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The Dark Sleep (2012)
DVD Released: 4/16/2013
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 4/18/2013
Literary adaptations can be a tricky thing. If a movie sticks too closely to the written word, it can be accused of being unimaginative. If it strays too far, purists will accuse it of losing sight of the source material. Things really get thorny when an older story is updated to modern times. Even if it retains the core material, it may lose some of the charm or the symbolism which applied to the time period in the original story. Or it may just completely go off the rails. The latter is the case with The Dark Sleep.
Nancy Peterson (Ashley Galloway) is an author who is looking for a quite place in the country so that she can work on her new book. She obtains a fairly secluded house from her ex-husband, Pete (Steve Diasparra). She's happy with the property, but she's confused by the odd mural in the basement. Pete states that one of the conditions of taking the house is that she can't disturb the mural. As she's getting a house for free (something she forces Pete to do), Nancy doesn't worry about the mural. During her first night in the house, Nancy has terrible dreams and is convinced that she sees a giant rat. These odd dreams continue -- sometimes Nancy is on what appears to be an alien planet and sometimes she's in the forest near the house. Bothered by this, Nancy convinces her sister, Kelly (Taylor Nicole Adams), to come and stay with her. Kelly also brings along Walter (Ken VanSant), a man who knows a little something about the mural. Nancy is about to learn that her nightmares are more real than she thinks and that they can have life or death consequences.
The Dark Sleep is very, very loosely based on H.P. Lovecraft's story "The Dreams in the Witch House". The story concerns a college student who moves into an old house and encounters dark forces there. There are some similarities between Lovecraft's story and The Dark Sleep, and it's clear that Writer/Director Brett Piper chose a few things at random. Both stories have the rat-like creature named Brown Jenkin. Both have the main character leaving their bedroom and traveling to another dimension. And both have a stone with one of Lovecraft's creatures on it. But, that's where the concrete similarities end. For the rest of the movie, Piper brings in elements which would be more at home in a Nightmare on Elm Street movie, such as having to rescue someone from a dream dimension.
Even with a short-story to fall back on, The Dark Sleep seems very devoid of a cohesive story. The movie is made up of vignettes involving Nancy's dreams and her daytime conversations with others. There's no narrative flow to the story. And we have to question many of Nancy's actions. She clearly hates Pete and it's made clear that getting the house from him is something she feels that she is owed. But, when wacky things start happening, she blames him. Don't take a house from someone you hate! Nancy's reactions to the odd occurrences is hard to swallow and we wonder why she simply doesn't leave. The finale sees the story really come unhinged and the coda (again) feels like something from A Nightmare on Elm Street or Phantasm.
Piper isn't the first to take a stab at adapting Lovecraft, but few have turned in such an oddly low-rent effort. Most everything about The Dark Sleep smacks of a shoe-string budget. The acting is amateurish and one can't help but wonder why a second take wasn't done at times so that we don't have to watch the actors tripping over their lines. And then we have the special effects. Let's just assume that Piper and his crew were going for a throwback look with their use of green-screen and stop-motion effects. There's nothing wrong with these techniques, it's just that they look especially bad here. The scenes where Nancy visit the other dimension look like something from a Sid & Marty Krofft show from the 70s. Even for something taking place in a dream, it all looks fake and it will pull you right out of the movie.
The oddest thing about The Dark Sleep is that Lovecrafte devotee Stuart Gordon made a much more faithful adaptation of "The Dreams in the Witch House" for the Masters of Horror TV series. This doesn't mean that Piper couldn't take a stab at it, but when someone whose name is synonymous with Lovecraft has already done the story, maybe you should look elsewhere for inspiration. As it stands, there is no reason to recommend The Dark Sleep. The story is a mess, the acting and special effects are embarrassing, and it's never scary or sleepy. Avoid The Dark Sleep and simply take a nap. It will be more entertaining.
The Dark Sleep never tells us what kind of books Nancy writes on DVD courtesy of Bayview Entertainment. The movie has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is fairly sharp and clear, showing no intrusive grain and no defects from the source materials. The daytime scenes look pretty good, as they show good colors and are sharp. However, the nighttime scenes are somewhat dark and the image is soft. The scenes in the other dimension suffer from the digital transfer, as there are visible video rings around the actors. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital stereo audio track which provides fairly clear dialogue and sound effects, although some of the dialogue is muffled at times. The stereo effects are OK, as we sometimes get individual sounds from the right or left channels. However, there are moments where the track feels unbalanced and the sound effects are louder than the dialogue.
The Dark Sleep DVD contains several extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY which features Writer/Director Brett Piper, Producer Mark Polonia, Technical Assistant Anthony Polonia, and actors Steve Diasparra and Ken Vansant. The "Making of Video" (6 minutes), which is entitled "Bad Dreams", contains comments from Polonia and Diasparra, who discuss many facets of the production, as well as many behind-the-scenes stills. (You would think that there would be more on-set video.) We get a 3-minute reel of "Out-Takes". "CG or Not CG?" (90 seconds) gives a brief overview of how the stop-motion effects were done. The final extra is a TRAILER for the film.
Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.