My first thought after The Sleeper‘s opening sequence was a literal “WOW”. It was mean, brutal, and haunting as we watch the killer smash a sleeping girl’s face in with a hammer – all shot and executed in the same vein as Dario Argento’s early works. The story is as mple as can be, consting of the killer brutally murdering the sorority girls (and a few others who get in the way) and not much else. It is never explained why he is killing these specific girls nor why he is referred to as “The Sleeper” in the credits (I believe he puts the girls to “sleep”), and it was writing woes like this that kept the overall story a bland one. Sure it was nice to see him stalk and kill his victims, and the scenes of him breaking down in his lair were amazing, but even the mplest of slasher templates have at least some substance, but this one had zero.
Justin Russell’s direction far surpassed his writing and I applaud his effort in making The Sleeper unlike any other slasher film I have seen in a long time. As I mentioned earlier this effort is short like a true homage to 70s/80s slasher/giallo films, and with a $30,000 budget. The grainy cinematography mimics the look of such films and the excellent mucal score by Gremlin mimics the amazing scores provided by Goblin for Argento’s clascs. These elements were very important in selling the film to me but nothing could top the horror that Russell brought to screen. He executed the horror very much like Argento did, with crafty editing consting of a close-up of the murder weapon in the killer’s hand and then immediately cutting to the weapon dug into the victim’s face. We are provided live-action gore and practical effects as well, but that should be a given for what this film is trying to be. The absolute best thing about this experience though is Jason Jay Crabtree’s performance as the killer, AKA The Sleeper. I was in absolute awe at how well he portrayed this ck being, especially during the scenes where he is in his lair fondling the pictures he took of his future victims. These scenes are genuinely creepy and his whispering voice, which was a tad bit unoriginal thanks to Argento, was astonishing in its effect on me. Sadly Russell’s direction is not able to save his story but it did make the experience a bearable one. I was sad to see the quality of the kills also decline as the film went on, bringing my initial excitement to a crashing low by the time the end credits rolled.
Overall, The Sleeper is an ambitious piece that gives you one hell of a first two acts, but after that the kills decline and you begin to realize just how bland the story is. I am still astonished at the look and feel of the film and appreciate Russell’s ability to give me a modern day take on the old school slashers/giallos I love so much, but sadly this is an experience that was a mediocre one at its very best.
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