Judge Daryl Loomis is a man with the face of a mouse.
"They were living entities about eight feet high, shaped precisely like the spiky images on the balustrade, and propelling themselves by a spider-like wriggling of their lower set of starfish-arms."—from The Dreams in the Witch House, by H.P. Lovecraft
Nearly the entire course of horror cinema has been littered with people trying to adapt the work of writer H.P. Lovecraft to the screen, with results that are almost entirely complete failures. Often, much fault falls on the production but, fundamentally, Lovecraft is notoriously difficult to adapt. As good as his horror stories could be, his Elder Gods defy description, leaving filmmakers the near impossible task of figuring out a way to depict them onscreen. Yet, they continue trying, and here we have another one in The Dark Sleep, a version of The Dreams of the Witch House, one of his most popular tales of the macabre.
In it, Nancy Peterson (Ashley Galloway), a recently divorced young writer, moves into a country home. It's old and beautiful but, in the basement, there is a painting that disturbs her. Soon, it's also disturbing her dreams, making her sick, and driving her mad. The world she dreams of is filled with the most bizarre of sights and, after a while, they begin to emerge in the real world. With the help of her sister (Taylor Nicole Adams), she must figure out what's going on before her dreams decide to destroy her life.
To be fair, at least the way that director Brett Piper (A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell) describes it, The Dark Sleep was not initially an adaptation of the Lovecraft story. Instead, after he wrote the story, he found out its immense similarities and, afterward, decided to insert many of Lovecraft's ideas into his work. The result, ultimately, turns out much closer than most of those that try to directly adapt the author's work.
That fact, which really is a good thing in theory, is ultimately where The Dark Sleep falters. The story itself makes reasonable sense, even if much of the dialog is unfortunate, and the movie delivers the plot in efficient fashion. Because of how intricate and bizarre a Lovecraftian dreamscape is, though, a movie this cheap just can't deliver the kinds of insane visuals required to effectively realize the world.
But even so, Piper and company do a good job with the money they had. Instead of today's usual CG effects, everything is done practically, giving The Dark Sleep a look more akin to something from fifty years ago than today, which is nice to see. I long to see miniatures, stop-motion animation, and puppetry in fantasy films, and I so rarely get that, so I definitely appreciate it here. Some of the effects are better than others, but they all boil down to something I could have really sunk my teeth into had the rest of the package been stronger. On their tiny budget, though, they succeed with enough of it to make me respect what they were attempting to do.
>From Bayview, The Dark Sleep arrives on DVD in an edition that falls basically in line with the level of the film production. The 1.78:1 anamorphic image has a decent amount of clarity, with relatively strong black levels and fairly bright whites. The skin tones look fine and the colors are realistic, but the dream sequences suffer a little bit from murkiness. The Dolby stereo mix is decent, but nothing special, with little dynamic range but perfectly clear dialog.
For extras, we start with a jovial audio commentary with Piper, a couple of the supporting actors, one of the producers, and the DP. They have a good time making fun of each other and having fun with the film, while rightly pointing out what is good about it. There's also a brief making-of featurette an outtake reel, and a trailer, while an interesting short piece on the creation of the creatures rounds out the disc.
As a cheap independent movie from a guy who has done this for years, The Dark Sleep is a perfectly acceptable, relatively enjoyable example of what can be done with some imagination and a tiny budget. Don't expect too much from the plot or the performances, but with the fun practical effects, you can do a whole lot worse with your time than this little number.
It tries hard, but it's still guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BayView Entertainment
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