge and she tries killing them with a scythe. The cops show up and the Sheriff gets scythed by Grace in a hilariously fake-looking death scene, but our crazed heroine is arrested and taken away.
Arthur Franz shows up as John, the County Psychiatrist, and channels the doctor from the end of Psycho with a wrap-up for idiots who didn’t understand what the narrator made painfully clear to us earlier in the film. Still, you have to love that inane job title “County Psychiatrist.” It’s no pimp/ mortician, but it made me smile.
In closing, the narrator drones on some more while we viewers get a final glimpse of the imaginary horse Sultan galloping around the farm. The End.
By no means should you watch Dream No Evil (also titled The Faith Healer) unless you’re like me and you WALLOW in so bad they’re good movies. For a certain audience, this thing is sheer bliss, all the way from the tagline “The Face of an Angel…The Body of a Woman…But Evil in Every Way!!!” to the impromptu Irish Jig and, of course, the pimp/ mortician! Talk about a Gig Economy!
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