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Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #177

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Number of Views: One
Release Date: January 31, 2012
Sub-Genre: Slasher
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $30,000
Running Time: 90 minutes
Director: Justin Russell
Producers: Dana Jackson, Justin Russell
Screenplay: Justin Russell
Special Effects: Jon Shroyer
Cinematography: Justin Russell
Score: Gremlin
Editing: Justin Russell
Studio: Gamma Knife Films
Distributors: Gamma Knife Films, Safecracker Pictures
Stars: Brittany Belland, E. Ray Goodwin, Jason Jay Crabtree, Elizabeth Lane, Jenna Fournier, Riana Ballo, Jessica Cameron, Tiffany Arnold, Ali Ferda, Kendra Stevenson, Beverly Kristy, Paul Moon, Eric Sarich, Aaron Russell, John Bloom, Dana Jackson, Luke Frost, Bob Ferrato

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Suggested Audio Candy:

James Curd featuring JDub Live Forever

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There are few things as pleasing as a good old-fashioned homage. In 2009 Ti West struck horror plutonium with The House of The Devil, a nightmarish babysitter thriller which offered a startlingly accurate eighties throwback that absolutely nailed the era on all conceivable counts. Justin Russell’s The Sleeper is one such reverential hark-back and echoes the likes of When a Stranger Calls, Black Christmas, Prom Night, The House on Sorority Row and a host of other movies from the decade. Having already brought us The Gremlin and Death Stop Holocaust, this is director Russell’s third full-length feature and has its heart commendably embroidered on its sleeve. It may not reinvent the wheel but at least it is aware of how it turns.

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From the first few frames it is abundantly clear that Russell isn’t going to obtain the same level of authenticity from his $30k investment that West did but it’s not through any lack of trying. Certain elements are in place and we can see the effect he is striving for but budget limitations hamstring The Sleeper from reaching anything like the same levels of nostalgia. What he does do however is stick stubbornly to the template and, despite a number of time-related foibles (the compact disc wasn’t invented until 1982 and the film is set a year earlier), his efforts are commendable on many levels. Should you be looking for high art, then best walk on by as you won’t be finding it here. That said, fans of the slasher movies of yesteryear will find numerous reasons to be cheerful.

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Originally titled Sorority House Nightmare and wisely changed at a later date, The Sleeper charts the woes of the sisters of the Alpha Gamma Theta house as they are targeted by a murderous campus prowler, intent on picking them off one by one. This is particularly worrying for new pledge Amy (Brittany Belland) whose choice of sorority house is suddenly looking like a bad one. It’s not made clear why they are being targeted for special attention and neither does it particularly matter. Being hot is crime enough and with the likes of the infinitely pleasing on the eyes Jessica Cameron leading from the front, these girls pretty much have it coming.

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As premises go, Russell’s is as basic as they come but, while never likely to win any awards for originality, it’s plain to see that he has spent many an hour carrying out his research on what made a bankable eighties slasher. The synthesized score by Gremlin takes its inspiration from the likes of John Carpenter and there are all manner of freeze-frames and slow-motion capture to keep its feet firmly planted in the decade it is looking to emulate.

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It also hilariously interjects with a little seventies chic at the forty minute mark and I implore one and all to view this scene, regardless of whether or not interested in the rest of the movie. It is priceless, a shoe-horned groove train so utterly preposterous that you just want to jump in and join them. I have uncomfortably rewatched this scene already a number of times and it simply never grows old. Moves are busted, ceilings pointed towards with lightning strikes and all under shimmering glitterball. To give you some perspective, the final score I shall award will reflect one mark solely for this scene’s inclusion – it’s that horrendously entertaining. A further scene, where our final girl and her buddy are assaulted by a furiously snapping camera, is similarly humorous.

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There are only so many nubile co-eds you can slaughter before you begin to arouse the suspicions of the local constabulary and Detective Drake (E. Ray Goodwin) is the last line of campus defense. Looking suspiciously like Alan Arkin’s lovechild, Drake strokes his chin pensively and has his concerned face down to pat as he attempts to secure the safe passage of the remaining frat girls and catch himself a killer. His opposite number however, is a far more animated protagonist. The titular terrorizer giggles, guffaws and splutters his intent whilst fixating on photos of his intended victims with his milky white eyes. Occasionally he drops them a line just to inform the house-mother of who is next on his hit-list which is rather thoughtful when you think about it.

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No masks necessary, The Sleeper is clad in black with leather gloves and standard issue boots and this just about works thanks to our exposure being kept to a premium. Building tension is one area where Russell almost wholly excels and he knows how to build a scene for sure. Unfortunately the ominous tone is lessened by the addressee receiving Intel as to the killer’s next hapless victim although, by the close, the dispatches are coming thicker and faster than you can keep track of. Russell’s kill count is admirably high and he desperately attempts to make his audience privy to all the bloodletting he can although there are a couple of occasions when less would have been more. The slender kitty is woefully exposed in these instances but, as long as we have those rose-tinted eighties spectacles firmly in place, this shouldn’t pose too much of a problem.

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If you like your slasher with plenty of POV stalking shots and low-angled cinematography then The Sleeper may well be right up your street. We remember films such as The Dorm That Dripped Blood, Graduation Day and The Initiation with fondness for good reason but, before your choice here is informed, imagine firing them up thirty years on. Should the pain of such a consideration outweigh the pleasure, then I would advise you to give this a wide berth. However, if like me, this kind of vintage cheddar stokes your fires then it is definitely worthy of ninety minutes of your time. It’s not big and neither is it particularly clever but Russell’s film does precisely what it sets out do and features one of the most priceless cinematic groove trains ever committed to celluloid. As a matter of fact, I’m off to watch it again right now.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 6/10

Grue Factor: 4/5

 

For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Whilst relatively light on the T&A front, Russell’s film is far more magnanimous with regards to splatter. The Sleeper performs many of his dispatches with his hammer, which he hilariously juggles between hands just to appear flash. As he hits his stride however; axe, rope and kitchen knife are added to his inventory and Russell valiantly keeps the camera close at all times so as to show as much of the bloodshed as he feasibly can. This works with varying degrees of success and a couple of effects are perhaps a little too ambitious given the budgetary constraints. However, kudos to him just for going all in.

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Read Halloween (1978) Appraisal

Read When a Stranger Calls Appraisal

Read Knock Knock (2007) Appraisal

Read The House of The Devil Appraisal

 

Keeper of the Crimson Quill

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Copyright: Crimson Quill: Savage Vault Enterprises 2014 (Revised Edition 2016)

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