Sidewinder’s View: “The Sleeper” (2012)

As a fan of Ti West’s superb 2009 old-school Horror flick, The House Of The Devil, I bought the similarly-promoted early 1980s Slasher homage, The Sleeper, without having seen it first, solely on the basis of the DVD’s packaging, its online trailer and a small number of glowing reviews I’d stumbled across online.

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Big mistake.

As an homage to low-budget, early 1980s Slasher flicks, The Sleeper seems to be more in tune with some of the more forgettable, less successful efforts of that era, (Graduation Day, The Dorm That Dripped Blood, Girls Nite Out— all tedious, none of which I’ve been able to sit through more than once).

The Sleeper‘s not suspenseful, not scary– though it does make an effort to be violently disgusting, with special makeup effects that seem to utilize grape jelly for gore– and is utterly devoid of character/style, or the requisite creepy atmosphere which made so many of the otherwise muddled or underwhelming Slashers of the era far more compelling than they would have otherwise been (Prom Night, He Knows You’re Alone, Curtains).

The film’s visual style doesn’t exactly do a great job mimicking the early ’80s Slashers, either. Instead, The Sleeper‘s shot much like any other low-budget indie flick today, overloaded with one- and two-shot closeups delivered via handheld camera, which can’t seem to remain still for more than a second or two. That’s not ‘early ’80s’ at all.

Back then, even low-budget exploitation filmmakers had enough respect for the medium to use tripods, dollies and the occasional Steadicam. Quivering hand-held shots were few and far between. If this film could have at least attempted an early ’80s visual style with its cinematography, I’d be a bit more generous with my review here, but…no.

It never really came close to resembling anything actually shot in the era– and if the movie’s going to compare itself favorably to The House Of The Devil, as this DVD does on its packaging, it’d better deliver on the expectation. It does not.

That said, stylistic homage failures aside, this movie doesn’t even succeed as a Horror flick in its own right. Some reviewers like to point out the ‘bad acting’, but come on, isn’t that sort of expected when one checks out a low-budget Horror flick like this?

Some point out Characters Behaving Stupidly™ as a reason this movie doesn’t work. Again, that’s typical of the Slasher genre, particularly from the early ’80s. Neither of these complaints resonate with me as to why I so disliked The Sleeper. The script and the direction were to blame for that.

The entire production just felt extremely flat in the areas of atmosphere, suspense and scares, and severely lacking in passion on the part of the filmmakers.

I’ve heard some its defenders excusing The Sleeper‘s shortcomings by citing its supposed $30,000 budget. I don’t buy that at all. Thirty grand is plenty for a filmmaker with talent and imagination, regardless of genre (El Mariachi at a cost of $7000, for example).

Don’t get me wrong. I wanted to love this movie– I wouldn’t have taken a chance with a purchase if I hadn’t– but it just did…not…work. I’ve reversed my opinion on Slasher flicks of dubious merit in the past, with movies I really hated on first viewing which I later grew to love, each for its own unique attributes (The Burning, Final Exam).

When it comes to low-budget Horror, I’m one of those longtime genre fans who can find a silver lining in just about any Z-grade cinematic cloud, but I don’t see that happening with this wannabe Slasher flick. It’s not only inept, but alternately grating and dull.

I should have read a few more reviews before forking over my hard-earned cash.

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