Sleepstalker is one of those films that I have great memories of. My young and impressionable 16-year-old self thoroughly enjoyed the film when it came out. Nowadays, I’m always scouring the bargain bins of movie stores, trying to find that obscure title I might have watched some 30 years ago that managed to slip through the cracks of my collection, and imagine my surprise when I found this 1995 gem. To my knowledge, this has never been released on Blu-ray, so picking it up on DVD for 99 cents is a no brainer. Sure, it came out at the height of the slasher dead zone, the pre-1996 Scream boom. My expectations are understandably low, as I have expressed my disdain for those wise cracking Freddy prototype slashers of the early and mid 90’s. I remember very little of the movie, only that I enjoyed it, so let’s see how it holds up.
Turi Meyer directed this movie, his first directorial credit. He would follow with Candyman: Day of the Dead, the second disappointing Candyman sequel, and then several TV credits. Ken Foree very briefly appears as a detective in the third act, the only true “name” in the movie, and he’s not much more than a minor character. Another recognizable face, the late William Lucking aka Piney Winston from Sons of Anarchy, plays the detective sidekick. Despite lacking star power, the acting is well done, especially by the Sandman himself, a relative unknown, Michael Harris.
Anyway, a serial killer named the Sandman kills an entire family minus their kid, who is luckily saved at the last moment by the police. In prison, pending execution, the Sandman is visited by a voodoo priest who places a hex on him, allowing him to transfer to a body made of sand. He must go find and kill the young boy, Griffin, now all grown up, who escaped him all those years ago.
The 90’s really are apparent in the film’s DNA. You have those poor early CGI effects, much like Lawnmower Man, that were probably cutting edge at the time. There are also a few obvious and puzzling greenscreen shots. You also have the obligatory 90’s heavy metal Zakk Wylde type shredding instrumental soundtrack. And of course, don’t forget the bad clothing. In other words, it hasn’t particularly aged well.
There are flashbacks which show abuse, explaining why the Sandman has scars on his lips (his mouth was sewn shut), shown in these bizarre slow motion type scenes that are supposed to be stylish, but just come across as dated.
Then there’s the obvious Freddy Krueger connection. One of its many taglines was: “This waking nightmare isn’t confined to Elm Street!” The killer sprinkles sand in people’s eyes (get it, the SANDMAN?) before he kills them, and even has cool little nursery rhymes he repeats. Sleepstalker hoped to capitalize on the name value of NoES, but by 1995, it was a little past Freddy’s prime.
There are other subplots about Griffin’s job (some hysterically stereotypical Hispanic gangsters who give Griffin a “gat”), other minor characters introduced just to have people to kill, and further information about the previously mentioned voodoo priest. There’s a lot going on considering the obvious budget and direct-to-video restrictions.
The Sandman himself is cool. He’s like a western gunslinger, complete with duster, housing a complexion that matches his brown getup. Quite frankly, he facially looks a lot like the wooden man-sized doll in The Fear, another movie I hope to review in the upcoming days. And his voice is pretty cool, too. I already said the actor, Michael Harris, was a bright spot in the film, and he truly relishes the role. He does utter a few one-liners, but they don’t grate on me to the point that I groan out loud. It would have been neat to see this as a franchise instead of a one-off direct-to-video feature.
The kills are relatively bloodless, but decent, nonetheless. There’s an obvious lack of gore, and no nudity, not even any scantily clad 90’s babes, so that is a definite slasher no-no. But the final guy, Griffin, is not afraid to kick some ass, people actually believe him (his girlfriend and the detective are his sidekicks), AND he makes good movie decisions. Is that yet another slasher no-no, or is that a goes-against-the-norm character strength?
The film is a time capsule in that moment of history, that moment when there were so many horror films on the shelves at Blockbuster, that you could rent 3 or 4 EVERY weekend, and still have some that you miss. VHS movies came out in DROVES, and I loved hitting my local store and cruising the counters for one to watch. Whether it was for the first time or a repeat watch, for $5, you could be entertained all weekend. And this film truly brings me back to that time period.
The DVD is definitely murky and dark, and completely devoid of any extra features minus scene access, which is studio code for “we don’t give a shit about this film.” The Wikipedia page for the film is also low on information, as is imdb.com. It seems to be that true forgotten 90’s horror film. But don’t “sleep” on it. If you were a Blockbuster kid, this more than likely was on the shelf when you were cruising for something to do on a Friday night, and while it’s not groundbreaking, it’s worth revisiting. It’s on Tubi, so check it out.
5.5/10 Stab Wounds