JULY 7, 2010
I can’t remember where I saw it, but one scene in Don’t Go To Sleep has remained embedded in my psyche since I was 7 or 8 years old: a little girl, walking up the stairs, menacingly rolling a pizza slicer across the walls and the banister. I couldn’t remember much else about the movie, but I swear to Jebus, I cannot look at a pizza slicer to this day without getting a little spooked. Now that I’m 30 years old, and thus slightly more mature, I figured I’d give the film another look and see if it still freaked me out.
Well, no, that scene didn’t, but the very end did, and I would provide a screengrab for you, but why spoil the surprise? Rest assured, anyone who doesn’t at least get a bit of a chill from the final shot of the film’s killer is obviously soulless*. Of course, you’d have to be able to WATCH the goddamn thing to see it, which is a tricky endeavor these days. I downloaded a copy from a public domain site about 2 years ago when I was seeking a better transfer of Cathy’s Curse for our seemingly now defunct Horror People, Dear Reader series, but the site is no longer around (I suspect that many titles weren’t as public domain as they claimed). Don’t Go To Sleep has seemingly never even gotten a budget DVD release, and the long out of print VHS version runs close to 100 dollars on Amazon and the like. You can watch it all on Youtube, however (part 1 is below in lieu of a trailer, which I couldn't find).
And before I get into the review proper, since I have a “fan” who constantly tries to accuse me of being a hypocrite when it comes to bootlegs - the film is not available through any reasonable other means. It, and any other film under the same circumstances, I would gladly provide a link or embed a copy of a full version so that it wasn’t forever “lost” to a modern audience. It is not the same thing as downloading a video camera-shot version of something that’s currently playing in theaters. And if you cannot make that distinction, then I feel sorry for you. Rest assured, if there were any way of seeing the movie (which was a TV movie and thus aired for free in the first place) without spending a sizable chunk of my paycheck on a used VHS tape, I would certainly take that route instead.
Anyway, much like Dark Night of the Scarecrow, I spent most of the movie wondering how awesome it would have been to have been born maybe 5 or 6 years earlier and thus seen this movies first run on TV as an adolescent, as well as what the hell happened to TV movies that were actually scary and fairly downbeat. Nowadays, a TV movie is either something that’s trying really hard to compete with theatrical films (it never works), or it’s on Lifetime and it’s about a woman coping with some domestic issue or other. You sure as hell wouldn’t see a brand new film about a little girl offing her family airing on NBC opposite Grey’s Anatomy or some reality show about dancing.
I mean, seriously - this movie is GRIM. Like I said in my Home, Sweet Home review, you don’t often see families at the center of slasher type scenarios because it’s just too much of a bummer. But even that movie kept it to adults and made the family genealogy a bit unclear. Here, we essentially have the same family unit as the Freelings from Poltergeist (in fact, the same kid plays the son), plus a grandmother (so it’s Poltergeist I and II combined!). Now I know they killed granny off in II, but imagine if at the end of either film, the only ones left alive were Diane and Carol Anne, with Carol Anne about to commit matricide as the credits began to roll. That’s essentially what you got here. I mean, sure, the grandmother was an obvious goner, but the 9 year old kid? And the father on top of it?
In fact, one of my few problems with the movie is that there is no way the parents, or at least the mother, wouldn’t have gone off the deep end if these things really happened to her. Over a span of maybe 6 months, she loses two children and her mother, yet she’s still pretty much together, going out for pizza and such. Even when all the lights in the house go out, she’s not too frazzled - she just goes and checks the fuse box. The dad (Dennis Weaver!) is a bit easier to buy, because he just drinks like a fish, but even still, neither seem to be as completely shattered as a parent would be after losing one child, let alone two.
It’s also a bit thin in the story department (they should have had a maid or someone else for the ghost to kill), so the padding gets to be a bit bothersome. There’s a few too many scenes of the son being a snoop, and I think they cut to an establishing shot of the house (with the non-too-subtle number of 13666) every three minutes. The opening credits are also particularly annoying, with an endless series of shots of the family driving to their new house, with a score that pauses every time they insert a full screen credit.
They also could have gradually revealed what happened to the older sister with flashbacks, instead of all at once in the closing minutes of the movie, when you’ve already sort of pieced together what happened anyway. Plus they botched the accident, as it doesn’t quite make sense - the girl’s shoes were tied together, but how would that prevent her, sitting closest to the door, from simply getting out of the car? She should have been on the other side or something (the other two kids somehow climb over her to get out, to make matters even sillier).
But it’s still a great little chiller, with the harsh body count and some effective scares putting even a lot of theatrical releases to shame. I also dig the ambiguity over whether or not the dead sister’s ghost really was possessing little Mary, or if she was just batshit. And I was tickled by the section in the middle of the film where the movie seems to be turning into a killer iguana movie. The lizard (named Ed) is what scares granny into a heart attack, and then afterwards we get a whole bunch of shots of him just sort of looking around ominously. Later, when the kid is putting himself in danger by climbing on the roof, they cut to the iguana watching, as if HE’S the one that’s going to push the kid off. And then Weaver makes a big stink about keeping him, so the possibility he will cause more carnage does not die with the kid.
This scene is actually pretty gut-wrenching too, at least in a TV movie way, as Weaver and Harper break down a bit about his death, as they discuss how painful it will be to pack up his tiny clothes and give his toys to goodwill and stuff like that. It reminded me of the scene in Frozen where Emma Bell realizes that her dog will starve to death if she doesn’t get back to him - it’s those little specific realities that totally sell these sort of scenes, and elevated them above the usual sort of generic “I’m going to miss him/her so much!” type sentiments that we usually get. I only hope that when I die, my wife totally makes even the toughest amongst my friends cry by asking them which DVD version of Halloween is the one I should be buried with (for the record, it’s the double disc holograph version from 1999).
Another thing I like about the movie is that it’s focused. Early on there’s this stuff about Weaver having a new job, but you never see him there, and there’s no scene of the mom going shopping and running into an old friend, or anything like that. In fact, other than a few scenes with a shrink and the bulk of the ending (hospital, plus the flashback), I don’t think they ever leave the house. And it’s a cool house, with like three floors and a big garage and such. It kind of reminded me of the Amityville house (probably not a coincidence), but in a distinctly California kind of way. It’s not as dull as the ones in Halloween is what I’m saying.
It’s a shame that the movie lives on primarily through half-memories, because it deserves to be available to anyone who wants to watch it. And it should also be easy to find because if someone searched high and low for it after reading positive reviews, they’d probably be disappointed, because it’s not the greatest movie of all time or anything, it’s just pretty damn good. I remember reading that there was a remake in the works a few years back, and I can only assume that the project is dead, but part of me kind of hopes that it goes forward, because then the original would surely see a new release (preferably a restored one as well - this AVI looks like shit). I’d also like the title explained, since sleeping doesn’t really play into any of the deaths.
What say you?
*The author of the film’s Wikipedia page obviously agrees, despite their lack of a firm grasp on grammar and a penchant for redundancy: “The final scene of the movie is memorable to viewers who have seen the movie in the past.” Yes. Viewers who have seen the movie in the future tend to think the ending is just OK.