29th Jun2013

‘The Sleeper’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Brittany Belland, Tiffany Arnold, Riana Ballo, Jason Jay Crabtree, Jessica Cameron, John Bloom, Ali Ferda, Luke Frost, Paul Moon | Written and Directed by Justin Russell


As a collector of VHS, The Sleeper is one of those films that has been on my radar for quite some time. The film was released in a VHS/DVD big box combo set by producers Gamma Knife Films back in early 2012 – I didn’t pick up that version as I was holding out for a UK release, which never came. However cut to 18 months later and The Sleeper finally comes to DVD here in Blighty thanks to Safecracker Pictures, one of the UK’s most interesting DVD labels, who specialise in releasing independent movies that other, more mainstream, companies wouldn’t (frankly) touch with a bargepole.

At first glance The Sleeper is very reminiscent of Ti West’s House of the Devil – especially given the retro look and feel which echoes West’s stylistic choices on his breakout flick – however this film focuses on that most maligned of horror tropes: the slasher genre, rather than the supernatural. The synopsis goes something like this:

It s 1981 and the girls of Alpha Gamma Theta sorority are putting on a bash. As the new pledges arrive, so does an uninvited guest The Sleeper and he’s watching them from the shadows. The girls shower, revise, eat and sleep and all the while the lunatic killer studies their every move. Then they begin receiving creepy phone calls from the madman, always stating which of the girls will be the next to be put to sleep . The girls are hunted down one by one by the mysterious foggy eyed killer, using his preferred weapon of choice….. a claw hammer.

Writer/director Justin Russell is not a name many will recognise, not unless you have a penchant for grindhouse-style movies and importing DVDs from around the world – Russell’s previous full-length feature, Death Stop Holocaust, remains unreleased here in the UK. However he SHOULD be on the radars of many a horror fan, especially given his fantastic work here. Russell captures the 80s vibe perfectly with The Sleeper, even more so than Ti West did with his throwback effort, and it’s obvious upon watching the film that Russell has a love for the decade and the genre.

Of course The Sleeper features many familiar tropes of the slasher flick – the crazed killer, a sorority house setting and the gloriously violent, 80s-style gore (oh and it is glorious AND violent), Russell evens throws in one of those VERY 80s dance scenes, which were so prevalent of the disco-era inspired early 80s slashers such as Prom Night. But what really stands out is the script, which is also by Russell. None of the conversations between the sorority sisters feel “fake” and the characterisations are spot-on for both the genre and the decade which it homages. Plus any film that features the credit “Special Appearance by Joe Bob Briggs” get s an instant thumbs-up in my book!

It’s hard to fault The Sleeper as everything about the film is spot on: the look, the clothes, the vibe, even some of the cheesy acting – everything screams 80s slasher (and there are some nods to some of the most famous and infamous slashers strewn throughout the film). Hell, even the music by Gremlin is seemingly inspired by 80s Italian horror music-maestros Goblin! Notice the similarity in nomenclature too? As a fan of 80s cinema and the slasher genre I couldn’t be more pleased…

The Sleeper is out on DVD now from Safecracker Pictures. Buy it, you will not be disappointed.

***** 5/5 (if I could give it more I would!)

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