The Stay Awake (1987)

JUNE 15, 2011


Every now and then I consider just ‘retiring’ the “Crap” tag for movies, because it’s all relative, and some of the ones I labeled as such back in 2007 or 2008 I probably wouldn’t do the same for today. But then I see a movie like The Stay Awake, and thus my thinking changes, because I think there’s a need to differentiate between the bad movies that are fun to watch, and movies like this, which offers no entertainment value whatsoever, intentional or not.

If I can give the money any sort of compliment, it would be that at least it’s consistently terrible. Some movies start good and are ruined by terrible third acts, others are kind of bland until that point... this one starts and ends on the same level, which would be a blend of incoherency and unparalleled unexcitement. We begin with a serial killer in America being executed, but not before threatening to return to kill again, an obvious allusion to Shocker (yes, this movie is two years older than Shocker, so if anything it's the other way around, but I refuse to give it that much credit). Then we cut 19 years later to an all-girl school in Europe, where his unseen spirit begins floating around endlessly via POV shots. Why here? Why now? What’s he been doing in the meantime? Did it take him that long to cross the ocean? Don’t look for any of these questions to be answered, seems to me that you could have just removed the opening scene entirely and it wouldn’t really make much of a difference.

As he floats around, we cut back and forth between him and the world’s least arousing or strenuous aerobics class, a scene that seems to go on for a full five minutes. It should be introducing us to our main characters, but damned if I could remember any of their names by the time I shut the movie off, nor could I successfully point at pictures of which ones survived. Not because I wasn’t paying attention, but because they were so bland and interchangeable. One even pegs herself as a bookworm (she’s comparing herself to the “athletic” one), but this doesn’t have much to do with anything and thus it’s a bad line that doesn’t even serve a purpose. To hell with the academy; if someone wanted to be a detective, they should just be required to watch this movie and then identify the characters later – if they are able to do so, they clearly have the attention span and critical thinking skills required to investigate crimes.

Another major issue is that it doesn’t offer anything to entice the viewer, an unforgivable sin for a late 80s horror movie that is clearly influenced by things like Night Of The Demons. Gore? Barely even qualifies, but there are a couple of brief shots of tiny amounts of blood being thrown on a wall, otherwise everything is off-screen or might as well be (there’s a Burning style bit where he makes up for boring us for so long by dispatching 3-4 kids at once, but it’s nearly impossible to tell what is happening because of the rapid cutting and closeup camerawork). And you’d think a movie with seven girls, some of whom are sneaking in boyfriends, would at least offer SOME skin, but I’ve seen more risqué footage on Mike & Molly. At one point they even all go into the shower and we still don’t see anything but a pair of legs. It’s like, who are you making this movie for? Did they honestly think their incoherent story about a country (time?) spanning ghost that goes after a group of girls inexplicably having some sort of sleepover at their private school was so intriguing that they didn’t need to have gore or nudity to “cheapen” it?

I mean, let me describe one “action” scene that occurs in the third act. Four of the girls run out to a car and immediately realize that they don’t have the keys. This is horror 101 stuff; someone has to go back in and put themselves in danger. Well, the whole act of going back to get the keys lasts about 30 seconds and poses no more danger than they were already up against. Anyway, they drive for a bit, and then the car suddenly stops, as ghosty has used his powers to stall the engine. He then starts melting the thing, which is kind of cool, but everyone gets away safely (why have so many people if you’re not going to kill a few of them?). But as they start to run, even though the car is of no use anymore due to being melted, he keeps focusing on the car, and we are treated to not one, not two, but FOUR long shots of the headlights/taillights breaking, which is this movie’s equivalent of beating a dead horse. And the girls apparently realize fairly quickly that they aren’t in any danger while he does this, because rather than run back inside once they get to the school, they all turn and calmly watch the car self-destruct. Riveting, huh?

Now you might be thinking that sounds funny/bad, but trust me it’s just dull. Writer/director John Bernard seems hellbent on staging everything as blandly as possible, and thus canceling out the possibility of it working for laughs. “So bad it’s good” movies work as such because the filmmakers were genuinely trying to make a good film, whereas I’m actually kind of impressed that Bernard and his team had enough drive to even turn the cameras on in the first place. Luckily for us all, he hasn’t made a film since; his IMDb page has two credits, both of them for this movie. The asshole in me likes to think his subsequent attempts to get another film project funded resulted in him being laughed out of the room; the optimist in me assumes he realized how bad he was as a filmmaker and thus returned to accounting or whatever his backup job was.

The actresses haven’t fared much better. The lady playing the teacher actually had a fairly long/consistent career in television, dating back to the 60s, but seemingly gave up after appearing in this as she hasn’t had a credit since. Most of the other girls only have one other credit (if that), but that’s no loss since none were particularly good actresses and most of them weren’t even attractive. Now, that may sound crass, but again, consider the plot setup – 7-8 girls having a sleepover, in a film that starts with them working out in tights for the first five minutes of the movie. There’s no reason to have that sort of scenario unless you want to titillate the male portion of the audience, right? Fail. Some of them are cute, but with the crowded cast reducing many of the girls to glorified extras (the crusty old janitor has more screen time than a couple of them), it’s barely worth noting.

It IS worth noting that the IMDb page for this movie is laughably incomplete, not even listing all of the girls. But I can’t blame them, because the movie itself doesn’t bother to include full credits at the end, only listing the people that weren’t credited at the top of the movie, and those credits weren’t accompanied by their character name. Which means if you want to know who played Tina or which character one-time actress Jayne Hutton played, you’ll have to do some investigating. It’s possible that traditional cast credits were forthcoming, but the sequence noticeably cuts to the legal language (with a different font to boot) as soon as the additional cast list floats (mostly) past.

But really, the only name you need to pull from this is Avi Lerner, producer extraordinaire of pretty much every B-action movie made in the past 10 years or so, including The Expendables and Rambo, as well as a number of Nic Cage films (Wicker Man, Bad Lieutenant, and Drive Angry!). So the next time you want to mock Wicker Man or any of those DTV Seagal movies like Out for A Kill, just remember – those are actually an IMPROVEMENT for Lerner’s producing output.

What say you?

P.S. I was actually going to lead with this, but those who know me or read this site often enough are probably giggling at the title re: my tendency to fall asleep watching movies (even ones I like). Sadly, I managed to ‘stay awake’ for every frame of this thing.


  1. I actually watched this last week...I decided to not pay attention to the reviews on Netflix. Horrible idea.

  2. liven up. so bloody negative about every film. fed up with this.

  3. Positive reviews in past two weeks include Ice Road Terror, Brain Damage, Melting Man, Inheritance...

  4. Anonymous, I've had it with you going from website to website spreading your anonymous cowardice. So, which were you? Stay Awake's writer/director or a producer?


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