Beyond Dream’s Door Blu-ray Review (Vinegar Syndrome)
To sleep - perchance to forget my dreams and have a monster rip me apart
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Dream stories are tricky, because there is always the possibility that the element of the dream slips away into nonsense that loses its way. There are so many possibilities with dream sequences that a film can get bogged down with them, that the overall defining characteristic of its approach is constantly modified resulting in a completely different mood or tone. Beyond Dream’s Door, a student project from Jay Woelfel released in 1989, does not fall into this trap; its dream elements feel logical and grounded, with an intrinsic verisimilitude that’s often hard to accomplish. And for a movie with such a small budget and a limited number of novice resources, that feels like a huge success even if the end result still remains a bit messy and unpolished.
The film follows Ben Dobbs (Nick Baldasare), a college psych student who seeks the help of his professor and then his TAs after he realizes that he’s been having terrible dreams of a monster, a naked woman, and a non-existent brother all looking to draw him into their web. And the strange part is that for a long time he could never remember any of his dreams; the memory of them simply left him, the same type of problem a previous psychology patient had had.
Throughout, Woelfel explores dream-like surrealism that more than once resembles a similar technique A Nightmare on Elm Street successfully employed, where the boundaries between waking and dream world are mostly fluid and surprising. Because of its budget, Beyond Dream’s Door suffers from its particularly hokey practical effects – mainly its plastic-looking monster – but other elements come together very well. Woelfel employs an eerie atmosphere throughout aided by a synth-laden score, and some evocative imagery with various color elements and some occasional visceral gore adds to the feelings of dread.
While some of the allusions and symbolism feel like they get lost in the film’s abbreviated running time, the film never loses its internal logic. It’s a particularly effective approach at this type of dream story, drawing from the obvious inspirations and also H.P. Lovecraft’s dream cycle works. While viewers expecting something professional will probably be disappointed, as a student project, Beyond Dream‘s Door is a pretty astounding first attempt – clearly a love project from Woelfel that shows in its entire makeup. If you’ve got a spare 80 minutes, spend it crossing the threshold with this film.
Full, uncompressed screenshots from this Blu-ray.
Vinegar Syndrome has brought Beyond Dream’s Door to Blu-ray as part of the Homegrown Horrors set with a new 2K scan of the film’s 16mm negative along with a few inserts from videotape explained at the beginning of the film. The 16mm was missing a few bits of footage and all of the other prints have been lost; since the film was edited on video, Vinegar Syndrome was able to grab some rougher inserts for the final product. The end result is not terribly noticeable, and it’s only a few shots here and there using the video footage. Otherwise, Beyond Dream’s Door fares nicely with a negative that has appeared to age quite well. Color timing is consistent as is the grain scale, which is fairly heavy due to the 16mm source but retains texture and definition anyway. This is definitely the best way to see Beyond Dream’s Door unless you want to try seeking out a time-weathered VHS version or a hard-to-find DVD, and truthfully, though its monster effects may not benefit from the clarity, the cinematography and gore effects certainly do.
The audio offered is a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track, which makes good use of surround speakers to enunciate the eerie dream-like atmosphere. Wind, growling, and the ambient score all utilize rear speakers to interesting effect, and its especially surprising that this low-budget presentation did not just go with a stereo soundtrack. It’s well-represented on this disc from Vinegar Syndrome. English subtitles are also included with a couple minor mistakes.
Beyond Dream’s Door gets a number of extra features, including four (!) commentary tracks. Two of these have appeared on a previous DVD release, but there are a pair of new ones featuring a group commentary with Woelfel, cinematographer Scott Spears, and actors Nick Baldasere and Rick Kesler as well as a solo track with Baldasere moderated by Dave Parker. Both of these shed additional light on the film and go along great with the main featurette on this release, the 41-minute making-of special that involves all of the aforementioned players documenting their work on the project. Also of note is the addition of a few short films, most importantly the original 20-minute version of Beyond Dream’s Door that acts as a truncated but tonally similar introduction to the main feature. A couple other Woelfel shorts are collected too.
Besides these new offerings, there are multiple archival SD featurettes ported from the past release, along with cut scenes, bloopers, trailers, and other behind-the-scenes montages. The packaging also gets reversible cover artwork. All told, a lot of extras to wade through if the viewer is interested in the process behind this production.
Region Free Blu-ray
NEW scanned & restored in 2k from its 16mm original camera negative (with tape inserts)
NEW “Where Horror Lies” – an extended making-of documentary featuring interviews with the cast and crew (HD; 41:04)
NEW Group commentary track with: director Jay Woelfel, cinematographer Scott Spears, actor Nick Baldasare & actor Rick Kesler
NEW Commentary track with: actor Nick Baldasare, moderated by Dave Parker
Beyond Dream’s Door short form making-of featurette (SD; 7:47)
Beyond Dream’s Door short form raw footage (SD; 4:29)
At the Door of Darkness (SD; 7:31)
Come to Me Softly (HD; 8:10)
Rick Kesler interview (SD; 1:34)
NEW Reversible cover artwork
English SDH subtitles
Beyond Dream’s Door is particularly effective despite its low budget and its amateur filmmakers, and as a student project, it’s damn impressive. It has a Lovecraft-esque element that should suck viewers into its dreamscapes. Vinegar Syndrome has done a great job with this restoration as well as assembling a number of extras that show how the filmmakers’ pet project is still loved to this day.
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