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Sleepless (2001)
Writer and director: Dario Argento

review by Jim Steel

Dario Argento's baroque horror can make a refreshing change from the more usual gothic mode, but people rarely go to him for narrative logic. Original concepts aren't exactly his forte either. When Sleepless (aka: Non ho sonno) arrives, it hangs its coat on the hook of a plot about a dwarf serial killer who is terrorising an Italian city; self-confidence has never been a problem for Argento. However, he rewards you with masterful displays of cinematography and barking-mad plotting that rarely takes you where you think you are going, and all you have to do is trust him and avoid grabbing at the steering-wheel in panic.

Sleepless starts with the murders of a couple of hookers after one of them has accidentally lifted a notebook from a client. It looks as if the client is the dwarf serial-killer and novelist who terrorised Turin 17 years earlier (with his killing, not his novels), but who was supposedly fished out of a canal and buried in a crypt. This disturbs Giocomo (Stephano Dionisi) who, as a child, witnessed his mother being murdered as he hid, and he goes to the police station to see if there is anything that he can to help. The officer who was in charge of the original case (a scene-stealing Max von Sydow) has been dragged out of retirement to see if there is anything he can add, and he recognises Giocomo when he is leaving.

The two team up to try and solve the increasing number of killings. One suspicion is that it could be a copycat, although there is a slight element of doubt as to whether or not it was the dwarf's body that was recovered from the canal. They do find that the killer seems to be following a child's fairytale when it comes to picking the victims (a fairytale that was written especially for the film, so don't go beating yourself up because you didn't spot it yourself), and the cast of characters that start to surround them all seem to have a different viewpoint when it comes to the killings. The dwarf's house has been empty for years, except for a tramp, but the dwarf's mother is understandably edgy. Then there are Giocomo's friends who used to tease the dwarf when they were children. Are they involved? Are they potential victims?

In many ways this is quite a restrained film for Argento. It's much tamer than the likes of Phenomena or Suspiria, and, with a few cuts to the on-screen killings (as has happened in the American release), the film could quite easily be shown on evening television without invoking nightmares. Von Sydow effortlessly works the screen (one suspects that these days directors just wheel him on screen as an easy way of adding gravitas to their pictures, much like they do with Morgan Freeman), and his only serious rival is the experienced Gabriele Lavia, playing the father of one of Giocomo's friends. Lavia is hampered by having to play his character with some ambiguity for reasons of plot - not always the easiest of tasks in an Argento movie. However, the youngsters who surround Giocomo are delightfully annoying in a way that rings true, some of the shots are dazzling, and the film as a whole is a worthy addition to the canon. The English dubbing is annoying - why don't we get the option of the original soundtrack with the DVD? - but returning Italian prog wonders Goblin are on great form musically. One can't help feeling, all the same, that Argento has already passed his creative peak.

This release comes with a documentary (called, with wonderful originality, Murder, Madness & Mutilation) about Sleepless and its place in the giallo subgenre, plus a making-of documentary, a trailer and a photo gallery.

Sleepless



copyright © 2001 - Pigasus Press