Smash Vision // 2001 // 624 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // March 20th, 2009
Facing the Masters of Fear
Dark Dreamers: Volume 1 includes twenty-six episodes of an interview show produced in Canada and hosted by Stanley Wiater. Across these episodes he questions an impressive group of horror luminaries:
* Clive Barker
* Forrest J Ackerman / Richard Matheson
* Nancy Kilpatrick / Edo Van Belkom
* John Saxon
* Douglas Cleeg / Jack Ketchum
* Gahan Wilson
* Peter Straub
* Harlan Ellison
* Richard Laymon / Bernie Wrightson
* Peter Atkins / Tony Randel
* George Clayton Johnson / William F. Nolan
* Larry Cohen
* Bob Burns
* Charles Band
* Wes Craven
* Chas Balun / Del Howison
* William Lustig
* Julie Strain
* Stan Winston
* Richard Ban / John Ottman
* John Landis
* Denice Duff / John Skipp
* Sean S. Cunningham
* Craig Spector / Richard Christian Matheson
* KNB Effects Group
Each episode runs about 25 minutes and features an extended interview with the subject or subjects. They begin with some opening narration by interview Stanley Wiater, followed by a quick overview of the participant's accomplishments. The interviews proceed for the majority of the program, and the show ends with a monologue by Wiater. All these shows add up to ten-and-a-half hours over four discs.
Just from looking at the list of subject, it's easy to be totally impressed by this package. I wanted to love Dark Dreamers: Volume 1, and there are certainly some positive aspects, but overall it's a mixed bag.
First, the good:
* The depth and breadth of the interview subjects. We're talking about thirty-five interviews, most of them nearing the half-hour mark. For an MSRP of twenty-five dollars, that's a pretty impressive collection of subjects for the price. Also, this is a very broad cross section of the horror world. We get respected, critically acclaimed people like Harlan Ellison, Clive Barker, and John Landis next to B-movie figures like Charles Band and Julie Strain. Also, the interviews cover a number of different jobs in the horror field. We get authors, directors, actors, producers, and effects artists. Although a few names are missing (Stephen King?), this is one of the most impressive collections of interview material yet compiled for horror fans.
* The subjects themselves. Creative people (assuming they can get over any shyness) make some of the best interview subject because they're generally imaginative. It also helps that many of Wiater's questions center around the individuals' craft, whether that's writing, directing, or acting. My favorite interview on this set was easily Harlan Ellison's because the interview is structured so we get a sense of Ellison's take-no-crap attitude, but most of the interview focuses on Ellison's writing process and his advice to those who want to write. Most of the interviews follow this format, but Ellison's attitude makes his section stand out.
* The packaging. The four DVDs are housed in a keep case that has a booklike cover over it, and it evokes those old oversized clamshell cases so many wonderful horror films used to be distributed in. The set looks good on the shelf and all four DVDs seem secure.
Not all is sunshine and roses however. A couple of things keep this set from being essential:
* Stanley Wiater. He begins and ends each episode with a monotone monologue about "dark dreamers." He's obviously trying to evoke classic opening moments like that of The Twilight Zone, but the fairly lame narration coupled with his emotionless reading makes the first listen barely tolerable, and subsequent rounds torture. He also has a habit of interrupting his interviewees. I know that interviewers sometimes have to coax reluctant subjects, but Wiater sometimes interrupts to add a single word to the thoughts of some of these creators. I'm pretty sure that Harlan Ellison doesn't need Wiater's help with word choice, but Wiater interrupts anyway. It's not constant, but it happens often enough to be intermittently annoying.
The individual DVDs aren't well structured. Instead of treating each episode individually, they're all lumped into a 120-minute-long sequence, with chapter stops at the beginning and middle of each episode/interview. This means you skip between interviews, and even skip the middle of each interview, but you can't skip that obnoxious opening narration. Also, there's an almost total lack of context for this series on the DVD. The cover mentions the interviews were "originally recorded for the Dark Dreamers television series," but the disc gives no indication if the show was only interviews, when it ran, and for how long. I'm not looking for anything extensive, but a little text extra with a brief history of the show (since it doesn't even have a Wikipedia or IMDb page) would have been nice.
For fans interested in the craft of horror, Dark Dreamers: Volume 1 is easily worth a rental. Although the interview segments are good, I'm not sure that they have a high replay value, and coupled with the poor opening narration and DVD structure, I can't recommend a purchase.
Review content copyright © 2009 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Smash Vision
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 624 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated