Interview With Dreamaniac Director David DeCoteau

1986′s Dreamaniac was a product of the times – made during the genre’s infatuation with Freddy Krueger, it was a Faustian tale that reversed the mainstay gender roles – the main character is a male, a rock musician who makes a deal to achieve personal success, at the cost of all the women around him being offed by a female dream demon in an assortment of nasty ways (power drill, anyone?). The confused young man being hounded by the representation of a ‘nightmare female’ helps to make this the perfect companion piece to similarly gay-tinged A Nightmare On Elm St 2: Freddy’s Revenge.

The movie was released through Wizard Video, Charles Band’s video company, and came in a gorgeous cardboard ‘big box’ as was the standard for the company at the time. We caught up with director David DeCoteau a few years back for an interview that hasn’t been public till now. DeCoteau has enjoyed a long career in b-movies to this day, and it all started with Dreamaniac.

How did the project get started and when/how did you meet Charlie Band? Is it true he kicked in half the budget?

I was 24 years old. I wanted to make a movie. I developed a script called SUCCUBUS. I had 30K to invest which would get me through a 10 day – 16mm shoot. I would deal with finding the post cash later. The writer Helen Robinson (not me, but a pseudonym for a new writer who is now a major television writer) knew the development head at Empire Pictures, Debra Dion. Helen gave it to her as a writing sample and Debra loved it and wanted to buy it even though it was just a writing sample. Helen said that this kid named David DeCoteau was gonna start shooting it in a week and you should meet with him. I went in and not only met with Ms. Dion but the man himself Mr. Charles Band. What made the meeting successful is that I had a “go” picture and that is entirely different that pitching an idea that may be a treatment that could be a script in a year. This movie was gonna be shot in less than a week. Charlie wanted in. He made me an offer to cover the cost of post production, pay me back my 30K and give me a fee. If he liked the movie I could continue making as many of them as I wanted as the price was less than any of the movies they we’re making at the time. It worked. He kept his word and we’ve been the best of friends since. Next year will be our 20th anniversary of friendship. I’ve made 30+ movie for the man.

How long did it take to write the script, if you are “Helen Robinson”…

It took a few weeks if I remember right. We shot the first draft. Empire didn’t have any notes on the draft we shot.

Was the heavy metal and nightmare elements a response to the popular horror film elements of the mid-80s?

Absolutely. There was this media controversy  over heavy metal lyrics at the time. That they made kids commit suicide and warped their brains. I borrowed that and the whole Freddy Krueger thing. I sold it as a female Freddy Krueger story.

Do you remember the dates or how long it took to shoot?

I think it was around the Spring or Fall of 1986. It was a 10 day shoot. Non union everything. I did the first edit in a week and then an Empire editor, Peter Trencher, was brought in to spice it up. Peter has gone on to major success as an editor of big Hollywood movies such as CHARLIE’S ANGELS. The post cost about 30k too, so the whole thing cost Charlie 60K. The house we shot in was in an area of LA near Larchmont Village. I found it driving around and saw a For Sale sign. The realtor on the sign said PAUL LEDER and I thought could this be the PAUL LEDER that directed I Dismember Mama and A*P*E? I called the number and it was the same man. We met and he rented me the house for 200 bucks a day. He wanted to help me because he loved young filmmakers and was very supportive of me. We became fast friends. He called me THE DAKOTA KID and I called him PAPA PAUL. It was a tragedy when he died of lung cancer. He was a heavy smoker. I miss him horribly.

How did you round up the cast? Also, interested in how you came to cast porn fave Kim McKamy.

Kim McKamy was lovely on the set and so talented. Her role did require nudity but she wouldn’t have any part of it. She’d do the movie if she would keep her top on. I said fine. It was the guys that we’re getting naked anyway in the movie. I was amazed she got into adult video. She did so right after CREEPOZOIDS which was my second movie for Empire. More power to her. The rest of the cast we’re hired from Dramalogue, which was an actor’s newspaper in LA like Backstage is in NYC. The cast got paid 50 bucks a day.

David DeCoteau

Was there much pay going around to the crew?

Yes. I paid the crew essentially their rate because there were so few of them. Cameraman, one assistant camera person, 2 lighting guys, One makeup artist, one prop and one set decorator. I think we had two PAs as well.

How did you meet and put to work Cinematographer Howard Wexler, who has since gone on to do further shows for you?

Lets just say that Howard and I used to make “love stories” together. We met when I was 19 and worked as his assistant. he’s a real find. Fast as lightning and works with a small crew. very creative and a dream of a guy to work with. Checkout his site at howardwexler.com

What was running through your head while making it. Was there time to consciously plan & change things or was it a shoot & run affair?

I wanted to make something as shocking as ReAnimator. I did plan it out but on any low budget show I compromised a great deal. We did shoot without a permit though. I hate LA.

Do you have any memories of raunchy or zany stuff that went on during the shoot?

Not really. It was a clean and professional show considering the twisted and lurid subject matter.

What were the major difficulties of making this movie?

Yeah. The makeup artist was slow. It would take two hours to get the first shot. That pissed me off because as a director, time is your worst enemy.

Did the footage make for a quick and easy edit?

I thought so. It was a long cut and Peter cut about 20 minutes out of it. I can’t remember what stuff was cut because that footage is in some unknown vault somewhere when Empire was sold to the bank.

Did Charlie [Band] visit the set much, and how much control or guidance did he have over the pic?

No. Not a thing. He said to me that he’d see me at the director’s cut. He did. Debra Dion came to the set for 10 minutes and that was it.

The film appears to have only been released on video. It got some lovingly lurid cover art and was the first of Band’s “Too gory for the silver screen” series of low budget Wizard Video titles. Was that always the plan or was it ever going to go out through Empire Pictures?

Too Gory for the Silver Screen was my idea. I met with the head of Wizard, Charles Weinert. He and I came up with ideas to sell the picture. We discussed the female Freddy Krueger concept which was used it the art and the whole concept of Direct to video. At the time many crap movies, which had no business playing in theaters, were going theatrical to help video sales. DREAMANIAC was shot in 16mm but finished on one-inch video tape. No print was available. I suggested saying that this is a theatrical movie but because of the whole R RATED issue theaters demanded that we were forced to go direct to video because the film was TOO GORY FOR THE SILVER SCREEN and could never get an R rating.

DeCoteau’s current projects can be found at daviddecoteau.blogspot.com

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About the Author

Editor, Retro Slashers. Producer, Sleepaway Camp 4.

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