The 1990’s wasn’t a good decade for Italy’s premier horror director. His trip to the USA resulted in a decidedly average film with ‘Trauma’, then he made ‘The Stendhal Syndrome’, which was also a disappointment, and, of course, his universally lambasted remake of The Phantom of the Opera. However, he has proved with this movie that he most certainly is not down and out; as Sleepless is by far his best film in fourteen years, and one the best films that Argento has ever made. Sleepless stars Max Von Sydow as former police detective Moretti, the detective on the case of the notorious ‘Dwarf’ murders, 17 years earlier. After the murder of his mother, Von Sydow promised a young boy that he would catch her killer. That boy is now an adult, and the murders have started again; leaving only Von Sydow and the young man to solve the case. The murders aren’t done without clues however, as left at the scene of each one is a cut-out of an animal, all of which link to a mysterious nursery rhyme.
This film is giallo at it’s best. Dario Argento creates one of the best atmospheres in any of his movies for this film. Some of the set pieces are absolutely fantastic, and the film breathes an air of malice for it’s duration. Sleepless is full of surprises, and through this, Argento is able to make us believe the literally anything can happen; and it often does. This is an excellent thing for a thriller to do; nobody wants to know what’s going to happen next, and Sleepless is most certainly a film that has the ability to keep you on the edge of your seat, begging for more of the plot to be revealed. As ever, Argento manages to submerge the viewer into the film, and this is one of the movie’s most pleasing aspects. Another thing about this movie that will please fans of Italian horror is the absolutely sublime score by the brilliant ‘Goblin’. Argento and his house band have had some memorable collaborations, and this one most certainly stands tall as one of them. I would even call it the best once since Suspiria; it is that good.
Dario Argento has also become famous for the great way that he uses the camera, and this film is a fine example of that also. Dario Argento directs our attention through numerous things, and his camera work throughout the movie is as inventive as ever. Through his direction, the film manages to build up massive levels of tension. The great sequence on the train towards the start of the movie is an excellent example of this. Argento is admirable not only for his directing, but for the fact that he writes his own movies also. The script of the movie is decent enough, but the real genius in the writing department for this movie is the nursery rhyme that is the backbone of the film. The rhyme was written by Argento’s beautiful daughter, Asia. It’s deliciously bleak and twisted (especially considering it’s supposed to be a children’s rhyme!), and it creates a great mood for the film. The part in which Von Sydow reads out the final verse over the closing credits is incredible; Von Sydow’s voice and the rhyme itself combine to lend the movie a dark horror vibe like no other. Argento fans will also be thankful for the fact that this film contains more than it’s fair share of bloodshed. Some of the scenes even made me – a man that loves blood and gore – cringe. A head is bashed against a wall; teeth first, a young lady is viciously decapitated, fingers are lopped off, heads explode and, my personal favourite, a scene that sees someone brutally beaten with an English horn. It has to be seen to be believed, it really does.
Like many Italian horror films, Sleepless isn’t the best film ever made in terms of acting, and at times the plot isn’t always well paced. The dubbing is also as terrible as ever; but who cares? You don’t go into a giallo expecting to see great acting and plotting, and therefore it can very easily be forgiven. Especially when the film has a great Goblin soundtrack, a solid plot and gratuitous scenes of gore. Any Argento fan will be happy movie with this movie, I can almost guarantee it; and providing that he doesn’t fall down with 2004’s The Card Player, Argento could be back to his uncompromising and atmospheric best.