Friday, July 13, 2012

Worth Mentioning - One-By-One He Killed Them All

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody shows some homestate pride with his Friday the 13th viewing picks.


I once read an article that said John Carpenter drew inspiration for the original Halloween from a true crime case where a man would sneak into people's bedrooms at night and watch them sleep, waiting for them to wake up. When the sleeping person would stir, the man would proceed to beat them to death with a pipe wrench.

The titular slasher of writer/director Justin Russell's film has a similar M.O., although his weapon of choice is a claw hammer, and he's also willing to branch out and follow his chosen victims to other locations.

The Sleeper likes to target sorority girls, and when young college student Amy decides to pledge to Alpha Gamma Theta, it turns out to be the worst decision of her life. The Sleeper is on campus, and by hammer, by rope, by axe, by hand, he kills the Theta girls and those around them until only Amy is left...

It's a standard slasher, all that it needs and was meant to be. Russell wanted to make a movie that emulated the slashers that he loves, and he's done his horror homework. On the commentary he namechecks movies like The Slumber Party Massacre, Graduation Day, The Prowler, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. The font of the opening titles was inspired by Alice Sweet Alice, the cinematography by Rob Zombie's Halloween II, the color correction by Let the Right One In. The poster/cover art resembles that of Don't Go in the House. There are moments directly inspired by '80s slashers, including the original Friday the 13th.

Russell seems to be as enamored with the sight of the black-gloved killers from Italian giallos like Dario Argento's Tenebrae as I am with the hockey mask of Jason Voorhees, so The Sleeper himself sports black gloves. He makes phone calls before he kills, as in Black Christmas and the original Prom Night.

Prom Night (and Teen Wolf) also directly inspired one of my favorite scenes in the movie. I enjoy sneak attack dance sequences, when a choreographed dance breaks out in the middle of movie that you wouldn't expect one to be in. One of my favorites is in a 1981 slasher called Strange Behavior. I bought a copy of Strange Behavior after first renting it from Netflix, and the surprise two minute dance sequence set to Lou Christie's "Lightnin' Strikes" that breaks out at a party is 99% of the reason why. The Sleeper also contains a surprise two minute dance sequence when the Theta girls go out to a bar.

Russell even carries the '80s slasher homage so far as to set The Sleeper in 1981. This has opened the movie up to a lot of nitpicky anachronism criticism, but this was made by a group of Ohioans with a thirteen day shooting schedule, a Panasonic AF100 HD camera, $30,000, and an eBay account. A lot of 1980s, not necessarily 1981, stuff was bought and placed around the set, but it's not going to be period perfect. It's a fun approach, it doesn't need to be dissected, just go with it.


I enjoyed The Sleeper and am glad  to have it as part of my slasher collection. The movie was shot in Russell's hometown of Springfield, Ohio, and while it's nice to see an Ohio horror fan do good and make something cool, it's kind of disappointing that I didn't hear about this movie until it had already been on DVD for months. An '80s slasher was being shot just two hours away from me, and I had no idea. Looking up the cast, I found that at least one of the actors - Ali Ferda, who plays Amy's roommate Ava - has even been in a play with a friend of mine. I was so close to this movie, yet so far away.

There are some nice extras on the DVD: a 65 minute featurette called Shooting a Nightmare in 13 Days, which shows clips from each day of filming. There are two trailers for The Sleeper, as well as a Grindhouse-style trailer for a fake movie called Don't Go in the Attic. Joe Bob Briggs makes a quick cameo in The Sleeper, and one of the special features is him doing the movie's "Drive-In Totals", like he used to do on his dearly departed Joe Bob's Drive-In Theater and Monstervision TV shows. As mentioned before, there's also an audio commentary by Justin Russell.

Russell has relocated from Springfield to Columbus, Ohio, and it's interesting that one of the movies he references in his commentary is an obscure slasher called Girls Nite Out. He highly recommends it, but doesn't mention that it also has a Columbus connection...


Years ago, Dickie Cavanaugh, a student at DeWitt University in Ohio, was literally driven insane with jealousy when his cheerleader girlfriend dumped him for someone else. He killed her during the school's annual campus scavenger hunt and, after being captured by the girl's father, who worked as the head of campus security, ended up in Weston Hill Sanitarium. (Not to be confused with the Weston Hills Asylum that the Nightmare on Elm Street series tells us is in Ohio as well.) Dickie has been locked up ever since... Until the beginning of this film, when a nurse finds that he has hanged himself in his room.

Dickie's suicide kicks off some horrific events at DeWitt. There's plenty of jealousy and relationship issues going on among the DeWitt Bears basketball players and the cheerleaders - star player "Maniac"'s girlfriend has dumped him for someone else, Teddy Ratliff is dating cheerleader Lynn but still flirts with every pretty girl who catches his eye, Pryor's girlfriend Sheila is cheating on him with her (second) cousin, Benson, the man inside the school mascot costume. During this year's scavenger hunt, a mysterious slasher begins knocking off students one-by-one, making strange phone calls to the college radio station's D.J. between kills. With the story of Dickie Cavanaugh refreshed in their minds, has someone's broken heart driven them to become a copycat? Has the real killer been someone else all along? Is there something supernatural going on, is Dickie himself the killer?

The greatest thing about this movie is the slasher's fashion sense. Setting out on the murder spree, the killer dons the Bears mascot costume, with the added feature of knives as claws. As the bear-costumed killer slashes their way through the "whore" female student body, it's up to head of campus security Mac to make sure no more girls share his daughter's fate.

Mac is played by the great Hal Holbrook, who did a couple other horror movies back in the day, namely Creepshow and John Carpenter's The Fog. It's interesting to watch this one knowing the bit of trivia that he shot his entire role in one day, and to see how it's edited to make it seem like he's interacting with main characters without being seen in the same shot with them. He doesn't even share the screen with his son, David Holbrook, who plays Pryor. David would eventually feel the wrath of Old Chief Wood'nhead in Creepshow 2. As Pryor's cheating, incest envelope-pushing girlfriend Sheila is Friday the 13th Part 2's Lauren-Marie Taylor.

And the Columbus, Ohio connection? Among the writers/producers are a couple Buckeye scaremakers named Anthony N. Gurvis and Kevin Kurgis. Gurvis and Kurgis both went on to become lawyers in Columbus. Kurgis is especially popular for his intensity in his TV commercials. For the last few years, attendees of the Shock Around the Clock horror marathons have been suggesting that Girls Nite Out be screened at one of the marathons, with Kurgis as a special guest. It's a running joke, but it's also something that I would seriously love to see happen.


  1. In reference to The Sleeper- who's your friend and what play were we in?
    ...and Thank you for the review!

    1. You were in Spoon Millionaires with my friend Jon Hodges.

      I didn't see the play, but you were great in the movie. Thanks for checking out the blog.

      - Cody

  2. Yeah, and I think I saw you in a musical once, Ali, didn't I?