It’s another Friday, so that means NEW B-MOVIE ENEMA DAY!
This week, I have something a little more recent and from a group I’ve come to greatly appreciate. The Sleeper is a 2012 slasher/thriller from Gamma Knife Films and Scream team Releasing. It was written and directed by Justin Russell. It’s meant to emulate the style of low budget slashers than ran wild after the release of 1978’s Halloween and 1980’s Friday the 13th.
Quite frankly, the 80s are in right now – in a BIG way. More on that shortly. First, though, let’s talk about Scream Team Releasing.
This is not the first time I’ve talked about Scream Team, but it is the first time I talked about one of their actual releases here on B-Movie Enema. When I go to the various horror conventions here in Indy, in particular HorrorHound (both in Indy and in Cincinnati) and Days of the Dead, I always see their table. They have a decently large catalog of movies they have either directly released or helped in the distribution. I initially intended to write about their surprisingly charming from start to finish Bong of the Living Dead, but I instead decided to talk about that as an episode of Monster Mondays on Film Seizure.
Just to add to that last comment, Rebecca in this movie was played by Tiffany Arnold, veteran actress of several shorts, but also had a large part in the movie Bong of the Living Dead. If you haven’t checked out that horror-comedy, I highly recommend it. It is surprisingly heartfelt and charming as all get out.
If you go over to Scream Team’s site, or you see them at a horror con, you will likely find something that will appeal to you. They helped to distribute Nevermore’s The Barn, which is a really great tip of the cap to Halloween as a holiday and spooky tales around local legends and such. That’s not even the only movie they released for a Halloween feel as they also have the anthologies 10/31 and The Witching Season. Both of those movies are definitely love letters to shows like Tales from the Crypt or Tales from the Darkside while The Witching Season has a cover that immediately conjures up memories Halloween III: Season of the Witch’s promotional materials.
Another of their titles that I will be visiting this year is Dude Bro Party Massacre III that has been a bit of a hit for them thanks to it streaming on Amazon, Shudder, and the like, but also featuring comedian and friend to all nerds of movies and comics and various geekery Patton Oswalt.
But yes, the 80s. The Sleeper definitely wants to play toward the style of slasher from the early 80s. Not necessarily the Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers type of monster, but the more Black Christmas, campus stalker slant. A lot of movies these days, and I mean A LOT, are trying to capture that lovely, warm blanket, nostalgia of the 80s. Sometimes it is trying to capture a particular exploitation feel of horror, as with The Sleeper. Sometimes it wants to capture more of the boner comedy style seen in movies like Porky’s or Revenge of the Nerds. Hell, even Marvel Studios tries to capture some of that good ol’ fashion feel of the decade with music (Spider-Man: Homecoming) or surprising references (as in Star-Lord’s ship being named the Milano in Guardians of the Galaxy).
Most will say that this reemergence of the decade comes from children and teens of the era now being of age and in power to make movies of their own and they are simply paying homage. However, I also want to offer another angle. Even people who are a little younger, and technically grew up mostly in the 90s, idolize elements from the 80s. The central figure in this nostalgia is the video store experience shared by most Gen Xers and older Millennials. Even in the 90s, video stores were packed to the gills with movies from the 80s. Most slashers from the era were considered taboo, even in the 90s.
To a slightly lesser, but still powerful, extent is the expansion of cable. By the 90s, I hardly knew anyone who didn’t have cable. While maybe not everyone had HBO or Showtime, most everyone had USA and TBS/TNT. USA had Rhonda Shear hosting movies on Up All Night. But TNT had one John Bloom, best known as Joe Bob Briggs. Briggs is the foremost expert in drive-in cinema. He could be found on TNT’s Monstervision (after a stint with his own show on The Movie Channel). He showed a ton of slashers. So he was a big figure in keeping a lot of the smaller, and regional, movies alive and in the lexicon of the horror fan. It’s something he still does today with his show, The Last Drive-In, on Shudder.
I think you can see how cable fed the video store and vice versa when it came to horror. I didn’t even discuss Comedy Central/Sci-Fi Channel’s Mystery Science Theater 3000 which helped bring a lot of older B-Movies to the masses… And I suppose it has a huge role to play in this blog sitting in front of your eyeballs currently.
Anyway, I went down that memory lane because this movie definitely wants to give you that Pranks (aka The Dorm that Dripped Blood), He Knows You’re Alone, and Black Christmas feel. ANNNND… The Sleeper has a part for Joe Bob Briggs to play as well! It’s synergy folks, and that is something we, the fine people of B-Movie Enema Industries, enjoy a great deal.
Alright, the movie begins with a classic FBI warning and the scrolling INTERPOL warning against the blue screen. Then, just to make sure you know what you’re getting into, it gives us that Restricted warning with the cutesy baby panther that suddenly becomes a scary adult panther ready to tear your goddamn face off (kinda… I guess…). Then we see someone lurking outside a sorority in 1979. Inside the sorority house, a girl brushes her long, luscious hair and gets ready for bed. Outside, the lurker approaches. As she gets into bed, someone slowly creeps up the stairs toward her room. He enters the room and attacks with a hammer!
One thing I like quite a bit about the opening of this film that sometimes hurts other films is how truly authentic it looks. A lot of these movies released in the present that are trying to look like a cheap, exploitation or drive-in movie often over do it. They want to put pops and scratches in the sound and “film”. This really doesn’t do it. Sure, we have the opening that looks like a VHS tape, then followed by the cartoon “Restricted” warning, but the movie itself is not going overboard with the look of being “old” or “beaten up” or “over used” like you might see as it is passed from grindhouse theater to drive-in and back again. It softens the visuals, adds a haze and uses soft focus on the text in the credits. I’ve seen quite a few movies that really wants the whole thing to look like it’s been drug through the dirt and abused like a drug-addled hooker. It’s a trope I’d like to see die out a little bit.
But here, Justin Russell does well with the way it looks:
Two years later, we meet Amy (played by Brittany Belland – more about her a little later). She’s walking around campus and gets invited to a sorority party at the Alpha Gamma Theta house. She returns to her dorm where her roommate, Ava, chastises her for thinking about going to the party. Begrudgingly, she agrees to go, but with the proviso that Amy has to leave when she says it’s time to bail. Amy is looking forward to meeting new people and having a little fun so she agrees hoping Ava has a little bit of a change of heart once at the party.
Meanwhile, elsewhere, our villain, The Sleeper, is lining up his kill list of pretty co-eds. He works in a dank room and uses pictures of the girls to act as his targets. He calls the Alpha Gamma Theta house and giggles quietly to the house mother. The house mother, Joy, believing it to be one of the girls’ boyfriend, tells her to talk to him about calling and leaving lewd and weird messages.
Amy and Ava arrive at the party and are greeted by Cindy (played by Jessica Cameron, an actress and director with a credit list a mile long). There, they meet the other girls of Alpha Gamma Theta – June, Laura, Stacy, and Rebecca. Cindy is a little dismissive of Ava. While the girls go and get a drink and mingle, Cindy’s boyfriend Bobby and his friend Derek show up unexpectedly. That doesn’t exactly stop Cindy and Bobby from going to her room and playing a little grab ass. Ava spots the mysterious Sleeper outside spying in on the party.
Ava then makes friends with one of the sisters, Laura, who seems to have some extra interest in having more “real” girls around the sorority. While they take a tour of the house, and listen in on Bobby and Cindy engaging in some extracurricular activity, the Sleeper slowly works his way into position. After the party, Derek is still waiting on Bobby, who apparently wants to stay the night, but isn’t allowed. Bobby leaves, and the Sleeper moves in for the kill on Cindy with his trusty hammer.
And kill her he does, boy howdy…
The next morning, after Cindy gets her fucking face bashed in, Bobby calls. Rebecca goes to get Cindy, and sees only a neatly made bed. She’s nowhere to be seen. No one thinks much about it as she must have had something to do early in the morning.
Elsewhere on campus, Amy walks alone and senses that someone is watching her, and, indeed, the Sleeper is snapping photos of the new Alpha Gamma Theta girl. Giggling like the madman he is, he hangs her pictures up with the other targets, and he decides to go after Rebecca next. Later, Laura stops by Amy and Ava’s room and invites them out for a drink. They see Bobby at the bar and he’s a bit perturbed by Cindy seemingly blowing him off that day. He even stops by the Alpha Gamma Theta house to see if she’s come back. Inside the house, Stacy answers a call from the Sleeper who says Rebecca’s name.
After a gratuitous one-on-one girl’s basketball montage with Rebecca and June, Rebecca takes a shower in the locker room while June goes back to the sorority house. After some gratuitous girl-taking-off-her-shoes-socks-and-shorts goodness, the Sleeper enters the locker room and uses that other side of his hammer… You know, the claw part?
After Rebecca’s defacing… heh. Puns. Gotta love ’em! Anyway, after Rebecca was killed and the Sleeper returns to his weirdo base of weirdo pictures and such, he calls and tells June that “Stacy’s next…”
Bobby tries to get some help from the cops about Cindy, but his request to file the missing persons report goes unheeded. The Sleeper follows Stacy to the pool and kills a lady who has keys to get inside. And while I could give you a picture of his hammer’s claws going into that chick’s fucking eye sockets, fuck all that noise, because it’s time for some Disco-Fu right in the middle of the movie!
Those kids have a lot of fun, don’t they?
At the pool, gratuity reigns supreme as we get to watch Stacy take off her top and her pants… and, no, no nudity, this movie is all above board, guys. She winds up and appears to jump in like the competitive swimmer we are told she is and then…
While Bobby goes to the cops to force them to see reason to issue the missing persons report, Amy is walked home by Matt, and Stacy goes tits out with Derek who has been hot for her bod since the beginning of the movie. Detective Drake, who Bobby sees about getting to the bottom of Cindy’s disappearance, calls the Alpha Gamma Theta house and finds out that Rebecca is also seemingly missing.
Back at the pool, Derek is strangled by the Sleeper and he goes in for the kill on Stacy. While the Sleeper didn’t use his trusty hammer for Derek, he really decides to go off script with Stacy by using an ax to chop her fuckin’ head clean off her neck!
Detective Drake shows up at the Alpha Gamma Theta house to speak with Joy and June. June tells Drake that Cindy was last seen with Bobby. While it may seem like that might be of interest, Drake asks Joy about the phone calls with the whispers and giggles, etc. Oddly enough, with each call, the named person stated to be “next” isn’t seen after the call. While there, the Sleeper calls to tell June she is next. When Drake asks who is calling, he doesn’t get much more from the Sleeper.
Outside, the Sleeper spies on Amy and Matt walking back to her dorm. He follows Matt and smashes his face up good with his hammer, killing him. While Amy checks her messages in her room, she hears a message from the Sleeper. Right after the message, she gets a call from Drake. He mentions the whispering calls, and she says she just got one of those calls herself. He tells her to go to the house for her safety. Elsewhere, Ava and Laura walk home from the bar, and they are blinded by flashes from a camera. Thinking it is Matt, they aren’t aware they are about to meet the Sleeper.
Amy is picked up by a campus cop and is escorted back to the house. Meanwhile, Drake has the Alpha Gamma Theta house’s phone set up for tracking. The Sleeper calls and he’s able to keep them on the phone long enough to get his location. Drake goes to the basement of a dorm where the call is coming from. He leaves a cop inside the house and outside to protect the girls. This works exactly as well as you might think as the Sleeper kills the outside cop to get right inside. Naturally, the inside cop is asleep on the couch so he gets killed by the Sleeper as well. This gives our baddie the instant access to June and he stabs her in the head with a big ol’ knife.
When Drake gets to the Sleeper’s hideout, he sees each of the pictures of the girls that he’s killed, and realizes Amy is next. He hurries back to the sorority house, but meanwhile, Amy is alone with the Sleeper and doesn’t realize the danger she’s in. Worse, she realizes the door’s hanging open and no one is around. The Sleeper has also been rather busy as he didn’t only kill June with a knife to the head, but he’s cut out Joy’s eyes.
When Amy finds Joy, the Sleeper attacks. She takes off for the bathroom and he uses his hammer to create a hole to try to unlock it a la The Shining. She screams as Drake gets back and the Sleeper runs away. He tells her to get to the nearest payphone to call the cops to get help. Just then, the Sleeper hits Drake in the back with the claw of the hammer. He chases her through the campus and into one of the buildings. She enters an auditorium and hides on the floor. She somehow successfully hides from him though she really probably shouldn’t have. However, then again, our Sleeper has milky eyes so he probably don’t see so good. I’ll allow it.
However, the Sleeper pulls a fast one on Amy and tricks her into thinking he’s left the auditorium so when she comes out of hiding, he’s right behind her! This leads to another chase into his hideout where Ava is revealed to have been killed too. As he goes in for the killing blow, Amy grabs a knife from the table and stabs him. The fuzz show up to get Amy and just before she leaves the building, the Sleeper attacks from behind.
Buuut… It was just a dream. Amy wakes up in the hospital where her doctor, Dr. Briggs, shows up to say everything is fine.
The Sleeper got caught by the cops, and Drake is alive and in the ICU. Dr. Briggs says he will take her to see him when she’s better, but for now, she needs rest. He leaves for the ER and Amy’s phone rings. When she answers, she hears her name whispered by the Sleeper. The movie ends on a classic freeze frame of Amy screaming in terror.
I rather enjoyed The Sleeper. Like I said, it really did a good job of capturing the feel of the stalker movies that came out in the late 70s and early 80s without ramming it down your throat – but is still heavily and directly influenced by the original version of Black Christmas in many ways. Granted this movie is now nearly eight years old so it was a little earlier in the adoption of attempting to make a movie look like it is older than it really is. It’s clear that the craze is in much fuller effect and with most indie movies that try to use the look being shot on digital HD cameras, it’s much more noticeable than I feel it should be. Yes, I see the scratches and the dirt, and the blacks are more heathered than it being a true black, but it isn’t distracting or take away from what is happening in the movie.
While the film is somewhat generic in its plot and story, it is definitely something to appreciate and recommend.
As I mentioned earlier, I want to now discuss star Brittany Belland. Belland had 26 credits to her name starting with The Sleeper. She was mostly in shorts, but also had some TV credits as well. She still has a couple shorts that are listed as completed but have not been released. This was the first thing I ever saw Belland in, which makes the next paragraph even sadder.
On November 21, 2018, Belland passed away very early in her career and at a young age. What was surprising to many who knew her (you can read a little more from someone who did know her well here), was that she committed suicide. Belland was extremely open about having depression. She was always seeking help and being involved with prevention causes. Her friends felt it was unlikely that she would have committed suicide because of how open she was about her depression and how much help she sought, but that’s the thing with depression – most of the time you don’t see the darkness people have and may never truly know how tough someone may have it to keep it together.
This isn’t a normal way to close out one of these low brow B-Movie Enema pieces, but, please, if you ever feel like things are just too much for you to take and you are seriously considering taking your life, seek help. If you know someone who may be in crisis, help them or find them help. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is a great place to donate, and also find info on where to get help through the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
For next week, I’ve got, guess what… another Vinegar Syndrome release. It’s the sexy 1988 thriller Party Line. So be sure to come back and check that out.
Oh, and one last thing… The Blu Ray of The Sleeper comes with a special feature of Joe Bob Briggs giving his trademark “Drive-In Totals” for the very movie he’s in. So let’s take a look!
4 Stars, Joe Bob says, “Check it out.”