“Dream Deceivers: The Story Of James Vance Vs. Judas Priest” (1992)


By Jerome Reuter 

Ever since the days of Elvis and The Beatles, rock and roll has been a constant threat to America’s youth. At least, that’s what the establishment wants everyone to believe. Things haven’t really changed since Bill Haley & The Comets released ‘Rock Around The Clock.’ If we fast forward time a bit, let’s look at the decadent 1980s.

Heavy metal was riding a tidal wave of popularity. The youth of this country had found an outlet for their frustrations, and it had become an easily obtainable commodity. It also created an equally large tidal wave of controversy. Groups such as the PMRC put the music on trial for obscenity. Christian propaganda films such as Rock: It’s Your Decision, painted the music as a direct link to degeneration and hedonism.

Which brings me to the documentary Dream Deceivers. More specifically, to the events of one night in 1985, that changed the lives of everyone involved. The events in question were a suicide pact between two youths, James Vance and Ray Belknap. Belknap was successful, and ended his life with shotgun. James Vance on the other hand would survive, only to be horribly disfigured for the remainder of his short life.

The events were most likely the result of mental illness. However, the parents of the two boys found an easier scapegoat. The band Judas Priest, and they would go so far as to file a lawsuit against them. Their claim was that there were subliminal messages on their records. To be specific, their cover of the Spooky Tooth song “Better Bye You, Better Than Me.” Experts hired by the families insisted there were subliminal messages of “Do It” on the recording, which prompted the suicide attempt. Heavy metal was about to be put on trial.

Dream Deceivers follows the events as the trial unfolded, and examines both sides of the story. We hear from the victims’ families, James Vance, supportive metal heads, and even Judas Priest themselves. The documentary is a vivid portrait of the struggle the between the counterculture, and the establishment. I’ll also add this; it’s utterly amazing how far the parents are willing to go, just to shift blame away from their own parental shortcomings.

When I see the disfigured James Vance, I see someone who’s led a lifetime of hardship. I see someone who’s suffered from mental illness, and found an escape. I also see someone who’s been manipulated by his parents, and forced to turn against a band he once loved.


In my honest opinion, the parents were the ones who pulled the trigger on that day in 1985. In this day and age, knowing what we do now about depression, this whole event could have been avoided. That’s the real tragedy behind this story: Parents failing to be parents, and notice when their child might have a mental illness. It wasn’t a band; it was parental neglect, plain and simple.

Even in this day and age, we see stories like this all the time. A horrific event or crime, blamed on the music or interests of the perpetrator. This story is sill relevant today, and an eerie foreshadowing of several events we’ve witnessed since 1992.


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