Friday, July 29, 2011
Dream No Evil
Very simply put John Hayes' DREAM NO EVIL (1971) is the tale of a Grace, orphaned young girl with a daddy complex, turned evangelical circus performer, turned bat-shit crazy murderess in a dream world completely severed from reality.
Before the credits role, eight-year old Grace is having nightmares on her threadbare cot in the orphanage. She's screaming for her daddy to come and rescue her, but her pleas are dissuaded by the nuns, who tell her she has no daddy. Not unlike little Ricky's lot in SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT have I felt so forlorn. It's a deeply saddening scene and you feel for the little girl with her troubled delusions of rescue.
Fast forward ten or so years and Grace is now working as an acrobat of sorts in Jesse Bundy's (her soon-to-be brother-in-law) touring ministry. Her fiance, Patrick, has left the ministry for a medical career. Jesse desires Grace but wheels in his feelings because of her chaste relationship with Patrick. That doesn't stop him from making her don a skimpy outfit for her routines and muse about her figure constantly under his breathe.
Seems like a good life, huh? Doctor fiance, preaching the bible in a skimpy bathing suit. But Grace is still plagued the need to find her father. When her Roadshow visits a town she once lived in, he runs into resident pimp/undertaker (Marc Lawrence, director of the splendid PIGS!) and while trying to enlist Grace into his harem of old floozies, he mentions he has her daddy on ice in the basement! It's there where Grace seemingly sees her father rise from the slab, dispatch with the undertaker via scalpel to the back, and they retreat happily ever after, Southern Gothic ala Flannery Conner to a decrepit farm in the country.
However, as a very superfluous and annoying narration tells us, Grace is completely cut off from reality. All those scenes of her father drinking whiskey and playing the accordion? Never happened. The idyllic ranch where the two reside? Molding and deteriorating. What about when she invites Jesse over to meet her dear old dad? Murdered. The old sheriff who comes to investigate Jesse's disappearance? Sickled to death by the barn. But then, oh narration, who is doing the murdering? Why, Grace of course.
What could have been a magical exercise in the descent into madness tale of a young girl pining for a family is instead stripped of all it's magic by the annoying and intelligence insulting narrator. Case in point. Grace is sitting in a GONE WITH THE WIND style bedroom in a flowing gown. A quick cut and a booming narration let us know the reality of the situation is really a dingy and run-down room, with Grace in a filthy smock. It the voice-over hadn't ruined it for me, I might have been shocked to hear it was Grace's split from reality causing all this trouble.
Still, DREAM NO EVIL is a poignant little film. It's not surreal in its unrepentant representation of reality. Grace is deeply immersed in her dream life, hence the title. There's some fun ghost story elements at play as well. When the sheriff searches for the hotel where the undertaker/pimp works, it doesn't exist. It turns out the illusion has dominated the film long before we are supposed to realize it. Except for the fucking narration going and spoiling all the fun.
Other writers more astute that I, have provided correlations between director Hayes' childhood and Grace's onscreen one and have suggested a possible identifying with Grace on Hayes' part. Themes of abandonment, exasperation with religion, insanity abound and those who knew Hayes, he was a commercial filmmaker with no interest in art. So, if he does identify with Grace, this is a good example of stripping away some of that self-disillusionment. And probably why the whole thing is so damn straightforward, when it could have been much trippier. But that isn't a fault. Sometimes when I'm watching this wacky stuff from the seventies, all that psychedelic camera work to represent madness can get old. I get it, I get it, the fucking person is crazy. Enough with the weird angles and the gels.
I can't wait to see what else Hayes' work holds, because I am a budding fan. I couldn't help but wonder what he could have done with a better budget, because this is a deeply creative work. GRAVE OF THE VAMPIRE is his next piece I've got lined up and I'm sure I won't be disappointed. He also worked with Rue Mclanahan quite a bit back during her early career, so that could prove interesting as well. This title is alternately known as THE FAITH HEALER and NOW I LAY ME DOWN TO DIE. I think I like DREAM NO EVIL best, as it points to Grace's candy coated vision of reality with her dead father.