The Sleeping Car (1990)

JUNE 12, 2011


I hate to sound like a pig, but unless you (like me) appreciate the sight of Final Chapter's Judie Aronson in the nude, there is no reason to watch The Sleeping Car, a horror comedy that is neither scary or funny. But there's more to it than the obvious; not only is it a welcome sight, but the extended love scene between her and David Naughton's characters also offers another treat: it's the only time in the movie Naughton shuts the hell up.

His character is sort of like Fletch, in that he never says anything that isn't supposed to be funny (he's even a journalist!). The key difference is, Naughton doesn't have an ounce of the comic timing/delivery that Chevy does, and the writing is incredibly lame as well. I think I laughed once at his endless array of puns, one-liners, witty comebacks, etc in the entire movie, and now I can't even remember what it was, or even if it was actually funny or just mildly clever compared to everything else. Maybe a better actor could have wrung a few more laughs out of the material (or improvised better lines), but I'm not so sure. I mean, this is the type of movie where they try to make a running gag out of a low-hanging door frame by having the owner of the house say "Watch your -" followed by "head" once he's already hit said head, however they can't get the timing right so her "interrupted" pause always occurs a second or two before he actually hits it.

And by house I mean car. Naughton's character is down on his luck, so he rents out half of a converted railway car (the other half is rented by Kevin McCarthy, who elevates the proceedings but isn't in it enough to really make a difference), and that's what turns out to be haunted. Maybe this scenario would work for a Tales From The Crypt episode or something, but 90 minutes is a long time to keep coming up with reasons to get people to come over. Christ, it's not even the entire car, just the little fold out bed that's haunted, so most of the deaths play out the same: someone sits on the bed, and the springs from the mattress engulf the victim. The effects are actually pretty good, and there's a somewhat clever bit where a character is killed while listening to a phone sex line (so the girl is saying "I'm tying you up.... so tight it hurts!" or whatever as the springs tighten around him), but apart from Naughton's ex, it makes zero sense that any of these people come over: a bully, his journalism professor, etc.

Hell it doesn't even make sense that HE goes over. He figures out that the place is haunted around the halfway point, and Aronson gets spooked and wants to go home, yet he goes back there! He even offers to stay with her at her place and the moment comes across as a guy hoping to bang his hot (and way younger) girlfriend again, not "Holy shit my place is haunted I don't want to go back there!" And even dumber, she says "You don't have to do that, I'll be OK." Some girlfriend, basically telling her fella that she'd rather he slept in his haunted railway car than in her presumably normal/comfortable apartment.

The haunting story isn't particularly interesting either. Basically the ghost is of a conductor that was driving a train that crashed years ago, due to the negligence of his assistant, who was banging his girlfriend instead of paying attention. Maybe this would be OK for an actual moving train, with a. lots of passengers and b. some sort of stakes, but here the entire problem would end by just moving out of a place that doesn't make a very great home even without a ghost. And the way they stop it is just unbearably dumb, basically boiling down to Naughton giving the ghost a hug. I'm not even joking.

Of course, if the movie was funny this would be fine - the plots in comedic horror films shouldn't be too complicated. But since the humor almost never worked, I had no "choice" but to try to pretend it was a normal horror movie, and on that level it was just as big of a misfire. It's also too repetitive; not only are the deaths similar, but there are too many scenes of Naughton and Aronson engaged in what is supposed to be funny banter as they bicker over their different viewpoints on life and such; all just precursor to the eventual moment where they hook up. Naughton also spars with his professor (the recently departed Jeff Conway) over how to cover news and run a paper, and at one point the three even debate over the freedom of speech off a group of students who are protesting a lecture about Nazism or something - what the hell does this crap have to do with anything? It's almost like they wrote a bland comedy about a guy in his 30s who goes back to college and rediscovers himself thanks to a new love interest and the drive of proving his jaded professor wrong, and then tossed in a bunch of nonsense about a ghost living in a railway car the day before they started filming.

Well, I guess it doesn't matter much; the movie is rightfully forgotten. Even with my love of Aronson I never heard of it until I saw it on Netflix's horror section, it doesn't appear to have been released on DVD, and its IMDb page is fairly blank - no trivia, no goofs, no filming locations... even the board is pretty much a ghost town. Hell there's only one other listed review of the damn thing. I just hope the actors were paid well at the time; sure as hell doesn't look like the residual checks for this one will be very high.

What say you?


  1. This is an awesome flick, for all the reasons you hammered it. It's the most outlandish flick I've seen in a long time, and I wonder if they were working off a first draft of a script. But it does combine Naughton, Aronson, Conaway, and one of my all-time favorite actors, Kevin McCarthy. And God bless it for that.

  2. I just saw this movie last night and really liked it. Most of the things you say are correct, but I still found myself really loving the atmosphere, the effects. Kevin McCarthy and the soundtrack were my two favorite pieces of this movie and precisely because they were both totally out of place. The soundtrack was full of saxophone and keyboard pan flute (80's staple sounds), but it was melodious and well written. It did not belong in this movie but rather sounded like it belonged in an exotic adventure film (Romancing the Stone, The Goonies, etc.) Kevin McCarthy had no business playing a sensitive new age weirdo, with his wild eyes, permanent sneer, and commanding voice, he is a perfect fit for a corporate bad guy, but watching him try was particularly entertaining. "Who you gonna call? Vince Tuttle!" was probably the best line in the film, and in true 80's new age fashion, the evil was defeated with the power of hugs and some unexplained stuff about "forgiving him and yourself" (???).


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