Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Halloween 2013: Sleep Terrors ~ Whatever You Do....Don't Fall Asleep!

Sleep is one of the things that many of us take for granted. Life can be a real bitch when you can't fall asleep. But in horror, sometimes falling asleep can be one of the very worst things you can do.  God help you if you fall into a coma or are a sleepwalker - those are even worse than settling in for a long winter's nap...

Marie starts us off with the most glaringly obvious entry here, then I take you on a tour of films you shouldn't expect to sleep well after seeing.

Perhaps the most obvious example of a sleep-themed horror movie, I have included it mostly for my emotion connection to it. If you don't know, please make note that I am a HUUUUUGEE Nightmare on Elm Street fan. Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) was a real creep in life; a child murderer who wore a glove of four steel claws on his hand as his weapon. After the local parents on Elm Street burned him alive, Freddy just wasn't done terrorizing the youths. In death he has the ability to invade peoples' nightmares, and any harm he does to you while you're asleep actually affects you in waking life. So when you die in your dreams, you die for real! The answer to this predicament seems simple, right? Don't go to sleep. But a human can only stay awake for a few days before they go into a coma, making every conscious moment full of dread./MR

 When Cynthia (Jennifer Rubin of Dream Warriors fame, ironically, because this is such a paltry rip-off) nearly dies in a gruesome fire started by the leader of a cult she was unfortunate enough to be a part of, she wakes up after 13 years in a coma to find herself smack dab in the 80's, institutionalized, and being pursued (haunted) by the very same crazed - and very dead - cult leader.  While the film doesn't have much to actually do with bad dreams, it does feature a deep sleep that it is actually scarier to wake from. 

A wonderfully creepy and downright disturbing film, this thriller brought to us by Jaume Balagueró [.REC] tells the tale of Cesar (Luis Tosar), a man who as a concierge at an upscale apartment building, knows the residents inside and out. He's got an unseen mean streak though, and spends his days making the tenants completely dispirited and miserable. But he's got a soft spot for Clara (Marta Etura), and by that I mean he sneaks into her apartment before she gets home, hides under her bed, waits for her to fall asleep, then knocks her out with chloroform and crawls into bed with her. Not surprisingly, you'll be checking under your bed before you lie down to sleep after watching this one.

When student Jennifer Corvino (Jennifer Connelly) sleepwalks and witnesses a murder, it sets off a chain of events in which a bizarre connection she has with insects has the headmistress thinking she is evil.  She demands medical testing regarding her sleepwalking habits and declares her mentally ill, trying to force her into an asylum. But Jennifer escapes her clutches and befriends an entomologist who instead claims she has a gift, and the two use this psychic talent to try to discover the murderer.  Sleepwalking is unusually beneficial in this film, but is still unpredictable and at times, chilling. 

This excellent South Korean thriller has Dae-jun (Lee Byung-hun, I Saw the Devil) and his brother, Ho-jun (Lee Eol) suffering a terrible tragedy at the same time but during different activities. Dae-jun is a race car driver and wrecks his car at the same time Ho-jun is also in a car accident rushing to get to Dae-jun's race. The two end up in comas, in the same hospital, on life support. Dae-Jun eventually comes to and is taken home to recuperate by his brother's wife, Eun-soo (Lee Mi-yeon). Soon she starts noticing strange similarities - Dae-jun is acting exactly like her husband is - so bizarre are the occurrences that the brothers' doctor finally comes to the assumption that the spirit of Ho-jun has entered Dae-jun, possessing him.  Those South Koreans really know how to confuse and entertain us.

When you're in a horror film, there's no doubt bad things are going to happen.  However, in Roman Polanski's masterpiece, young Rosemary (Mia Farrow) gets more than she bargains for when she closes her eyes: she is raped by a demon in front of her husband and their eccentric neighbors. Was it all a dream? Apparently not, as she then becomes pregnant...and her hubby explains that he had sex with her while she was unconscious so they could conceive a child.  Grounds for divorce as far as I'm concerned.  As if that wasn't bad enough, the neighbors turn out to be Satanists and her child is the spawn of the devil.  Now if it really were only a dream...

THE CELL (2000)
I'm not sure messing around in the minds of coma patients is what I would call good medicine, but that's exactly what we have in the unusual film, The Cell.  Jennifer Lopez stars as Catherine Deane, a psychologist that is using a virtual reality device to try and help patients when she is convinced to enter the mind of a serial killer who has lapsed into a coma.  Naturally this does not bode well and it takes all her skill and finesse to wander around in the killer's mind and try to locate his latest victim. She becomes stuck in the dreams of the killer's altered state and it becomes a race against time to save both the victim and herself.  With bizarre imagery and even stranger plot points, The Cell is a beautiful work of art, besides being a valid thriller.

While not directly about sleep, this eerie film transports its characters into a realm that is between life and death, making it a valid entry here.  Five medical students take it upon themselves to put each other into a state of near-death in order to experience what it is like - is there a bright light? A tunnel? Are our loved ones there?  Well something is there, and in their experiments they discover something is quite possibly returning with them when they are shocked back to life. Flatlining, as they call it, causes hallucinations of the most horrifying kind and forces the students to own up to horrible things they have done in their past. With an all star cast including Kevin Bacon, Julia Roberts and Kiefer Sutherland, this is a mostly-forgotten creepy flick from the early nineties that deserves another look. 

The tooth fairy has never really seemed like a frightening concept, but nothing is safe in horror. In the town of Darkness Falls, there is a legend of Matilda, an elderly woman who always gave out gifts when the children in town lost a tooth.  Unfortunately, after she is burned and disfigured in a fire, she develops an extreme aversion to light and always wears a creepy porcelain mask, causing the adults in town to distrust her.  They blame her when some kids go missing and she ends up dying of a broken heart, not before cursing the town to fear darkness. It's hard to imagine an entire film revolving around the fear of going to sleep when you lose a tooth, but here it is folks.

Another excellent film starring Kevin Bacon, this film based on the story by Richard Matheson pits Tom Witzky (Bacon) against his own mind when his sister-in-law hypnotizes him at a party. When he awakens, something has changed and Tom starts having hallucinatory episodes in which he seems to be getting clues to the case of a missing neighborhood girl.  Obsession is not a strong enough word for Tom's mindset, as he tries to solve the case by putting together the fragmented pieces his mind shows him.  Hypnotism is a state of heightened awareness in which the hypnotized person appears asleep, but most certainly is not.  Perhaps one of the worst "types" of sleep, as you never know what your mind will bring back with you.

AWAKE (2007)
I can't imagine anything more horrifying than being put under anesthesia for surgery and not going under - having to live through the pain of having a scalpel cut you again and again while you lie on an operating table, seemingly in a surgical state. Anesthesia awareness is a medical term used when someone is not given an adequate amount of anesthetic for a surgical procedure and can feel what is going on, and it is the topic in the film Awake, starring Hayden Christensen and Jessica Alba.  Unfortunately for Clay (Christensen), he experiences this rare event during heart surgery and uncovers a devious plan formulated by his doctor and fiance to have the surgery fail to collect insurance money.  Awake was not well-received at the theater but it doesn't make the thought of actually being awake during surgery any less appalling.

This absolute gem from 1945 is one of the best anthology films in horror.  Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns) arrives at a country estate for a party and soon has an uncanny feeling that he knows everyone at the party and has actually even been having recurring dreams about each of them. The party-goers attempt to write off the man as having had a bit too much of the sauce, but when Walter seems able to predict events yet to come, the group breaks out with several stories of their own, all linked to the supernatural.  The stories are all of top-notch caliber, in particular the one involving the ventriloquist dummy (isn't that always the case, damn dolls!), and there is a twist ending that ties it all together in a nice neat bow at the end.  The question remains: is Walter dreaming, or is he just living a nightmare? (I'm still hoping for a Criterion DVD release on this one!)

Supposedly based on a true phenomenon, Shadow People is about a radio personality that delves into the idea that there is a presence lurking in the shadows - waiting for us to fall asleep so that they can attack. Apparently these victims wake up unable to talk or move, almost in a catatonic state.  Charlie Crowe (Dallas Roberts, The Walking Dead) gives a decent performance of a man obsessed, he cannot stop until he convinces everyone that the shadow people are real.  In the real world, shadow people are blamed as perpetrators of SUNDS (Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome), a phenomenon that is soaked in superstition and disbelief.  While it's hard to write off the nighttime death of a relatively healthy person, it's also hard to imagine that there is a preternatural reason for the event. 

IN DREAMS (1999)
After the murder of her young daughter, Claire Cooper (Annette Bening) begins to have terrifying dreams in which she sees visions of the serial killer responsible for the death of her daughter planning the murders of other children.  Thought to be completely off her rocker, she is committed to an asylum but manages to escape so that she can attempt to foil the deadly plans of the killer (convincingly played by pre-rehab Robert Downey Jr.). Her premonitions are actually one of the most believable things in this mediocre film, though, as there are way too many preposterous turn of events here to make it enjoyable. 

Even though it goes off the rails a bit in the last act, Insidious is a hair-raising entry here if only for the dread-filled first half.  The Lambert family moves into to a  new home and at first, all seems fine. Until one day parents Josh and Renai (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne) find their son unable to wake in the morning. Young Dalton (Ty Simpkins) is in a coma for no apparent reason. Turns out he is astral projecting into the "further" and unless his equally as gifted dad can go and retrieve him from the strange limbo he's in, the ghostly souls of the dead will keep Dalton there eternally.  Insidious: Chapter 2 hit theaters this fall and takes us further...into the further.


  No discussion of sleep in film would be complete without a shout-out to Dream Warriors. Though we've already mentioned the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, this third installment is a franchise favorite and one of the best Freddy films. Kristin Parker (Patricia Arquette) is admitted to a mental ward after she dreams of Freddy slashing her wrists and when she wakes it looks like she was trying to commit suicide. In the hospital she meets several kindred sleepless souls, all plagued by Freddy in their dreams.  She also is comforted by Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp reprising her role) who is now a dream therapist and tries to help the group defeat Freddy. Some of the best dream sequences are in this film, especially when the others in the group experiment with group dreaming and hypnosis. Dream Warriors is really an exceptional installment in the NOES series, and can really stand on its own if necessary. 

In what is probably the most frightening of all sleep terror films, this highly regarded remake of the 1956 original makes sleep the deadliest activities due to an alien life form replicating you when you are asleep. Health inspector Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland), his colleague Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams), and their two friends Jack and Nancy Bellicec (Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright) have discovered that the people around them are all starting to lack personalities and have become secretive and detached from the activities of daily living.  They soon learn that aliens have arrived in the form of a flower, and that the pods are the host in which people are duplicated to become passive, complacent, unemotional members of society, hence allowing the aliens to take over without any fight or complications. As Veronica Cartwright's character so fiercely warns: "They get you when you sleep!"


jervaise brooke hamster said...

Happy Halloween little darlin`, have a great time on Thursday night Christine.

Christine Hadden said...

Thank you very much, JBH. You do the same.