Don't believe Judge Daryl Loomis; sleepwalking is his excuse for everything.
Where dreams end and nightmares begin.
They say you should never wake a sleepwalker, but when your somnambulist friend is coming at you with a knife, you may want to reconsider that advice. Director William Malone (Feardotcom) takes sleep disorders to the extreme in Parasomnia, a romantic horror entry that values style over substance while looking back through the history of the genre to deliver a bloody and effective little shocker.
Facts of the Case
Danny Sloan (Dylan Purcell, The Unknown) goes to visit his friend, a recovering junkie, in a mental hospital. While there, he wanders around to spy on some of the patients. At the end of one hall, he looks inside two rooms. The first holds Byron Volpe (Patrick Kilpatrick, Best of the Best 2), a dangerous mesmerist and serial killer. In the second lies Laura (Cherilyn Wilson, Extreme Movie), a beautiful young girl who suffers from a disorder that has kept her asleep for the vast majority of her life. When Danny finds out that Laura is scheduled to become an experiment at a different hospital, he goes in for the rescue and takes her to his apartment. He gets more than he bargained for, however, when he realizes that he has no capacity to care for her, the cops are looking for her kidnapper, and Volpe is inside Laura's head, compelling her to violence.
William Malone ventures way back in horror history for his inspiration for Parasomnia. Opening the film with a series of shots from shocking angles, Malone channels Robert Weine's 1920 The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari to quite an unsettling effect. While most of the film is shot in a more conventional fashion, these first moments set the stage for a stylish and often surreal journey through love, dreams, and obsession.
Just like the opening moments of the film, the plot hearkens back to another time, to 1930 and Archie Mayo's Svengali. Malone takes that story, of a mesmerist who controls the actions of a singer, but can't control her heart, and fits it very nicely into his horror mold. Volpe is a charismatic, intellectual villain, whose skills in hypnotism can bend anyone to his will. In the hospital, his face is veiled, rendering him powerless. With the hood removed, though, he can look you in the eyes. He has immense powers and he's more than happy to show them off as soon as he gets the chance. He doesn't love Laura, he craves her innocence; his desire to corrupt her is all-consuming and Danny's attempt to save her runs in conflict with his ideas. Volpe's plans for Laura are pretty unclear, honestly, but no doubt they're evil.
I can't say that I've seen a love triangle quite like this in horror, and Malone's focus on the romantic angle is refreshing. Danny and Volpe are at odds over Laura, who doesn't actually know either one of them. On both sides, Laura is looked at as chattel, a sleeping beauty to be possessed. But, since Danny doesn't have mind-control powers and has killed far fewer people than Volpe, he comes off as considerably more sympathetic. That doesn't make his actions any less suspicious, though, and in order to protect Laura, he must fight against the good intentions of the police as well as Volpe's diabolical plans for her.
I'm not sure how Volpe's powers of hypnosis allows him access into Laura's mind, but we do get to see what goes on inside her head. Here, Malone delivers the most surreal moments of his film. He based the design of Laura's dream world on the paintings of the late Polish artist Zdzislaw Beksinski. Labyrinths of mirrors and monstrosities out of the darkest fairy tales populate her mind as Volpe directs her along the path and forces her to do his bidding. While asleep and under Volpe's command, Laura commits brutal acts that feature some excellent gore effects for such a low-budget film. The dream sequences don't look as slick as the blood, but they're very creative. With more money, it could have looked amazing.
Patrick Kilpatrick makes an excellent villain and brings a lot of life to the Volpe character. There's not a lot of subtlety to the performance, but he has a strong presence and is very effective in the role. Dylan Purcell isn't so effective, but he provides some comedic touches and is properly clueless for a horror hero. Cherilyn Wilson has the toughest job of the bunch. She has to play completely innocent while wielding a butcher knife and, having been alone and asleep her whole life she must communicate without any real language skills. She's very young, but does an excellent job all the way through. Unlikely cameos from Sean Young (Dune) and director John Landis (Coming to America) are very fun and, overall, if the performances aren't the most skilled, everybody still seems to relish their roles.
E1's release of Parasomnia is not great on a technical level, but the disc is loaded with extras. The image transfer suffers from considerable blocking, especially in the darker scenes. Black levels are weak and inconsistent, which accentuates the cheapness of some of the special effects, and an overall layer of grain further mars the picture. The surround mix is quite a bit better, with crisp and clear sound coming from all channels. The musical score and sound effects fill the room, while dialog remains clear and strong throughout.
Our extra features begin with an audio commentary from William Malone, an engaging speaker, who discusses just about every aspect of the inception and production of his project, from his influences to the danger of financing a movie oneself. Moving on, we have three deleted scenes that add a little depth to the film, including an original opening that was recut and inserted into the center of the film. It's a good opening, but a little long, and used to better effect where it is. A series of interviews with members of the cast and crew, lasting nearly an hour, are as informative as the commentary. A standard making-of featurette, a music video from The Plagues, and a still gallery round us out.
I didn't have a lot of hope coming into Parasomnia, but the film is a surprisingly impressive horror entry filled with bizarre imagery and enough gore to satisfy most genre fans. I haven't been much of a fan of William Malone's past work, but this has style in spades and the things I appreciate about Parasomnia could make me rethink my opinion of Malone.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
Review content copyright © 2010 Daryl Loomis; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.