Opinions are like arses – everyone has one and they’re mostly full of shit. However, the fact that you’re even reading this suggests that you have at least a passing interest in mine. You may have read my recent review of ‘Blood & Sex Nightmare’ in which I tore the film a new one but also acknowledged that if you’re the kind of person who enjoys micro-budget sleaze there’s a lot to enjoy. The saving graces for that movie, and many of its ilk, are the sex, the blood and the fact it’s so deliriously bad that it’s great fun. What happens then if you remove the sex, most of the blood, and the fun, replacing them with the director of ‘Death Stop Holocaust’, Jessica Cameron, and a dance number? Ladies and gentlemen – I give you ‘The Sleeper’.
In accordance with the rules for reviewing the worst of the worst I set myself when writing about ‘BS Nightmare’ full spoilers for ‘The Sleeper’ follow. If, for whatever reason, you’re planning on watching it you might be better to not read beyond this point.
Still with me? The things I do for you…
The film opens with a screen reading ‘1979’ and a girl in a flannelette nightie locks up for the night. From the start the film feels very similar to Bob Clark’s classic ‘Black Christmas’; it’s only as you wade further through the movie you realise that it actually is, for the most part, a blatant rip off. Anyway, through a combination of random close ups and low angles we see a black-clad stranger creep into the girl’s bedroom and kill her. This scene serves to introduce the killer’s modus operandi – death by hammer. Unfortunately, the killer has huge hands or director Justin Russell has found the smallest hammer in existence; it looks like he’s beating her to death with a toffee hammer. Cue credits.
Jump forward now to 1981 and we are introduced to Amy, played by the unfortunately named Britney Belland, as she wanders across a snowy and deserted campus. Irritating dramatic music (composed by Argento collaborators Goblin, fact fans) accompanies her until she is invited to attend a sorority party by a group of girls seemingly just hanging around in the snow. We are also introduced to Jessica Cameron as Cindy. When I reviewed ‘Truth Or Dare’ some weeks ago I found that she had promise as a director but that her acting was less than great; sure enough, even in a cast of complete unknowns, she manages to stink up the screen here with delivery that ranges from ‘robotic’ to ‘I do not speak this language’. When Amy returns to her apartment, she persuades her snarky, anti-sorority roommate Ava to attend said party as moral support.
The next scene takes us back to our killer. He is never given any kind of backstory or motivation at any point but it is quickly made clear that he is “crazy”. We know that he is “crazy” due to the fact he breathes heavily, wears a black trench coat and leather murderer gloves indoors, and moves his head like a seal balancing a beach ball. Additionally the killer has acquired standard black-and-white publicity headshots for all the girls; it is possible that they sent them to him as a gift before realising his intentions or, more likely, Russell just used photos the actresses provided and thought the audience wouldn’t notice.
Time jumps forward to the evening of the party and the shrivelled up sorority mother Mrs Joy explaining to the girls that they need to behave and that no boys are allowed after midnight. It becomes apparent here why the sorority was hanging around in the snow, begging random women to come and pledge; it is literally the smallest sorority ever seen. There are five members. Five. I should also mention that I shall use the term ‘girls’ to refer to them as that is how movie chooses to refer to them. In actuality the sorority girls all appear to be in their mid-thirties and some of them seem to have had hard lives working down salt mines. I digress – just as the meeting ends the telephone rings and Mrs Joy is the recipient of a mysterious phone call a la Billy in ‘Black Christmas’ and we cut to a short scene of the killer drawing on a photograph of Cindy using lipstick, the significance of which is also never explained. We also get a quick trip to the douche dorm where we meet Cindy’s boyfriend Billy (who somehow appears even older) and his friend Derek who looks a little like Ashton Kutcher after bad surgery. We find out that Derek has designs on Stacy who has yet to be introduced by name so it’s unclear which one she is, but we know that she is a swimmer.
Amy and friend go to the party and are met by Cindy, Cameron only narrowly losing the wooden contest to the door itself. The party itself is in full swing; by full swing I mean not in swing at all consisting, as it does, of four women talking to each other. The sorority girls establish themselves at bitches because they don’t like Ava’ faux-Goth-cum-slut outfit. Meanwhile the killer wheezes his way up to the house in jerk-about-o-vision.
We discover that Amy is a psych major, we see Ava ignored by everyone and we work out which of the girls is Stacy thanks to Derek’s oily presence. Billy and Cindy go upstairs while Ava looks out of the window and sees the killer blatantly standing in front of the house; she is disturbed by a Theta girl who says they weren’t allowed to have boys there; I suspect ‘boys’ would be unlikely to attend given the ‘girls’ are 35 and, it must also be said, the ugliest collection of sorority girls ever committed to screen. Sorority girl takes Ava on a tour of the house and outlines the benefits of being a Theta, such as “food” and “rooms”; it’s difficult to believe Ava doesn’t run home and get her stuff immediately. Downstairs, the killer breaks in by opening the door and walking very slowly. If you image a cross between the ‘I don’t want to wake anyone up’ walk and the ‘I’m holding a large bunch of keys between my ass cheeks’ walk you’ll get some idea of how this looks.
Meanwhile Billy gets blocked by Cindy who tells him she “isn’t ready” – in context this could mean sex, or that she isn’t ready to be out unaccompanied without the protection of a rubber helmet. At any rate he is clearly disappointed and goes to leave – Cindy’s top comes off and she offers him “some fun”. In response, he laughs like a gurgling drain and dives on her. Pausing briefly, I’m no expert on women but surely laughter is not the reaction you would want after showing your tits to your man. Maybe laughter is flattering and I’ve been wrong all these years. Anyway, when Ava’s tour takes her past the door to Cindy’s room, loud orgasmic noises come echoing out so one assumes Billy has some skills; it is also telling that this is the only aspect of Cameron’s performance that is remotely convincing and one would suggest that, if she insists on acting rather than something she is actually good at, roles in a different genre might be more appropriate. Inside the room she changes her mind about the sex, he reinforces his douchebag credentials by howling like a wolf, and they have unrealistic film sex which just involves moving the quilt around a bit. Downstairs, Amy pledges Theta and Ava thinks about it.
When the party ends and everyone goes to bed, it is revealed Derek is still sitting in the lounge apparently waiting for Stacy. The other girls tell him that she went to bed hours ago although how in a room of eight people he didn’t notice her missing I don’t know. He protests that he can’t leave as Bobby has the keys, and he’s upstairs getting splinters from Cindy, but they turn out the light and leave him.
The killer watches one the pledges getting changed and it is revealed that he has strange milky eyes; he appears to have cataracts but, as this is never referenced, one assumes Russell took a break from ripping off the original ‘Black Christmas’ and pinch a bit from its 2006 remake. Cindy kicks Bobby out because the old lady will be cross if he sleeps over – he leaves, gurning like a fool, and the killer wheezes his way upstairs. Why he went downstairs from watching someone get changed, to then watch some dude leave, to risk capture by going back upstairs again is not explained, but I suppose he is “crazy”. He goes into Cindy’s room where she is asleep from the pretend pounding she took from Bobby. But wait! When the killer busts out his tiny hammer, it is clearly a mannequin head placed in the bed so Cindy could make her escape. It seems a bit unfair that, knowing enough to be able to save herself using shitty special effects, she doesn’t warn the other girls. At least it means we don’t get Cameron curling out a further ‘performance’. Small mercies.
The following morning Bobby gets narky old Mrs Joy on the phone when he rings to speak to Cindy. Having made her escape while the killer smashed up a dummy the night before, she is nowhere to be found. The killer, clearly enraged by the deception, has completely tidied the room to remove all trace of the shop dummy and has even made the bed; he probably contemplated putting up a shelf or two but, due to the comical size of his hammer, decided against it. Amy walks across campus for no apparent reason yet again and the killer is shown taking photographs, before returning to his lair. He selects Rebecca as his next victim by snatching her photo from the wall.
The girls head out for the night and arrive at a deserted redneck bar. The music playing is clearly more retro 80s music, the kind of tune I associate with mechanics, plumbers and pipes that need fixing. Amy sits and begins talking to a new character, Matt, who appears out of nowhere. Bobby heads back to Theta house looking for Cindy while Derek rings Sandy and she tells him she’s going swimming before hanging up; the killer rings too and cries down the phone before also putting the phone down. We see him writing on Sandy’s headshot with lipstick which, as alluded to before, means great danger and threat.
Rebecca and June go to play basketball in the middle of the night in a deserted gym; cue a montage of them playing accompanied by weird 80s soft synth rock before Rebecca hits the showers. While she washes in showers apparently in an underground concrete bomb shelter somewhere, she is disturbed by the killer’s creepy voice. Going to investigate, she is grabbed by the killer who murders her by putting black paint on her face.
By the time June arrives home, the killer is back on the phone to tell her that Stacy is next, and we see him drawing on the publicity shot once again. A very strange thing happens in this scene that leads me to believe that the killer might be actually crazy and not just “crazy”; the photo he has of Stacy is clearly of someone African-American but Stacy herself clearly is not. This photograph does help him stalk and identify her though so maybe his cataracts allow him to see the true nature of a person beyond the colour of their skin. Either that or it’s something else in this crappy movie that makes no sense.
Bobby meanwhile rings the police station and gets Detective Drake whom we can immediately tell is both wily and crafty as he has a chessboard on his desk. In the world of Justin Russell this makes him intelligent; in real life it no more makes him intelligent than having a film camera makes you a competent filmmaker. He tells Bobby to pull his panties out of his ass and call back the next day; as Cindy has only been missing a day there’s nothing he can do. Bobby is very easily placated and leaves to do some more aimless wandering. I swear I don’t know where he thinks Cindy has gone, but if there is one shot of him trudging down some deserted street at night with his hands in his pockets, there are a dozen.
White Stacy is on her way to swim despite the fact it is still clearly the middle of the night. This shows her dedication and her desire to do well at an upcoming competition. She meets the pool manager on the way out and what follows is the most confusing dialogue in the entire movie essentially:
Manager: What are you doing here so late?
Stacy: I need to practice…
Manager: No we close really early today. Why don’t you go in, I’ll lock the door behind you and you can turn the lights off when you’re done?
It’s a shame director Justin Russell didn’t take a break from smashing himself in the dick with a mallet to realise that this makes no sense, but given things like plot, logic, or acting don’t matter in the rest of the movie, we’ll move on. The killer inexplicably pops up with a different, bigger hammer, and kills the pool manager by hammering her through the eye. The make-up effect here is actually pretty decent, but by this point it’s just a very small cherry on a very large, fresh, turd pie.
If by this point you are in any doubt as to the absolute level to which The Sleeper sucks ponies, then the next scene clears things right up. Amy and friends go for a dance back at the bar which then segues into a dance number. A dance number. Amy and some extras bust out into a carefully choreographed routine, part boot scoot, part disco, all cinematic hate crime, which goes on for the full length of the song. I wanted to turn it off and destroy the disc but we here at The Gore Splattered Corner think only of you, and I stuck it out the rest of the movie so you don’t have to. If you’re desperate to see this scene, follow the link – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QELWJycHfSE
Mercifully we’re soon back at the pool where Stacy takes off her clothes, and we get a two minute close up of her ass. She demonstrates the talent she hopes will win her the ‘big meet’ by belly flopping inelegantly into the pool before clumsily splashing to the other end. It’s an idea for future productions, Mr Russell, that when you really emphasise a characters particular skills, especially something as mundane as an ability to swim, then you cast someone who can actually do it. Then again, it’s also an idea for future productions to leave the whole thing to someone who actually knows what they’re doing and who is allowed out without a tag on their ankle. Anyway, her swim is interrupted by creepy Derek who has somehow magicked himself into the building. When he goes to pull her out of the pool Stacy uses hitherto (and hitheryon) unseen strength to launch him about four metres into the pool; he gets revenge by dunking her even though, you know, she already in a swimming costume in a pool and is, ergo, already rather damp. They kiss and the killer wheezes some more. It then becomes apparent why Justin Russell cast a girl who couldn’t swim as a swimmer when she whips of her top. Clearly she was the only actress on the cast who was both off duty from MacDonald’s at the time and willing to get her boobs out for the shoot. When Stacy potters off to get changed, the killer strangles Derek with some rope, and when she comes to see where he is, she is beheaded in an axe-y way. We then flick between two scenes in quick succession:
1) Bobby, having spent the last two days wandering the streets like a crackhead, arrives at the police station to seen Detective Drake who reiterates that he is unconcerned and that Bobby needs to calm down. He agrees to ring the Theta house to see if Cindy has turned up, discovering that they have been receiving lewd calls and that more girls are missing; he finally decides to do some actual policing and heads over for a look. He arrives complete with lights and sirens, probably to check the audience are still awake, and is greeted by both Mrs Joy and June. Having established that Cindy was last seen with Bobby, he finds out about the threatening phone calls; by complete accident some logic creeps into the film at this juncture as Drake is shocked that the police have not been contacted previously. The phone rings but it’s a call from Laura at the bar before the phone goes dead; immediately creepy killer man rings back and threatens June. Drake gets on the phone, the killer mumbles for a bit, cries, and then hangs up again.
2) At the dancing bar, Amy and Matt decide to leave early to study for the finals that no one has mentioned before, while the Ava and Laura stay behind to converse and gaze into each other’s eyes in a homoerotic fashion. As Matt walks Amy home they bitch about their roommates and talk about how strange it is that Cindy is missing but not that, once again, absolutely everywhere is deserted. Having walked Amy home, Matt is then attacked by the killer who noisily kneecaps him before even more noisily bludgeoning him to death; fortunately, as the film exists in a netherworld where there are only about a dozen people on the planet, no one hears or sees anything. Amy picks up a message from Ava, and then a creepy message from the killer, before the phone (which now makes a noise like a boiling kettle) rings again. It’s Drake from the sorority house and the story comes back together.
Ava and Laura stumble drunkenly back from the bar where they are photographed by the killer; like two frightened deer they are frozen in place by his super flash and, once again, everywhere is mysteriously deserted. At the Theta house a phone tap is being set up ‘in the other room’, Drake sends June and the old lady off to bed, Amy is intercepted by a police officer and escorted to Theta house.
The film then begins to pick up: Drake and his deputy establish the killer’s location using some alchemy involving recording the call on an audio cassette and he heads off to investigate leaving his young partner to protect the women. The killer is very swift though and has quickly arrived to kill the policeman outside by doing something to his neck with the hammer. In the time it takes Drake to run across campus, despite the fact that he has a car and actually drove to the Theta house, everyone else but June is fast asleep allowing the killer to kill her and the policeman without trouble. Drake finds the killer’s lair, complete with photos of the girls, deciphers that Amy is next to be killed and races back to save her.
Amy, meanwhile, wakes up, discovers the old lady dead in a rocking chair in yet another less-than-subtle nod to ‘Black Christmas’ and is confronted by the killer. She runs directly towards him before locking herself in a room; the killer uses his tiny hammer to knock a hole in the door so he can reach through in tired, clichéd fashion. Drake arrives and rescues Amy by screaming and waving a gun about, ignoring the ominously open door behind him. He tells her that all the phones on the block are out but then sends her to the nearest pay phone to call for help; the fact that this doesn’t make any sense doesn’t even matter anymore. Before Amy can do anything however Drake is clonked from behind by the killer who then pursues her out into the street. What follows is one of the poorest chases in recent memory; the whole thing was clearly done at walking pace, the camera work is so jerky it looks like the cameraman kept dropping the equipment, and it was seemingly edited by someone whilst being electrocuted. Despite the fact that the chase takes place across most of the campus they never encounter another soul, eventually ending up in a lecture theatre. Amy hides by simply laying on the floor which, despite the fact that she is in absolutely plain view, the killer misses. He tries to lure her out by randomly hitting seats with his hammer which is eventually successful leading to another rubbish chase. This time, fortuitously, Amy ends up in the killer’s basement lair, where she finds Ava dead. Luckily, when he arrives, the killer takes so long to actually swing his tiny hammer that Amy manages to pick up a knife. This is a special knife that only exists in the world of ‘The Sleeper’; just holding it is enough to make the killer fall to the ground like he has been shot with an elephant gun. Another cop appears from nowhere, waves in a cheesy fashion, before the killer jumps out and grabs her again.
Cue clumsy final scene in the hospital in which we have yet another ringing phone and ‘The Sleeper’ creaks to a halt.
The extent to which this film bored me is difficult to overstate. Whilst ‘The Sleeper’ runs short at 80 minutes it felt like a geographical age had passed. The plot makes no sense, the characters are given no history or room to grow, and there are large sections of it that are clearly ripped off from other movies. The direction is also very poor and shows a complete lack of either quality control or care on the part of the team; not everyone can make a masterpiece but anyone who is passionate can make a film that isn’t as tedious and nonsensical as ‘The Sleeper’. The performances are a very mixed bag, from Jessica Cameron at the mahogany end of things to leading girl Britney Belland who is pretty good in a one-dimensional role. Some of the special effects are fairly good too, especially some of the make-up work. Beyond that, it really is a turgid and depressing experience.
I thought long and hard about what score to give this; I even thought briefly about whether I could consider this a below-one star film. In all conscience I can’t honestly say it is without merit. I went one star for the special effects team, the performance of Ms Belland, and for the sheer lunacy of shoving a dance number in there. Opinions are like arses – everyone has one and they’re mostly full of shit. As always, other opinions are available. My opinion – avoid.
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