Time Better Spent Sleeping

Posted on Jul 13, 2012 in All Reviews, Giant Turds, Indie Horror | 0 comments

The Sleeper (2012)THE SLEEPER (2012)

When reviewing The Sleeper, it is nearly impossible to not make comparisons to House of the Devil. Both films lovingly nod to the bygone golden age of horror films, and each mirrors the era in which these films thrived, between 1975 and 1988.  Both films try to not only recreate the feel of old slasher films but they also try to recreate the look of the time through props, costumes and in Devil’s case even the filming equipment used. The glaring difference between the two movies however is that House of the Devil truly succeeds in all of the ways that The Sleeper completely fails.

In a way it pains me to give a negative review of The Sleeper, because as a horror nerd I really had every desire to embrace it. I eagerly purchased the “collectible” DVD/VHS combo set based sorely on the glorious old school packaging. Promising a recreation of a mid-80’s slasher, Justin Russell’s movie is well marketed by the nostalgic Gamma Knife Films. But that is where all effort in the movie seems to end, and when the credits roll you really cannot help but feel cheated.

The film begins with a prologue segment that takes place in 1979. In typical Halloween fashion, a hulking assailant kills a young woman in her room. The film rolls into its credits, which gives us a view of a rotary phone, one of the few props in the movie that tries to make it look and feel that it is from the 80’s. Then begins its first act, which takes place in 1981. A boarding house is recruiting some new girls for their sorority and is hosting an oddly small party. Two pledges arrive right before two of the girls’ boyfriends do. Amongst all of this, we get scenes of a man in a black trench coat sitting in some sort of warehouse/basement/shed. He has photos of all of these girls pinned to the wall. He breathes heavy and giggles to himself while drawing ZZZ on the pictures. He then calls the sorority house and tells them “Stacy is next”, or another girl, depending on who is next on his chopping block. Even when the girls begin to disappear, no one in the house seems to think these calls are much more than pranks.

The movie unfolds predictably, with the girls getting picked off by the hammer-wielding psycho. The kills are at least shown, and some of them do make an effort to mimic Savini’s early gore effects, which is the film’s only admirable trait. One of the boyfriends, Bobby, grows concerned about his missing girlfriend and contacts a police detective who will look puzzled throughout the movie.  The flick then unfolds into its second act, where most of the remaining cast is killed off screen to be found by the survivor girl as she runs from the villain.

While this may sound like just generic slasher fodder, and it is, this is not the problem. The main problem with the movie is that it is empty. The prologue from ‘79 is never again mentioned or referenced; we aren’t even told if it was the same killer. One character, Bobby, is prominent in the first half of the film and then just disappears in the second half. The police suggest everyone stay at the one location the killer knows they’re at, which is ridiculous. Why the killer chose these girls or this house is never explained. Why he kills to begin with is never explained. Why he looks the way he does is never explained. Why he primarily uses a hammer is never explained. The ambiguous finale even adds a bit of nightmare confusion, questioning what has happened and what was all a dream. This is particularly aggravating for the viewer who obviously wants some sort of story, even if it is a bad one. Even the craptastic The Last Slumber Party, which is enjoyably one of the worst slasher films of all time, makes some effort to explain its masked stalker. But The Sleeper never submits to this golden rule of writing. The script is our biggest clue in revealing that this is little more than an over-hyped fan film. The pacing is off, there is no suspense, the characters are indistinguishable from each other, and there is nothing remotely scary or interesting about it.

I’m always frustrated by a director who decides to write too, even when he or she clearly can’t. Hire a screenwriter and just admit to yourself that you aren’t any good at writing. A solid script is where a good movie starts. Russell needs to accept that before he makes another feature. If Stephen King can admit that he is bad director, why can’t all of these directors admit that they’re bad writers?

While the script is the most awful aspect of this cinematic turd, it isn’t the only culprit. The acting is inept, but that can be expected and excused in such a dollar store production. But the shaky, hand-held direction makes it feel very modern when it is supposed to be a vintage 80’s film. Back then even low rent productions used dollies and tripods. The Blair Witch approach hadn’t made disrespecting the medium okay yet. And speaking of the throwback, the movie fails at looking or feeling 80’s anyhow. Couldn’t at least one of these girls have feathered her hair for this? An old boom-box and vintage cop car is about as good as the movie can do to make it look thirty years old. There are a few scenes that want to milk the 80’s mood, including an awkward dance number that fails to amuse and a brief Teen Wolf style basketball montage, but these don’t round out the illusion. Perhaps the most important missing piece is a sense of atmosphere, which made so many cheap horror movies of yesteryear effective despite a lack of funds. Even the villain’s lair doesn’t give the viewer the willies, and a stalk scene in an auditorium bores you during the movie’s one effort to create suspense. The killer doesn’t even bother to wear a spooky, expressionless mask.  He isn’t a stoic killing machine; he giggles like Frank Gorshin in his Riddler role, and unlike Freddy Kruger he doesn’t have anything interesting to say.

All you can look forward to in this snore is one pair of tits and mostly hammer-to-the-head murders, the killer offering none of the creativity of Jason Vorhees or Victory Crowley in his M.O. He is apparently set out to send the audience to sleep as well as the girls he is hammering. Truly unsatisfying and dull, one walks away from The Sleeper with little more than a cool looking box to keep it in on the shelf, likely to never be opened again.

FINAL THOUGHTS

If you want a movie that recreates the look and feel of your old favorites, get House of the Devil for sure, or hunt down the elusive If a Tree Falls. If you want a movie that is a smart and stylish tribute to 80’s slashers in particular, get Behind the Mask: the Rise of Leslie Vernon. However, if you want to watch a movie that will insult you and make you shout “Man, I could make a way better movie than this”, then by all means piss your cash away on The Sleeper.

  • RATING: a generous 1.5 out of 5 for FX effort made on the kills.
  • CHICK OF THE LITTER: None. I was too mad at how modern they all looked.

BARTENDER'S NOTES

TRASHAs your bartender I would suggest brewing your own beer for this one and barely paying attention to the directions on how to do so. That way you’ll end up with a beer that is just like this film; a half-assed and watered down wannabe.  Then pour it into a stout Session Ale bottle so it looks vintage and cool on the surface. Then come to your senses and throw them both in the trash.

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