Director – Dario Argento
Cast – Max von Sydow, Stefano Dionisi, Chiara Caselli, Gabriele Lavia, Rossella Falk, Paolo Maria Scalondro, Roberto Zibetti, Roberto Accornero, Barbara Lerici
Release Year – 2001
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Released in 2001, this is the last worthwhile Dario Argento film in my opinion. I do have a few qualms with it, but after this flick he delivered The Card Player, Do You Like Hitchcock?, Mother of Tears, Giallo, and Dracula 3D – none of which were on the level of Sleepless. Argento’s writing isn’t what it used to be here, but he nonetheless delivers on what fans of his films want to see. With grueling kills and a climax you won’t see coming, Sleepless is sure to please Dario’s fans and those looking for a solid murder mystery.
Max von Sydow (The Exorcist, The Seventh Seal)stars as Detective Ulisse Moretti. In 1983 Moretti investigated a series of murders known as The Dwarf Murders. The main suspect, a dwarf who wrote giallo novels, was found dead and the case was closed. 17 years have passed and now Moretti finds himself being pulled out of retirement when a similar series of murders strikes the city of Turin. Teaming up with Giacomo, whose mother was killed in the original murders, the two must determine if there is a copycat recreating the famed kills, or if Moretti had the wrong suspect 17 years ago.
When I saw that Max von Sydow starred I was pretty stoked for this. I personally love the giallo template where a detective/reporter is tasked with solving a series of grisly crimes, so this story had me hooked from the get go. It is written by Dario Argento alongside his longtime writing partner Franco Ferrini, and they do a good job of setting the pace early on. The opening sequence used to establish present day is fantastic. They take their time setting things up and then deliver with a brutal display of knife-welding savagery. From then on out we are given a decent murder mystery that is sometimes plagued by pacing issues. At 117 minutes I felt that the film needed either to be trimmed a bit or have more depth to the story to better secure my interest. Thankfully, there are plenty of kills for the viewer to enjoy and given this is an Argento film you know they will be executed to the utmost quality. Character-wise I was expecting more from the story. Max is an esteemed actor but he wasn’t really used as such. In fact, while he takes it upon himself to solve the murders, there is an active investigation going on by active duty police and they often find Max in their way. I did enjoy the use of Giacomo and his scenes with Moretti were enjoyable. Giacomo witnessed his mother’s murder at the hands of the dwarf and Moretti promised him that he would not rest until he caught her killer. He rested when her “killer” turned up dead, but now that there is a possibility he was wrong he must return to make good on his promise.
I love these murder mysteries and found the mystery element here to be pretty good. You really don’t have an idea of who the killer is, so we aren’t faced with a revolving door of potential killers that are hacked away and leave us to suspect someone else. Argento doesn’t play that game here. Instead, he delves between past and present and even incorporates a nursery rhyme (written by his daughter Asia Argento) about killing animals to help solve the murders and catch the killer. You can always rely on him to come up with some crafty ideas to keep things fresh. I also adored the idea of a dwarf doing the killings. It added a good creep factor to the story (no offense, dwarfs) and his dialogue for the killer was tremendously spooky. While not the same, his voice and dialogue spooked me the way Lucio Fulci’s New York Ripper did.
Argento’s execution of this film is fantastic and is a big reason why I enjoyed this piece despite some story-related flaws. To start, he sets the mood with great visuals and solid sets that bring out the gloomy atmosphere Italy has to offer. I did not notice much exotic cinematography in this effort, which is something he is known for, but he did give us the classic knife-welding editing during the kill sequences. Speaking of the kills, they were incredible. Argento employed the utmost in live-gore and his execution, from the knife plunges to the victim’s gasping screams, was everything I came to see. The acting performances were solid, especially from the killer. As I mentioned earlier, he provided an overload of creepiness. Because we don’t see him we need him to appeal to our senses in a different way, and doing so audibly as well as with his mannerisms was more than enough.
Overall, Sleepless is a good giallo from the master of the sub-genre. It is probably his last worthwhile one that fans should try to give a watch to, but know that it is not quite at the level of his earlier works. Thankfully, he excels at the horror which more than makes up for the story’s faults.