Traditionally, horror movies, particularly the slasher genre, have played fast and loose with rules the serial killer that populate their movies. Neither Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers are supernatural killers. Yet that hasn’t stopped the Friday the 13th and Halloween series from bringing their respective killers back from sequel to sequel. Other horror movies skirted the problem by just outright adopting supernatural origins for their killers. Unfortunately, not every slasher villain can be a Freddy Krueger or Chucky. In the 1990s, the supernatural serial killer trope got lots of mileage. From Ghost in the Machine to Body Parts to Fallen, slasher villains found plenty of ways to cheat death. Obscure straight-to-video slasher Sleepstalker took a somewhat unique approach.
Seventeen years ago, a brutal serial killer known as ‘The Sandman’ killed Griffin’s parents before police finally caught up with him. Now the day of The Sandman’s execution has finally arrived. But a voodoo priest offers the killer a supernatural resurrection to continue his killing spree. To exist in a supernatural vessel, however, The Sandman must kill his remaining blood relative to severe his mortal coil – his younger brother, Griffin.
Sleepstalker Buries a Good Idea In An Incoherent, and Often Silly, Story
Believe it or not, there’s a good idea buried somewhere in Sleepstalker. Yes, the whole supernatural serial killer premise was tired by 1995. Still the idea of a serial killer patterned after the Sandman fairy tale comes with lots of ‘creep’ potential. Too bad writer and director Turi Meyer, and co-writer Al Septien, fail to really tap into any sort of mythology. Instead, Sleepstalker offers up huge lapses in logic and unintentional laughs. Maybe it’s the ageless detective who takes an unarmed civilian on a hunt for a serial killer – and who’s also retired. And just how and why did a voodoo priest find an abused serial killer-in-the-making to turn into the ‘Sandman’? From where does the killer’s powers emanate? According to the silly dialogue, they come from the ‘bowels of the Earth’. What does that mean? It doesn’t really matter.
Instead, Sleepstalker offers up huge lapses in logic and unintentional laughs.
If there’s a big problem with Sleepstalker, however, it’s not the incoherent screenplay. No, Sleepstalker’s big problem is that it’s a poorly paced borefest that clocks in at an unnecessary one hour and 45 minutes. Meyer mixes in bits of horror and police procedural drama into an unconvincing effort. This is a case of wanting to ‘have your cake, and eat it, too’. Would Sleepstalker work better if it embraced some of its more campy elements? Maybe. But it could also have worked played straight had Meyer cut it down by 20 or 30 minutes and leaned into some of the more disturbing bits of the premise. As it stands, what we get is an often boring thriller that is often unintentionally funny.
Sleepstalker Is a Product of Its Time and Format
Released straight-to-video in 1995, Sleepstalker is a textbook illustration of the state of the genre at that point in time. One look at the flat picture quality and you know you’re watching a straight-to-video that’s peak mid-1990s. Despite its subject matter, Sleepstalker never feels transgressive and it never pushes boundaries. What Meyer puts on screen is pretty benign stuff. Later in his career, Meyer would go onto direct episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and produce episodes of Smallville and Stargirl. And you can see flashes of innovation here and there. While Sleepstalker clearly has a low-budget, Meyer and his effects team do a decent job of turning their serial killer into the ‘Sandman’. In particular, one scene where the ‘Sandman’ emerges from a pool of sand actually impresses.
One look at the flat picture quality and you know you’re watching a straight-to-video that’s peak mid-1990s.
Most of the performances in Sleepstalker are pretty middle-of-the-road, at best. Not surprisingly, William Lucking of Sons of Anarchy fame turns in a reliable performance that outstretches the screenplay. Neither of the lead performances are particularly good. Both Jay Underwood and Kathryn Morris are fine in their roles, but they’re both clearly background actors out of their depth even in a low-budget B-movie. Arguably, Michael Harris – playing the ‘Sandman’ – acquits himself the best of the cast. Meyer and Septien’s screenplay clearly tries to position the character as something of a follow-up to to Freddy Krueger. Even if the handful of cheesy one-liners don’t really work, Harris occasionally invests the character with a bit of menace.
Sleepstalker Offers Tepid Thrill for Only the Most Die-Hard
In many ways, Sleepstalker is the quintessential 90s straight-to-video horror movie. It checks off many of the boxes that made the genre so frustrating in the mid-part of the decade. Flat aesthetics, mostly middling performances, and laughable gaps in logic alongside the overused supernatural serial killer trope instantly date this thriller. Ultimately, Sleepwalker most suffers from excessive length making it more dull than anything else. And it’s too bad because the premise is promising, Harris is decent enough as the title villain, and Meyer mounts a couple of capable scenes. Only die-hard horror fans and completists will find much to enjoy here.