Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #555
Number of Views: One
Release Date: January 5, 2001
Country of Origin: Italy
Running Time: 117 minutes
Director: Dario Argento
Producers: Dario Argento, Claudio Argento
Screenplay: Carlo Lucarelli, Dario Argento, Franco Ferrini
Special Effects: Sergio Stivaletti
Cinematography: Ronnie Taylor
Editing: Anna Napoli
Studios: Cecchi Gori Group Tiger Cinematografica, Medusa Produzione, Opera Film Produzione
Distributor: Medusa Distribuzione
Stars: Max von Sydow, Stefano Dionisi, Chiara Caselli, Roberto Zibetti, Gabriele Lavia, Rossella Falk, Paolo Maria Scalondro, Roberto Accornero, Barbara Lerici, Guido Morbello, Massimo Sarchielli, Diego Casale, Alessandra Comerio, Elena Marchesini, Aldo Massasso
Suggested Audio Candy:
Goblin Soundtrack Suite
After such great success during the eighties, it was inevitable that the nineties would prove less advantageous a hunting ground for Dario Argento. He certainly wasn’t alone as many of the masters of modern horror faltered during this particular period, with the exception of Wes Craven for whom Scream arrived at the perfect time to stand out from the dross. When you look at Argento’s nineties output, it could have been a whole lot worse. However, The Stendhal Syndrome and Trauma only received lukewarm responses and his take on The Phantom of The Opera fared decidedly less well with critics. In short, he needed to stop the rot and what better way than revisiting the genre that he played such a significant part in popularizing?
The giallo was all but dead by the turn of the millennium and many of his Italian peers had already dropped from our radars. Sleepless marked a return to similar territory for Argento and allowed him to break out the black gloves once more and get back to doing what made him famous in the first place. Some could argue that this was him playing it safe and admittedly it was far less risky an endeavor than his last project but the great thing about this man is that, regardless of any criticism levelled at him, he has worked consistently ever since striking gold with The Bird with the Crystal Plumage in 1971. Inspiration has never been an issue and, in such familiar territory, chances were that he wouldn’t let his vast fanbase down.
Barely five minutes in and Sleepless has us right by the scruff of our throats. Like Brian De Palma, he loves nothing more than to open with a flourish and that is precisely the case here. Indeed, as far as intros go, this may well be one of the finest of his entire career. Disinterested in simply splashing the deep red around and hoping that will do the trick, he strings us along for a further fifteen minutes as we board a train bound for Turin with our first victim and an excruciatingly tense game of cat-and-mouse ensues. Hunted prostitute Angela (Barbara Lerici) shows great resourcefulness and survival instinct, as opposed to accepting the inevitable and he makes the absolute most of the tight confines, keeping our hearts very much in our mouths until the anonymous killer decides to call off the search and focus on destroy.
Unfortunately for Angela, she inadvertently picked up a blue file when leaving her last client and it contains rather sensitive material that she has no right in snooping at. Chock full of newspaper clippings, incriminating photos, and a copy of John McKenzie’s The Death Farm, it ties into a series of unsolved murders from the eighties committed by “the dwarf killer” and her accidental theft has given the psychopath in question reason to pick up exactly where he left off and call time on his extended hiatus.
This spirited comeback spells one helluva headache for Detective Ulisse Moretti (Max Von Sydow). Having been the chief investigator 17 years earlier and failing to solve the case, he feels obliged to dust off his trench coat now that history appears to be repeating itself. Moreover, he made a promise to a young boy who suffered the indignity of watching his mother brutally dispatched before his very eyes that he would catch this killer and needs the closure for his own peace of mind as much as anything else. The problem is, Moretti has been retired from active duty now for some time and spends his days conversing with a canary and fighting off dementia so it’s fair to say that he’s a tad rusty.
Whilst initially reluctant to get involved, Moretti’s mind is made up for him when the child in question, Giacomo (Stefano Dionisi), returns to Turin and the two join forces to prevent the killer from striking again. Of course, Argento has never been one to let the grass grow under his loafers and the bodies soon start piling up in typically grisly and stylish fashion. There is a method to the psychopath’s madness and each kill follows a distinct pattern which they eventually realize ties in with an old nursery rhyme. With the Turin police coming up with precious little in the way of leads, it is left to this unlikely pairing to put this case to bed.
Sleepless is a solid giallo. Mystery is uphold for as long as is feasibly possible and there are numerous twists and turns alongside the obligatory red herrings thrown in to throw us off the scent. Certain revelations and a rather mean-spirited fate for one of our key protagonists show that Argento has no intention of tying things up in the manner in which we are expecting and it’s great to see a filmmaker throwing caution to the wind as opposed to painting by numbers as is so often the case. I can reveal no more without spoiling the party but I will say this: one scene in particular you really won’t see coming.
Von Sydow is the true star here and, while the rest of the cast do their level best, his dry wit and unquestionable charisma carries us through any lulls in the narrative like the distinguished old-timer that he is. The dispatches are well staged and suspenseful, while director of photographer Ronnie Taylor does a bang-up job of making Turin at night feel like an ominous locale. What is most pleasing is that Sleepless marks the welcome return of frequent Argento collaborators Goblin and,while some of their compositions lack a certain edge ever-present in their heyday, the opening theme is mesmerizing and peels back the years accordingly.
Sleepless is unlikely to ever be held in the same lofty regard as other Argento gialli such as Profondo Rosso and Tenebrae and falls some way short of the Italian maestro’s finest work. Having said that, it’s clear that he hasn’t lost his touch when it comes to staging brilliant set-pieces and, in Von Sydow’s, he has a safe pair of hands to entrust with holding things together during the interim. It may not leave you sleepless come the close but it may just encourage you to sleep with one eye open. Moreover, it proves that the critics may have been a touch hasty when writing him off prematurely. Like “the dwarf killer”, he knows precisely where to pick up once that insatiable Italian appetite returns.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers &Pelt-Nuzzlers: Without question, Sleepless is one of the more bloodthirsty giallos in existence and Sergio Stivaletti’s practical work is predictably on-point throughout. Each kill is brutal with multiple stabbings, drowning, decapitation, mortifying makeshift manicure, and a wonderfully staged head shot to take your pick from. My personal standout involves a musical instrument no less and acts as a perfect reminder that Argento still has plenty of tricks up his lengthy sleeves. Beautiful naked women have always floated his gondola and he really is the gift that keeps on giving in this respect also.
Keeper of the Crimson Quill
Copyright: Crimson Quill: Savage Vault Enterprises 2016