Odds and Sods: Liquid Dreams (1991)

Though too knowingly barmy for its own good, Matty still finds a few things to like about Mark Manos’ saucy sci-fi thriller.

The fundamental problem with LIQUID DREAMS and the other similarly ‘quirky’ B-movies it used to share shelf space with (chiefly, The Vagrant (1992) and the insufferable Sonny Boy (1989)) is that the weirdness on display seems forced and achingly self-conscious. This Cassian Elwes production, for example, owes a screamingly obvious debt to Davids Lynch and Cronenberg. However, whereas their trippy nightmares ooze a singular sense of unease that you just know comes from the deepest recesses of their creative souls, Liquid Dreams’ debuting helmer, Mark Manos, is simply happy to ape their style instead of crafting a vision of his own. Even the cast members used to flesh out the film’s ancillary characters appear to have been hired for their cult credentials rather than their actual talents, with perennial Hispanic ‘that guy’ Juan Fernandez; John Waters staple Mink Stole; and Death Race 2000 (1975) director Paul Bartel all popping up as Liquid Dreams chugs along [1]. The whole thing is a deliberate and purposefully ‘odd’ facsimile — well, until the last reel anyway, when the crazy on show finally exhibits a semblance of personality.

That said, Liquid Dreams is at least an agreeable and entertaining copy. An editor by trade, Manos — now an in-demand splicer for television — possesses a good eye and crafts some striking images, and the bulk of the film’s sets are stellar examples of what a skilled production designer (Pam Moffat) can achieve via tenacity and dumpster diving. And despite a wheel-spinning mid-section and an abundance of lame Wizard of Oz (1939) nods, Liquid Dreams is buoyed by a compelling story.

Eerily foreshadowing her real-life death in 2004, Candice Daly stars as a small-town lass who arrives in a grimy, future-shock city looking for her sister, only to discover her dead of a drug overdose in a labyrinthine tenement populated by a host of freaks and misfits. Convinced she was the victim of foul play, Daly gets a job as a taxi dancer in one of the seedy nightclubs located a floor or two above to try and find out what really happened. The answer involves homemade porn flicks, brainwashing, erotic rituals, and a sinister, mojo-draining villain called The Major (Barry Dennen)… 

A kinky, noir-tinged sci-fi mystery, Liquid Dreams premiered at Cannes in May 1991, and played at the Chicago International Film Festival five months later as part of their edgy ‘Outer Limits’ programme alongside The Runestone (1991); My Lovely Monster (1991); Christoph Doering’s Von Wegen (1991); Bobcat Goldthwait’s Shakes the Clown (1991); and comedy troupe The L.A. Connection’s Blobermouth (1991) (a cringe-inducing re-dub of The Blob (1958), done in the manner of What’s Up, Tiger Lily? (1966)). An R-rated version of Liquid Dreams was released theatrically in February 1992, opening in Cincinnati and expanding to New York, Orlando, Santa Monica, and Ontario. The film’s unrated cut was issued on tape in the U.S. by Academy Entertainment on 16th July ‘92, and its British cassette (by High Fliers) briefly cracked the ‘20 Most-Rented Titles of the Week’ when it landed in video stores the following November. Liquid Dreams entered at No. 19 and held strong against mega-hitters like Hook (1991); Cape Fear (1991); The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992); and, in the top spot, Paul Verhoeven’s cultural behemoth, Basic Instinct (1992).

USA ● 1991 ● Erotic, Sci-Fi, Thriller ● 92mins 

Candice Daly, Richard Steinmetz, Juan Fernandez, Mink Stole, Barry Dennen ● Dir. Mark Manos ● Wri. Zack Davis and Mark Manos

U.S. video cover courtesy of VHS Wasteland

[1] Madonna’s former ‘official body double’, the Huddersfield-born Rowena Guinness (aka ‘Rowena Murphy’), also appears.

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