Tuesday, March 18, 2014


DON'T GO TO SLEEP (1982) (NR) Dir. Richard Lang
93 mins.

This made for TV movie is brought to us by none other than Mr. 90210 himself, Aaron Spelling, and was originally aired on the ABC network. The plot follows Phillip and Laura, a married couple with three kids. Well, two kids now, because a year ago, a car accident left their eldest, Jennifer, deceased. The two surviving children, Kevin and Mary, leave the city with their parents, who have decided to make a fresh start and settle into a new house in a more quiet, rural setting (house number 13666, no less). Along for the mooch is also Laura's mother, who makes a sport out of taunting the newly sober Phillip.

After the five move in, the youngest, Mary, starts hearing noises and a gravely voice calling her name at night. She screams for help, and the alarmed parents burst in her room to find Mary's bed aflame. She is rescued, and the fire squelched. Lacking any clear explanation for the occurrence, the couple have Mary retire to her brother's bedroom for the evening, but it is not long before the disturbances begin anew. Mary starts convulsing and yelling for help. When Kevin retrieves the skeptical Phil and Laura, they find Mary sound asleep and with no evidence to corroborate Kevin's story. Kevin vows payback.

So the next day, Kevin makes some (allegedly) spooky sounds on his tape recorder. That night he plays them to torment his little sister. He smirks as he feigns sleep and eavesdrops on Mary being scolded for her outburst.

On the third night, as Kevin runs off to tattle on his sister for freaking out again, Mary musters her courage and investigates the noises, which seem to be originating from beneath her brother's bunk bed. There she meets the apparition--her dead sister Jennifer, smiling intently.
When she is discovered by her parents, Mary tries to convince them that she saw Jennifer, but to no avail. Not knowing how to deal with their daughter's apparently increasing break with reality, the parents argue about seeking psychiatric help. Meanwhile, a spectral Jennifer continues to visit the confused child. She is able to convince Mary that not only is she indeed real, but that if she wants Jennifer to stay for good this time, Mary's going to have to dispose of any person that gets between them. This does not bode well for the other members of the family... who are all growing weary of Mary's antics.

As time goes on, Mary becomes more and more possessed by the spirit of Jennifer. She starts to rationalize her previous supernatural encounters. She cleverly eludes her psychiatrist's inquiries during their visits. By night she is concocting schemes with Jennifer to eliminate her pesky family members. Grandmother first, then that snitch Kevin. It's not long before she sets her murderous sights on dear ol' Dad. Laura eventually discovers what has been going on and is able to escape. Young Mary is hospitalized. During the film's denouement, we see what really happened to Jennifer the night she died in that car accident, and ladies and gents, it's fucked up. This is grim stuff for television, especially for 1982.
Don't Go To Sleep, like Dark Night of the Scarecrow, is a great example of less is more. In lieu of elaborate gore or special effects, we instead get fleshed out characters, great acting and a legitimate creepiness that is far more tangible here than in horror films that have ten times the budget. Dennis Weaver and Roth Gordon are excellent per usual, but Robin Ignico's Mary is superbly executed. Her fear during the initial hauntings is vividly pronounced and totally believable, and her frenzied, schizophrenic monologue at the climax of the film would be impressive for the most veteran of actors, let alone a child of her age.
Another great early 80's TV movie. Sort of like a fleshed out Twilight Zone episode meets an episode of Dark Shadows. The music is full of melodrama. It's soap-operatic. The cinematography is average for television, but the lighting is very well done, and the film's arguably scariest moments are accomplished by lighting (and good acting) alone. The conclusion is a near-Shakespearean tragedy. I mean, I truthfully feel bad for the mother, Laura. Jesus, lady. Sucks to be you. 7/10

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