Tuesday, September 4, 2012

[Review] The Sleeper

Typical of sorority life, the sisters of Alpha Gamma Theta prefer to ditch their schooling duties in favor of finding new pledges and having an active night life. But little do they know, someone out there is actually doing quite a bit of studying — and they're the subject (*cue scary music*). As virginal sweetheart Amy and her (quite frankly, bitchy) roommate consider pledging with them, an obsessive lunatic begins watching their every move, waiting for the right moment to strike.

Every horror fan, without a doubt, regards the 1980's with an incredible amount of love and nostalgia. It was a time when slashers were alive and well, being released by the dozen on what seemed like a daily basis. Most were admittedly cheap, basic and unpolished efforts, but all of them had a certain charm that the films of today just can't reproduce. Filmmaker Justin Russell, however, has managed the impossible and done just that. Taking place in 1981 and closely following the sub-genre's formula and techniques, The Sleeper plays out like a loving tribute to an era long gone, and a much belated gift to us fans.

Most filmmakers seem to overlook the fact that effective horror films rely heavily on execution, not plot. Take any of your favorite horror films and consider how badly they could have turned out with the same script and actors involved, but with a different director at the helm. The Sleeper is a bare-minimum slasher involving sorority girls, a deranged killer, and absolutely nothing more — and it works. Mr. Russell puts all of his focus not on originality, but on creating an authentic classic slasher experience in every which way. All of the typical stalk and slash scenarios are present here with some hammer-induced gore, the requisite nudity and sex, and plenty of nods to some of the greats of the sub-genre. With a wintry sorority setting and disturbing phone calls, it's quite clear the biggest inspiration for The Sleeper was Bob Clark's supremely creepy Black Christmas, and that's something I'm surely not going to complain about. There's even a John Saxon doppelganger in the role of a detective, as well as a very similar score that sets the mood with amazing accuracy.

The cloudy-eyed killer is thankfully kept simple and vague. He sits around in a dark basement, mumbling incoherently during creepy phone calls and maniacally scribbles on pictures of the sorority girls before going out for the kill. What exactly is his obsession with these particular girls and why is he killing them? Who cares? The fact is, the lack of a motive is always creepier than any actual motive. This killer could have been lifted from any of the slasher films of the '70s or '80s and he was quite enjoyable to watch.

While The Sleeper may have been made and released in 2012, it feels more like a lost slasher from a decade long passed, and that obviously comes with a downside. This is not a polished, modern-looking film, and this is unfortunately going to turn more than a few people away. It's rough around the edges, has pretty bad acting and an almost non-existent budget. These are fairly typical attributes of the sub-genre, though, aren't they? If this was considered that much of a problem for you, you probably wouldn't be a very big slasher fan to begin with. Although I was able to overlook these things, I still couldn't help but feel that there were some missed opportunities here, especially when compared to the classics that inspired it. Nonetheless, with great knowledge and an obvious respect for the slashers of yore, director Justin Russell meticulously applied all the charmingly outdated filmmaking techniques and constructed an altogether convincing package that allow for a few minor faults to slip by here and there.

Somewhere around the halfway mark of the film, I suddenly became aware of having a ridiculously large, Cheshire cat smile stretched across my face. And by the very last second of the end credits, I realized it was still there. I can't even remember the last time a horror film gave me that kind of joy. Filmmaker Justin Russell is surely a talent to look out for, having created that very special kind of nostalgic horror that few can achieve. The Sleeper is the slasher film we've been waiting for.


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