Film review by Thomas M. Sipos




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Sleepstalker  (1995, dir: Turi Meyer; cast: Michael Harris, Jay Underwood, Kathryn Morris, William Lucking, Michael D. Harris)



A serial killer breaks into the house of 7-year-old Griffin, murders Griffin's parents, and is about to murder Griffin when the cops burst in and stop him.

Seventeen years later, the serial killer is finally executed in the gas chamber -- but then he returns as Sandman, aka, a Sleepstalker endowed with supernatural powers. (It seems the filmmaker couldn't decide what to call this monster, as he's referred to as a Sandman, even in the end credits, but the movie's title is Sleepstalker, aka Sleep Stalker.)

This Sandman's supernatural powers include turning into sand. This enables him to pass through cracks and keyholes and air ducts. (Much like Dracula can turn into mist, and pass through the same.)

Griffin (Jay Underwood) is by now a 24-year-old "freelance writer." He sports a goatee and spends much time in a funky coffee shop owned by Megan (Kathryn Morris), his photographer girlfriend. It's all so slacker! So hipster 1990s! So Friends! Griffin even has a tweed hipster cap to go with his goatee!

Anyway, this Sandman has three nights to kill Griffin. If Sandman succeeds, he gets to keep his supernatural powers and serve Satan on a high level. If not, he simply dies. I guess.

Naturally, Sandman fails to kill Griffin on the first two nights, leaving only one night left. So instead, Sandman kills some other people along the way. This is a horror film, so there must be a decent body count. Sandman kills them in creatively sandy ways. At one point he fills a woman's bed with sand, then pulls her under the sand so she suffocates. Other times, his arm turns into pointed glass (sand turns into glass if it gets too hot), enabling Sandman to stab his victims.

This is a low-budget film, but it has its strong points.

* Some of the set decor and lighting are admirably expressionistic, as though inspired by 1920s German expressionism. An early scene has a house (looking like a cardboard model) on the edge of a sandy desert, supposedly somewhere in Southern California. Cops chase the serial killer "outside," on a set that is only darkness and sand and flashlights, lending the scene an eerie surrealism.

I admired the use of primary colored lights in the coffee shop at night, those bright reds and greens coming from some unknown source.

And also the stark minimalism of the gas chamber, which was only an expressionistic clock on a wall, some stone-faced witnesses, and the serial killer breathing some colorfully lit gas.

The serial killer's boyhood bedroom was also appropriately depressing, aided by the "colorful" children's toys: the creepy clown painting, the pink record playing on a toy record player, the wooden plane hanging from the ceiling.

* The music did much to support the film's themes. Like the set decor of the serial killer's boyhood bedroom, the music was depressing despite being "child appropriate" -- a slow tune of "Sleep Baby Sleep" which I expect was written expressly for this film.

* Michael Harris did an excellent job as the Sandman. Love that way he intones those childhood nursery rhymes before killing each victim, talking slowly in a deep baritone voice.

* Michael D. Harris plays a "Satanic preacher," and he too does a great job. Really creepy with those blind eyes, and the way he delivers his lines.




The overall story is typical horror fare. A monster is working against the clock, given a set time limit to accomplish his evil deeds. (Sometimes it's the hero who's working against the clock; sometimes it's the monster.)

It occurs to me that Griffin is a real idiot, as is true of many horror "heroes." It's been established that Sandman can not endure water. Megan is safe in the shower. The Sandman is unable to harm her, because his fingers "break off" upon contact with water. And even though Megan doesn't know this at the time, both she and Griffin figure out this weakness in the Sandman before the third night.

So why doesn't Griffin just spend the third night in a running shower? Or in a swimming pool? Instead, he and Megan run and run from the Sandman, while he gives chase, sandily passing through keyholes and cracks and air ducts.



The Sandman is "killed" in the end. But in the final scene, we see the Satanic preacher sifting through the ashes, about to resurrect the Sandman. I'm guessing the filmmaker was hoping that Sleepstalker would become a lucrative franchise, the Sandman the next Jason or Freddy. But it was not to be. This is the only Sleepstalker film ever made.

The lighting and set decor shows some real effort, but in the end, Sleepstalker is not that special. Typical 1990s direct-to-video horror fare. The DVD is fullscreen, as it was likely created from the VHS version. But still enjoyable for forgiving horror fans.


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