Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Enter Sandman

"Sleep baby sleep,
down where the woodbines creep,
be always like the lamb, 
so mild and kind and sweet,
sleep baby sleep."

If you've ever heard the above lullaby composed by Jim Manzie with vocals by Teresa Straley, I feel positive you haven't forgotten it. It's partly due to the context it's used in, but partly because there's just something fundamentally and inexplicably disturbing about it. It's the type of ditty you'd sing to your annoying little brother to freak him the f out late at night and chase him back to his room. It's as memorable to me as the iconic themes from The Exorcist, Halloween and Phantasm. And if it were the only reason to seek out the film, Sleepstalker, I'd say go for it. Fortunately, the film has a lot of other things that make it worthwhile. Although it doesn't measure up in quality to two of my favorite horror films, Richard Stanley's Dust Devil or Garth Maxwell's Jack Be Nimble, it contains elements of both in its characters and atmosphere. 

Sleepstalker co-stars Michael Harris from the criminally under-seen 1993 art house thriller Suture with Dennis Haysbert. Harris plays a serial killer known as "The Sandman" in Sleepstalker. As the film opens, he slips into the Davis household where mom and dad are putting young Griffin Davis to sleep. Bad times ensue.

The cops eventually show up, led by William Lucking, who plays the awesomely named Bronson Worth (If I ever need a detective, I hope he looks as tough as Bill Lucking and could be labeled 'Bronson-worth'). But let me go back to Michael Harris. I've seen this guy in over a dozen movie and TV shows and he's always top-notch whether he's playing a hero, villain or something in between. He's particularly solid and delivers a low key performance in this film where he could have easily wound up like a NoES Freddy caricature or knockoff. He only has one line that is played for laughs and it works because it's the only time his villain is overtly humorous. The only gripe I had about Harris' character is that I thought he looked more menacing sans scary make-up, but either version ultimately worked well.

The first ten minutes of the movie really connect, and the first time I watched it, I thought I was in for something special. Then Jay Underwood showed up. Don't get me wrong, no one likes The Boy Who Could Fly more than me...OK I'm lying, I hated that treacly turd. The problem with Underwood is his grown up Griffin Davis character is the least engaging of the film. Every time the story leaves his character to focus on someone else, it becomes a much more entertaining and interesting movie. I oddly had the same issue with Four Weddings and a Funeral - whenever Hugh Grant's Charles lead was on screen, I got bored, but found the other supporting characters very engaging. Underwood's character didn't take me out of the movie, I just had a hard time believing or even rooting for him. Underwood looks more like the lead proctor of a college poetry reading seminar, not a survivor of some horrible childhood crime. 

The film probably would have worked better with a female lead or at least a character who appeared a little more frayed and life-worn. Luckily, in Sleepstalker, Underwood has ample company to divert at least some attention from his lackluster lead including Kathryn Morris, who plays would-be girlfriend, and reluctant gun toter Megan.

Even more interesting, is Michael D Roberts' character of 'Preacher', who helps the Sandman and adds some extra creepiness to the proceedings.

Ken Foree of the original DotD and Marc McClure best known as Marty McFly's older brother both show up at different points but unfortunately have limited screen time. The familiar faces don't hurt matters though. The flashback bits and everything not including the Jay Underwood character are very well done and really kept me involved in the story. The effects are decent enough to get the job done considering the limited resources. Turi Meyer co-wrote and directed the movie which is head and shoulders above his other lesser film efforts (Candyman 3, Leprechaun 2, Chairman of the Board).

At the end of the day, it's The Sandman and his backstory that really make this movie worth watching. Harris is riveting, and if they'd have made a franchise with him as the lead, I definitely would've been into it. But only if it included that lullaby - in each and every sequel.

Score 6.5/10

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