The Sleeper - The Sleeper(Blu Ray & DVD) [Scream Team Releasing - 2020]The Sleeper is a (fairly) recent 1980ís set Sorority house slasher, with an effectively creepy winter setting, creepily deranged killer, and some fairly good retro detail. Sure it wears its influences clearly enough, retreads the familiar genre tropes in a fairly even manner. But what is fairly original is the fetishism of the killer & his mannerism, making what we have here rather akin to the Neo-Giallo films, though of course with a slasher focus. From Scream Team Releasing here is a dual Blu Ray/ DVD release of the film- bringing together directors commentary, a one-hour making of, and a deliberately worn VHS version of the film.
Originally appearing in 2012 The Sleeper was written & directed by Justin Russell, who had previously directed a few other indie horror films- 2007ís woodland set comedy horror The Gremlin, and 70ís grindhouse focused slasher 2009 Death Stop Holocaust. The Sleeper is a competently made low budget film that largely managers to mimic itís 80ís setting fairly well- with a good selection of mostly hammer based kills, dumb teens, a plump & geeky housemother, and a tough-but-caring cop. But what it really shines in doing is recreating and enhancing the feeling of sinister dread & stalking unease.
The film is set in the winter of 1981, with a brief prologue from a few years early- itís set in around Alpha Gamma Theta sorority house, which very much nods towards the house used in Bob Clarkes 1974 proto-slasher classic Black Christmas. And if you're going to trace The Sleepers key and main influence itís most certainly Clarke's film- we have a killer who rings up and bizarrely taunts the residents of the Sorority house, we have the snowy winter setting, POV shots of the killer staring into the house, and even some recreated kills- like someone found in a rocking chair. But beyond this The Sleeper does add itís own twists & turns to the mix- sure once again they largely riff off other films, but the way itís blended together (just about) mangers to stand on its own.
The films lead character is Amy(Brittney Belland)- a fairly quite & straight-laced student, who is get sick of living in a cramped dorm, with her more devil-may-care roommate Ava. One night Amy gets invited to attend a party at the Alpha Gamma Theta house, and from here the bodies start dropping and piling-up.
Itís fair to say much of the acting here is not great, going from somewhat vague & wooden, to distinctly hammy, through to just about competent. But the key to the film's appeal is the atmosphere and the killer who is simply known as The Sleeper. Through-out Russell managers to create a feeling of both chilling & creeping dread, lurching unease, and sudden jarring attack. The killer himself is a blend of slow shuffling loose trouser stalking, manic & (just seen) face twitchings, and black glove stretching. When we do get the very occasional fleeting glances of the killer's face, his eyes seem semi-cloudy & of course deranged- so big props to Jason Jay Crabtree who plays The Sleeper.
The gore/ murders are well enough done- mainly focusing in on hammer attacks- be they straight on, or with the hook end, with taking in the films period setting, who he attacks, and his way of bludgeoning his victims it rather brought to mind the later killings of Ted Bundy. The score by Gremlin(!)- very much blends & mimics both the Black Christmas score & other 80ís slasher scores. On the whole, Iíd say this is, atmosphere wise, one of the better retro-focused slashers Iíve seen, with only the mixed acting & some slight pacing issues slightly letting it down.
Moving onto this recent two-disc set- and on the first Blu Ray disc, we get the film, directors commentary & extras. On the second DVD, we get the lost VHS transfer version of the film, which sees film grain, pops & clicks added, along with that washed-out VHS quality. The extras on the first disc take in first of course the director/ writers commentary from Justin Russell- here he talks about the film's locations & how they were dressed set-up with 80ís elements, other film influences, shot set-ups, actor selection, and effects set-up. Itís an animated & never lulling track, which highlights Russell passion for 80ís horror. Next, we get Shooting A Night In 13 Days- this is an hour and five minute making off doc, which largely focuses on day by day shooting- but in-between we get worthy interviews with actors & Russell himself. We get a two-minute intro from Joe Bob Briggs, who shows up in the film for a small cameo. There a couple of trailers for the film, and a trailer for one of Russell shorts.
Itís great to see films like The Sleeper coming out, that show a true passion & love for the slasher films of the 1980s. Iíd say if you're looking for a more atmospheric & mood setting retro slasher youíll like whatís on offer here. At the end things have been left open for a possible sequel- so it is great to see Russell do a follow-up, as I think there is definitely more that could be done with The Sleeper character.Roger Batty