Last night my friends from Beyond The Grave Productions invited me out to see the premiere of an independent horror flick called ‘The Sleeper’. Jon Shroyer did all the gore F/X work on the film and was bringing us as his guests so I was pretty excited to see his work on the big screen. We went to a great little Theatre in Columbus called the Grandview Theater that looked and felt like a throwback to the 80’s and it perfectly fit the mood of the whole evening.

Recently we’ve seen quite the resurgence of retro-horror films. It started with the Grindhouse movies and now its moved into the 80’s slashers that I grew up on. However there hasn’t been too many that truly understood why 80’s slasher flicks worked. I’m seen some terrible films that think all you need is bad acting, gory kills and and masked killer. But some filmmakers do get 80’s horror, such as the amazing film House of the Devil by Ti West that looks and feels like a lost gem from the 80’s. Justin Russell, the director of The Sleeper truly gets how and why those movies worked and he’s made a film that comes close to being a truly great and fun 80’s slasher movie!

The movie is a riff on films like Black Christmas, House on Sorority Road and He knows Your Alone. Girls getting knocked off one by one in a Sorority House by an killer who uses a hammer and some other tools he finds laying around. The survivor girl, June, is portrayed as the girl next door who’s kind of shy and wants to move out of her dorm and into a Sorority for the remainder of her time in college. She goes to the Alpha Gamma Theta house party and decides to pledge for the sorority. In typical slasher movie fashion the girls start dropping off one by one in the house. But this killer likes to call the sorority house to let them know, a la Black Christmas, who’s going to get killed next before each kill.

Its typical slasher movie boilerplate stuff but where The Sleeper is different is in its cinematography and the eye of its director. The camera takes its time and it often voyeuristic, director Russell knows that to build tension you have to build up to the kills and while he isn’t successful on every kill in accomplishing this he certainly tries harder than most Hollywood slasher films do today. There’s a scene that takes place in a large auditorium where June is hiding. The Killer comes in and takes his time walking around the auditorium hitting his hammer on the seats as he passes them. The scene plays out with no music and it ends in a staple of 80’s slasher cheese that the audience I saw it with just ate up.

The music is credited to “Gremlin” and is very much inspired by the scores done by the Italian group Goblin for lots of 80’s Italian slasher films. The music fits the feel and look of the film perfectly and often repeats itself in true 80’s fashion. At the Q&A after the film I believe Russell said that he was Gremlin but it was too hard to hear him at times so I may be mistaken.

Our friend Jon Shroyer did the effects for the film and before the film began said that he was told to make them seem like somewhat cheesy 80’s effects and while I think he made them look a lot better than most 80’s effects I saw in the day, I understood what the director was going for. The effects are gruesome at times but always over the top and fun! There’s a awesome decapitation, complete with animatronic head that was the highlight of the film.

The film has some flaws that keep it from being a perfect retro-slasher but its mostly just pacing problems and only in a few spots where it just needed to be tightened up. The other stuff; bad acting, bad dancing, plot holes etc are all things that so added to movie and made it what it was meant to be! Its one of the few retro-slashers that manages to embody what makes a great slasher film. It never takes itself too seriously and it knows how to be suspenseful and fun! Its definitely worth checking out when it hits DVD!

On a side note the Grandview Theatre where this movie played was a amazing place! It looks like so many theaters I went to in the 80’s, before the multiplexes. I learned that they do Special screening of horror films and older films on a regular basis. Visit their site to Check them out if you live in the Columbus Area!

Update 1/28/12
The Sleeper is now out on DVD! Click below to get it from Amazon