M.L. Miller here! As I go into the tenth year of reviewing horror films, I wanted to go back to the beginning and repost some of the films I loved. Last month, counted down my favorite horror films from my first year of reviewing. Now it’s on to Year Two which began officially on October 1, 2011 and went through September 30, 2012. I have posted compilation lists in the past, but a lot of those old reviews haven’t seen the light of day since they were first posted many moons ago. Being the OCD person that I am, I have also worked and reworked the list, looking back at my own choices and shifting them around a bit. I’ve even added a few that I might have missed or looked over from the year in question. So, if you think you know how these lists are going to turn out, you don’t!
How did I compile this list? I simply looked through films released between October 1st, 2011 and September 30, 2012 and worked and reworked the list until I had the magic number—31. Again, I never call myself any kind of expert in horror. I simply watch a lot of horror films and love writing about them. Don’t forget to like and share my picks with your pals across the web on your own personal social media. Chime in after the review and let me know what you think of the film, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, or most importantly, come up with your own darn list…let’s go!
Released on January 31, 2012 and available on Video On Demand, digital download, and DVD/BluRay!
THE SLEEPER (2012)
Directed by Justin Russell
Written by Justin Russell
Starring Brittany Belland, E. Ray Goodwin, Paul Moon, Eric Sarich, Beverly Kristy, Ali Ferda, Jo Bob Briggs, Jason Jay Crabtree as the Sleeper
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
THE SLEEPER owes a lot to the slasher films which ran rampant during the 80’s–more specifically the influential slasher films that came about during the late 70’s such as HALLOWEEN and especially the seminally awesome BLACK CHRISTMAS. As with BLACK CHRISTMAS, the killer, known only as The Sleeper here, calls a sorority house and whispers nonsensical threats into the phone. Much like some of the creepiest scenes in BLACK CHRISTMAS, these momentary glimpses into the twisted mind of a madman prove to be both the most horrifying and the most memorable in THE SLEEPER. Those who love this era of horror cinema will have a lot to like in this film, written and directed by Justin Russell.
There has been a lot of talk about this film, comparing it to another retro-masterpiece, Ti West’s HOUSE OF THE DEVIL. As with that film, from beginning to end, THE SLEEPER feels like it’s been transported from the past. Even the opening credits which simply focus on an old rotary phone suggest that this is a throwback, done by someone who studied and loved the genre it honors. Set in the 80’s, THE SLEEPER is filled with things that have become cliché in this day and age: such as horny boyfriends sneaking in past curfew and a sorority full of women in nighties—both of which have the annoying tendency to ignore personal safety and wander off alone to be easily picked off by our killer. It’s this adherence to tried and true slasher movie guidelines that I found refreshing about this film. Instead of the tired self referentialism virus that has infected modern horror, THE SLEEPER proudly does it beat by beat. What makes it so enjoyable is the fact that it is a story we’ve seen before, but the skill in setting up a scene and the deft use of music in this film sets it apart from others in the sub-genre.
The amazing score is by Gremlin evokes some of the best 80’s synth music from Italian cinema. The overly synthed tones were made iconic with Carpenter’s simplistic HALLOWEEN theme, but here, it reminded me more of Goblin from Argento’s earlier films and the cheesey metal from Bava’s DEMONS. Too many times modern horror films of this kind panders to trends and incorporates hit singles from popular bands. In doing so, it castrates all tension by having some chirpy pop tart spelling out themes. Here Gremlin shows much skill in building tension and keeping it afloat as our Sleeper stalks his prey.
The Sleeper himself, played by Jason Jay Crabtree, is fantastic. He mumbles and laughs twitchily at his own jokes. He dials up his clueless victims and practically tells them they are going to die before fulfilling that promise. His wincing and wriggling communicate true mania as he writes ZZZ’s all over headshots of his intended victims. Filmmaker Justin Russell cleverly doesn’t show him in full view, keeping him off camera or shadowed, which only amplifies the menace.
THE SLEEPER does a fantastic job of diluting a subgenre of horror down to only what is most effective. Atmosphere and tone are set with amazing lighting and a fantastic score. Russell takes this material seriously and never snickers at the audience, but he is also not above adding an impromptu disco dance number at a club for retro goodness. The kills are gory as hell, another throwback to the more hardcore slasher films of the early eighties, with meaty hammer blows to the head and even more gruesome fists through the face being standout kills. The slasher era of filmmaking has taken a lot of flack, mainly because it can be a cheap way to make a horror film. But when done well, a slasher film can be truly terrifying. THE SLEEPER is one of those films.
THE 2011-2012 COUNTDOWN!
M. L. Miller is a wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow @Mark_L_Miller.
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