Dario Argento is a man who needs little introduction. A master of giallo and lover of bloody violence, his more recent efforts have been criticised.
However, it remains that if ‘Italian’ and ‘horror’ are mentioned in the same sentence, his name is usually at the beginning of that sentence.
So, what of this re-released feature, Sleepless? Will it be Susperia (1977) super? Or a Phantom of the Opera (1998) flop?
I’ll be honest, although I have seen some bits here and there, I’m no Argento expert. But as the film opened, I got a warm feeling inside, that sensation that this would be time well spent in front of the television.
The basic plot is strikingly unoriginal. There’s a serial killer on the loose. A murderer has returned to the scene (from the dead) after a 15 year break from it all. The now retired cop from the original investigation doesn’t want to get involved, but when a young man – the son of one of the early victims – comes along, the cop has a change of heart. The duo then try to unravel the mystery themselves. Doesn’t sound exciting does it?
But what if I tell you that the cop is excorcist, Max Von Sydow? Better?
And how about if the murderer is a killer dwarf, known terrifyingly, and imaginatively as ‘The Dwarf’?
Sounds really good now doesn’t it? If not a little comedic.
There’s no doubt that the quality is there. Cinematically it’s great. And it’s gory enough to make most seasoned horror fans wince once or twice.
Von Sydow’s performance is the jewel in the crown, as he even makes this most tired role seem interesting.
But as is usually the case, there are faults. One being the voice dubbing.
It seems that Von Sydow is the only one actually talking. The other actors appear to be Italians, who are trying to talk English, but have been dubbed anyway, most with voices that don’t fit with the way they look. It’s like that Jackie Chan film, Mr Nice Guy, it just looks weird! And is pretty distracting.
Second, the actor playing the lead role, Giacomo (son of murdered woman) is poor. He seems unable to express happiness or sadness when performing, which obviously leaves him a bit limited, and the viewers and bit bewildered (“is he crying or laughing?”).
Finally, the story. It’s fun, but ultimately, its a bit too silly. It’s trying to scare, and yet, there are so many weird characters, lines and incidents, that you can’t help but smile at your screen (as opposed to grimacing).
For instance, when someone has been murdered hundreds of police attend the scene. And yet, they resort to asking the old retired man for help.
When they fear for someones life, rather than get those hundreds of police to thescene, they just leave it to the old cop and the boy.
Early on, they take dna from under the nails of a victim, and boast about ‘modern technology’. But, the results are never mentioned (results that would actually expose the killer).
Plenty of horror conventions are utilised, but sometimes too much. The ‘what’s that sound’, ‘oh it’s Dave messing around’, ‘what’s that sound this time’, ‘oh it’s the killer’ trick seems to be an Argento favourite.
But if you can overlook this, you’ll find the film entertaining, as I did.
The end isn’t as predictable as you might think, and ultimately as the credits rolled, I felt satisfied as opposed to cheated and confused.
Sleepless has left me hungry for more Argento and his zany, blood-soaked works.
Additional film information: Non ho sonno (2001)