Film Reviews:


(Dario Argento, US, 2001)

Dario Argento: An Eye for Horror

(Leon Ferguson, UK, 2000)

Sleepless Region 2 DVDA master of the horror genre, director Dario Argento hit his peak in the 1970s and 80s, with such violently sexual movies as Deep Red, Suspiria and Tenebrae. More recently, his disappointing attempts at American-style action and fantasy have tested the commitment of even his most loyal fans. Sleepless promised a return to form. But despite Argento taking inspiration from his earlier, stronger work, the recent flaws have not been purged, but are all the more frustrating for being part of the kind of film that was once his forte.

Retired cop Ulysses Moretti (Max von Sydow) is on a quest to find a killer, whom he thought long dead, helped by the son of one the victims. It's of little matter that the plot never develops, as Argento's greatest strength has always been his ferocious, set-piece murder scenes. But only the brilliantly handled opening double murder and the unexpected, if ridiculous ending match the intensity of Argento's best work. Beyond these, most of the murders are so similar to those in Deep Red that they are virtual recreations of them, albeit much inferior ones.

Von Sydow acquits himself well, despite being often stuck in a room, with only a parrot to play off against. The rest of the cast are badly dubbed with over-the-top accents, Eurotrash-style, but even so it's clear that several of them are talent less. Worse, the dialogue is stilted, unintentionally hilarious, and impossible to take seriously. The UK DVD has no Italian language option, or subtitles, making the dubbed version a real horror. But the poor dubbing and dialogue merely highlights the campy silliness of Sleepless, especially its laughable urban myth of the Dwarf Killer, whose small size doesn't stop him strangling leggy women. A comic scene where a selection of local dwarves are required to come into the police station to clear their names is the film's unfunny lowest ebb. Like The Phantom Menace, Sleepless makes it hard to figure out how its star director could get it so right in the past, but so badly wrong now.

Region 2 DVD

The second disc of this 2 Disc DVD Collectors edition provides the best reason for buying it at all: the documentary Dario Argento: An Eye for Horror, previously shown on Channel Four. One look at its barrage of prime Argento clips confirms just how much of a slide Sleepless is. Far superior to the previous Italian documentaries Michele Soavi's Dario Argento's World of Horror and Lamberto Bava's slipshod Master of Horror, Eye for Horror rounds up some of the most knowledgeable English language Argento writers, such as Alan Jones and Maitland McDonagh, both of whom are able to argue the case for him eloquently and with conviction. Argento himself speaks, in his native Italian, dubbed, a far better option than his broken English. The documentary is uncritical, hailing Argento's lesser films along with his triumphs, but it benefits from being made with intelligence and affection. Eye for Horror is an essential fan purchase, and no doubt that's why its been bundled with Sleepless. The box states the release is Region 0, the discs themselves say Region 2.

Adrian Horrocks

See also:

Deep Red
Dario Argento's World of Horror

A-Z of Film Reviews