The Weekly Creepy: A hand-made case of ‘Parasomnia’

13 Jul

weekly creepy

Welcome to the Weekly Creepy. The goal is to help expose you the audience to newer horror/thriller films that might have slipped under your radar. Dedicated to obscure, foreign and indie fare (as well as the glorious world of DTV), The Weekly Creepy will tackle a different pic each week, with reasons why it is or isn’t worth your precious time or money.

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Parasomnia (R) 103 min.

cinemagrade bI knew absolutely nothing about Parasomnia going into it, including the identity of any of the stars or the director.  I knew it was low budget and not a studio product, but apart from that I was clueless and the title and poster art didn’t exactly have my confidence up. But then it began and I was riveted during an opening sequence featuring Sean Young taking a cell phone call from a roof-top that she would minutes later jump off of. And when she climbs to the edge, teeters there long enough to spark our anticipation, and then jumps, the camera follows her descent all the way to the pavement where we are treated to a strangely eerie shot of a man standing over her broken body. Cue the impressionist art opening credits.

Just like that, I was drawn into the film’s world and what follows is a well-made, ambitious and inventive little horror movie that feels so much like a product of the 1980s that I imagine  people will seek it out just for the thrills of nostalgia it will give. Now, not everything is smooth sailing; the dialogue is often trite, the plot full of so many holes it could be a donut shop, and sometimes the film is overstylized to a fault. However, debuting in a frequently abused genre(dream-centered horror), Parasomnia turns out to be a refreshingly fun entry filled with imagination and energy.  

Written and directed by William Malone( House on Haunted Hill, Fear dot Com), who decided to make the movie on his own without a studio’s involvement, Parasomniatells the story of Danny Sloan (Dylan Purcell), a young guy who bites off more adventure than he cares to chew on when he ends up wandering the floors of the psych ward where his hospitalized friend is staying. Drug addled Billy, Danny’s nutty bud, informs his pal that a real live serial killer is being housed down the hall. The layout of the psychiatric ward has been designed on a logic that would only fly within the world of a horror film. The notorious and corrupt Byron Volpe, encased in full-body restraints that cover his eyes and mouth, is kept chained in a padded cell directly next to the pristine room of Laura Baxter (Cherilyn Wilson), who after experiencing a car crash while she was still in the womb, has spent the better part of her life asleep.

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Danny sees both of them, but only lingers on the striking, serene Laura whose sleeping beauty instantly ignites in him a desire to protect her, despite the fact she’s pretty safe just lying there. During his accidental visit to Baxter’s room, Danny runs into the kind but far too sharing Dr. Corso, who after only ten minutes has divulged almost every single aspect of his patient’s medical history to this kid who has not only wandered in but has lied about his association to her. Repeated visits to Laura’s bedside(he just can’t get her out of his head) result in Danny managing to actually rouse her from her slumber just in time for a group of nefarious, ill-intended scientists to rush in and talk about whisking the narcoleptic nymph off to a secret location to ‘conduct experiments.’ You can guess what happens from here. Danny, operating off of feelings he  doesn’t completely understand(don’t judge him, the screenplay doesn’t understand them either) absconds with Laura, who is waking up more often and for longer periods of time .

So, wait, how is this a horror movie and how do we get around to the kinds of creepy imagery seen in the pics? Well, you see, remember Byron? Of course you do, five sentences ago–chained, crazy, and as it turns out also the guy who made Sean Young kill herself(I figured it was because of Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde). Volpe has a powerful ability for psychic manipulation and hypnotism. Once a bookstore owner, he ‘suggested’ to his wife that she jump off a roof, and during the trial he planted another suggestion that resulted in a devestating train crash. Not the kind of guy you leave hanging out in regular society, so away Byron goes, but apparently while being locked up he discovered in Laura a conduit for his scary intelligent mind to wander through. When Danny removes Laura from his influence, Byron goes looking for her via the dream labyrinth of her subconscious, imagined as a living, breathing world that draws from the visionary work of M.C. Escher, Od Nurdem and that guy who used to do the Iron Maiden album covers. When he finds her, he also discovers he can wield control of her body and suddenly gruesome murders matching Volpe’s M.O. start appearing in close proximity to Laura.

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Slapped on for delicious flavor(and I’m not complaining) are two cops, one played by the always fun to watch Jeffrey Combs, and a few other small cameo parts including director John Landis as the owner of a mattress store who is put out to find Laura chilling out on one of the Sealys. The plot follows a relatively simple structure, reminiscent of several other, and some of them better, movies. What I enjoyed about Parasomniawas that it was content to be itself; sometimes it wants to be playfully silly, and it is–Laura is so unaccustomed to the world that she crawls through the wet grass as if she were a curious puppy or plays with her ice cream as if it were face paint–and then other times it is intensely creepy and brilliantly. In fact, there is so much just plain awesome stuff going on within the confines of Parasomnia, that I’m conflicted; it really doesn’t completely work as a movie, but as an entertainment event, particularly for horror fans, it has real potential value. Most of this value comes from the work of William Malone, the director, and the visual conception of the dream world where Laura and Byron play their somnambulistic game of cat and mouse.

In watching Parasomnia, it is completely plausible that you will be reminded of Malone’s other recent horror efforts; the Dark Castle features House on Haunted Hill and Fear Dot Com. I sort of enjoyed the former, despite it having little to do with the original film, and I saw the latter on the pseudo-recommendation of Roger Ebert, hating most of it and falling asleep before it was over.  Like its predecessors, this one has its very own sense of style and it actually celebrates the artificial and implausible nature of the imbellished plot. However, Parasomnia is vastly superior to those other films. Glossy, and ultimately soulless, the first two were weak studio product with signs of a talented headliner. This indie feature is a powerful leap forward for Malone and I hope people actually get a chance to see it. It would be a shame if not, because he is now firmly on the road to being a better filmmaker and someone who understands the joy to be found in older horror tropes that aren’t tied to gritty realism or excessive brutality(although this pic unloads the gore rather freely once it gets going). Still, not everything works, and I found the most fault with the film’s script.

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Malone seems to think mostly in terms of visual and emotional cues as a filmmaker, and as a writer his dialogue isn’t so much about creating mood or character(he’s trying to do all that with imagery) as just delivering the specifics of the plot. So everyone either talks in the kind of lingo that went out with bad 40s cop thrillers or in “explanation mode’ where a character tells us something we need to know in order to understand what’s happening up on-screen. Ultimately, once the picture enters the dream world, and we get to see the sights and experience the hidden tone of the pic, it takes off and we forget about the rest.

 Back in 2002, Roger Ebert said this of Fear dot Com: “This is a movie that cannot be taken seriously on the narrative level. But look at it. Just look at it. Wear some of those Bose sound-defeating earphones into the theater, or turn off the sound when you watch the DVD. If the final 20 minutes had been produced by a German impressionist in the 1920s, we’d be calling it a masterpiece.”

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He could very well be talking about Parasomniatoo, except that I imagine if Roger ever sets his eyes upon this one, he will finally find enough reason to give it that elusive thumbs-up. The imagery in the nocturnal dream world has a primitive and hand-crafted feel to it. This is less flawless cgi and more rough-hewn collage and marionette work, creating sharp angles and twisted trees and buildings that are grasping their way up out of the earth, while a thousand half-formed creatures lurk behind millions of identical spinning doors.

This world itself is fascinating enough that I longed to spend more time in it. The real-world scenes also employ the German Impressionist elements too, and some characters have been desaturated and reorganized from such extreme angles that they take on the personality of comic book drawings; Combs in particular looks as if he were chiseled out of the side of a gnarly tree stump. Through it all, the movie does manage to hit some emotional grace notes– the relationship between Dan and Laura is suitably sweet, and when the actors can’t manage the fractured pulp prose, the amazingly strong and haunting score work by Nicholas Pike carries it over the edge.

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This marks the fifth entry for The Weekly Creepy, and this is only the second film I’ve had the heart to recommend. The horror genre is so starved for good entries that it feels a little wrong to chastize Parasomnia when it gets so much right. Much like the flustered Ebert, who found himself raving about a two-star film, I am at a loss to adequately rate this one. When I started this review I had given it a C+ but am now throwing my hands up in the air and awarding it a B, putting it firmly in the window of ‘good’, which in its own way, it is.  

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4 Responses to “The Weekly Creepy: A hand-made case of ‘Parasomnia’”

  1. William Malone July 15, 2009 at 6:53 pm #

    I just wanted to express my sincere thanks for your very kind words. Many people worked very hard and long on this film and its very gratifying to know that it was not a wasted effort.

    Again My Deep Gratitude

    William Malone
    Writer/Director
    PARASOMNIA (Dreams of the Sleepwalker)

    • Bartleby July 16, 2009 at 10:17 am #

      Mr. Malone,

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting. I’m always interested to hear from the filmmakers, and I have to say that your movie has only grown on me since seeing it.

      In particular, it reminds me of a personal fave 80s flick called ‘I, Madman’ , not in narrative but in it’s feel and atmosphere.

      I think Parasomnia could find a fan base if it ends up getting the right venue. As of right now, do you know what the plans are for the film as far as release goes?

      In my review, I think I held the pic to the standards of a bigger budget film, mostly because it seemed capable of sustaining the comparison, but in reality I think it was probably made on budgets similar to some of the After Dark: 8 Films to Die For” entries. Would that be accurate? And in my opinion your movie accomplishes what none of those(save Mulberry Street) have; its both entertaining and creepy.

      Is it possible that if this one doesn’t secure a theatrical release, might it get rolled out as part of a horror collection of dvds?

      Keep me posted, as I quite liked it and know of others who I think will enjoy it too. Any release information you give me I can post up here when the actual date approaches. If it isn’t planned for release, what needs to happen to get it there?

      Finally, whats next up for William Malone? Will we get to see more play with those expressionist elements that were present in Parasomnia?

      Thanks again for putting out a quality product and making a movie that tickled the nostalgia spot. I look forward to more.

  2. goregirl July 17, 2009 at 12:32 pm #

    I enjoyed this one too. It has some issues but there were some scenes that were definitely inspired.

  3. William Malone July 23, 2009 at 8:02 pm #

    Thanks for your questions. We are currently in negotiations with a large US/Canada distributor for Parasomnia. I can’t name names just yet until the deal is concluded but for now the plan is to come out near the end of the year or first part of next year. There is no plan for a theatrical release as of yet, which doesn’t exclude that possibility… it’s just not in the cards right now. The film will be released as a “stand alone” title when it comes out in 09-10. There will be a nice set extras and added features on the disc including a 14 minute “making-of”, stills, trailer and deleted scenes plus a few surprises.

    As for your question regarding Parasomnia’s budget; It’s never a good idea for a filmmaker to devulge the budget of his film. I can only say that it was make for probably what they spent of coffee and donuts for The Dark Knight.

    As you are probably aware the entire indie world is in shambles from the economy. There are virtually no venues for indie films. Most of the indie distributors have folded. It’s a very sad state of affairs. On top of that, the indie film is being dealt a possibly fatal death blow by pirating. Many people think that it’s OK because of a sort of Robin Hood attitude, thinking that they are only hurting rich corporations and studios. The truth is many indie filmmakers may well be losing their houses and livelihoods.

    We are very lucky that our film is being received well. I would only ask that if you like Parasomnia or any other indie movies that you support those films with great vigor… Get the word out.

    Once again let me thank you for your kind words.

    William Malone – PARASOMNIA

    http://www.parasomniamovie.com

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