The UKHS Ecstasy & Agony Showcase #3:
The Ecstasy of SLEEPSTALKER (1995) by Matty Budrewicz
It’s day three in our special love and hate themed spotlight, and today finds Matty Budrewicz stepping up to bat with an affectionate gush about the little-seen mid-nineties pleasure giver (so to speak) Sleepstalker…
Man, I love Sleepstalker. A long-time discount pit favourite, I’m ninety nine per cent sure that most of you fine lot will be more than familiar with it — well, at least its striking DVD cover anyway.
Sleepstalker is available everywhere. Like, seriously EVERYWHERE: pound stores, pawn shops, car booties, village fetes… Heck, check your uncle’s bookcase ‘cos it’ll be there too, sandwiched between a copy of Beefy’s Cricket Tales and his back issues of What Car?. Like a rat or a Greggs, you’re never more than ten feet away from a copy of Turi Meyer’s 1995 schlocker; yet the mad thing is very few people have actually seen it. And boy, they are sure missing out ‘cos Sleepstalker is a doozy of a flick.
Sleepstalker deals with a young man called Griffin [the likeable Jay Underwood] who, seventeen years after witnessing the murder of his parents, is about to experience a whole new kind of nightmare. Their murderer you see, a nursery rhyme-spouting serial killer known only as ‘The Sandman’, has survived his jaunt through the gas chamber and has been resurrected with the help of a mysterious voodoo preacher [a lovely turn from Michael D. Roberts]. Now an undead supernatural sand-fiend, The Sandman is hell bent on finishing what he set out to do years ago: he’s going to slaughter Griffin. That is of course unless our plucky hero, his best friend-cum-love interest Megan [Kathryn Morris] and crusty ol’ Detective Bronson Worth [William Lacking] can finally stop him for good.
Everybody loves a bad-ass horror antagonist: show me a horror nut who claims they don’t and I’ll show you a liar! You can’t beat a good terror villain and if you ask me, The Sandman is up there with the best of ’em; so much so that I’ve always found it mystifying that he didn’t get a few more outings. I mean, there should have been at least a part deux, especially with Sleepstalker’s sequel-baiting ending. Instead sweet Sandy ends up another horror hero never meant to be; another almost-ran-bogeyman along with fellow neglected menaces like Horace Pinker, Max Jenke and Captain Howdy.
Sporting some neat make up work from veteran FX’er Gary J. Tunnicliffe, [the man responsible for a heap of neat stuff in the likes of Hellraiser III, Wishmaster and the last two Return of the Living Dead movies], and brought to life by a terrific performance from Michael Harris, The Sandman is one hellacool man-monster. He’s the perfect blend of creepy physical presence, Krueger-esque black wit and a surprising amount of pathos as, like the eponymous creature in Stuart Gordon’s Castle Freak, The Sandman has a pretty bleak backstory for a supposedly goofy, straight to video bad guy.
The victim of an abused childhood, The Sandman’s past and its presentation as a series of nightmarish vignettes is nothing short of disturbing pulp poetry. They’re the undoubted highlight of the movie and I defy any of you not to get the shivers the second you see that freaky-deaky clown painting and hear ‘Sleep Baby Sleep’. I’m getting goosepimples just thinking about it. Brrr…
It is fun though that is Sleepstalker’s number one priority. I’m constantly blown away by just how much good-time chutzpah it has, as like all the best horror debuts, first time helmer Meyer directs like a man possessed. It’s bloody ace seeing just how much he manages to cram into Sleepstalker’s little over ninety minutes run time, with supernatural slash, police procedural and urban crime all part of his exciting, imaginative and stylised tableaux. Interestingly, both Meyer and co-scripter Al Septien wrote the previous years Leprechaun 2; a superior sequel that could very well be their Sleepstalker dry run thanks to its similar beats and eclectic approach.
I was fourteen years old the first time I saw Sleepstalker (I taped it off a late night BBC1 showing) and it was as every bit as profound as watching Phantasm II or hearing the Misfits for the first time. Like them, Sleepstalker is the total embodiment of horror’s unique playfulness: it’s shocking and silly in roughly equal measures. Check out The Sandman’s reanimation for example; I mean, surely that’s the kind of cornball scare sequence that we as fright fans live for, right? Well, I know I certainly do! By the time The Sandman’s pouring himself through keyholes in muderous pursuit of the leads, it’s goofy grue Shangri-La all the way, kids!
Safe to say that when I saw it on the shelves of my local quiddy the next weekend, I snapped it the hell up. And It still holds up too: I watch it about three to four times a year, usually when I’m in dire need of a bollock-tickling pick me up. Actually, scratch that, because I’d say Sleepstalker goes far beyond simply just holding up and is in fact aging rather beautifully, like a wine or a cheese. Come to think of it, cheese is a pretty accurate comparison…
As much as I adore Sleepstalker, trying to write down why has actually been incredibly difficult; I just want to gather you all up and show you it instead! Maybe we should do that? Everyone pile round mine and we’ll whack it on. Then you’ll see. Yeah, that’s probably the best idea. Just do me a favour though, OK? Pop by some cheap-o second hand store on your way over and pick yourself up a copy. It’ll be there, don’t worry. And I guarantee you’ll be clamouring for more by the time we’re finished. It’s that kind of movie.
Check out the previous E&A articles by clicking on them below –