Studio: Bayview Entertainment
Director: Brett Piper
Writer: Brett Piper
Producer: Mark Polonia, Brett Piper
Stars: Ashley Galloway, Taylor Nicole Adams, Steve Diasparra, Ken VanSant, Bob Dennis, Mark Polonia
An author’s dreams open reality-altering dimensions after she moves into a house with a sinister painting in the basement.
Having directed “Re-Animator,” “From Beyond,” “Dagon” (based on “Shadow Over Innsmouth”), and “Castle Freak” (based on “The Outsider”), Stuart Gordon is the most noted and most prolific filmmaker when it comes to adapting the works of author H.P. Lovecraft. Gordon also brought Lovecraft’s “Dreams in the Witch House” to television as an episode of “Masters of Horror,” which was the second time the story had been filmed. In his final screen appearance, Boris Karloff previously starred with Christopher Lee and Barbara Steele in “Curse of the Crimson Altar,” also based on that same short story.
Writer/director Brett Piper seeks to compete on the level of these aforementioned horror heavyweights with a third stab at “Dreams in the Witch House” in his film, “H.P. Lovecraft’s The Dark Sleep.” Starting behind the eight ball when two superior versions already exist, Piper combines an unknown cast with the change in his pockets and crafts a cheap looking, poorly written, and completely ineffectual waste of 80 minutes.
Nancy Peterson is an irritable writer with an irritating ex-husband who works as a realtor. Pete Peterson dumps a free house on his former spouse as a way to escape alimony payments. Ridiculously, a condition of ownership specified in the deed is that an eerie portrait of strange symbols on the basement wall can never be painted over. Because what, the city zoning commission will check at regular intervals to ensure some mural still exists in this random home’s cellar?
It does not take long for strange occurrences to begin regularly terrorizing Nancy, while visual effects that would not have been acceptable in the 1920’s begin regularly terrorizing the audience. On the first night in her odd new home, Nancy’s slumber is disturbed by the sudden appearance of a ridiculous stop motion creature that looks like an animated gif superimposed in the frame. To visualize what the stop motion effects look like, imagine children playing with action figures and then eliminate the hands moving the toys. That is the level of caveman-like crudeness that applies to the visuals.
Rankin-Bass would have rejected an animated snowflake sequence from “The Dark Sleep” as being unfit for their “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” children’s production, much less an adult feature film. Indeed, the best special effect in “The Dark Sleep” is seen on Nancy’s television when she watches a black-and-white late night monster movie from the 1950’s.
“The Dark Sleep” may qualify as “animated” altogether because the characters are also cartoons. In an incredibly lame attempt at comic relief, two goofball exterminators arrive at the house to kill the whatever-it-is-supposed-be that Nancy mistook for a rat. Presumably, they are meant to induce laughs because of their hilarious nerd lisps and googly eyes framed by Coke bottle goggles. Sure enough, even the “comedy” in this film is on the cutting edge of entertainment.
The Sound department adds its hat to the competition ring for most amateur effort. However, the soundtrack and the sound effects will have to duke it out in Thunderdome for the title of worst aural offender. Though the conspicuously out of place Hispanic salsa theme that plays during an otherwise quiet pancake breakfast is arguably less obtrusive than the constantly chirping birds and crows that accompany every daytime scene, even if it is indoors. A Cray supercomputer would be needed to count how many times those same three bird sounds are plugged into the movie.
Although “Dreams in the Witch House” is greeted more unfavorably by critics than most other Lovecraft works, there are still elements from the story that make for compelling speculative fiction. Long after the film’s halfway point, “The Dark Sleep” shows the glimmer of a possible turnaround with a thread about reality altering dreamscapes that can will people in and out of existence while bridging dimensions to worlds inhabited by Nyarlathotep and the Brotherhood of the Beast. If those few shreds of real story ideas had not been flushed away with nonsensical scenes of actresses running in place against a green screen and battling skeleton creatures made out of Play-Doh, “The Dark Sleep” might have been closer to becoming something almost watchable.
The scariest thing about “The Dark Sleep” is that it somehow secured home video distribution. This is solid proof that a professionally boxed and manufactured DVD does not mean the movie is professional quality. Even without knowing the details behind this production, assuming it was made for pennies by a group of friends out of their filmmaking depth would not be a guess. It would be a certainty. H.P. Lovecraft is not merely rolling over in his grave. He is actively seeking a way to haunt Brett Piper and company to make sure they never again molest the author’s name.
Review Score: 10