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Set at the turn of the 20th century in backwoods Appalachia, “Beyond The Wall Of Sleep” tells the story of the frightening happenings at a decrepit mental asylum. It’s here that under the less than watchful eye of the asylum’s director, Dr. Fenton (Marco St. John, speaking with an accent that randomly varies from British to German), ambitious intern Edward Eischel (Fountain Yount) occupies the basement of the asylum, periodically snatching a patient to use as a test subject in his experiments on the effects of electrical stimulation on the brain.
One day, a local inbred yokel named Joe Slaader (William Sanderson of “Blade Runner” fame) is brought in for observation after having mutilated and decapitated his sister. During Slaader’s interrogation by the arrogant Dr. Wardlow (a sneering Kurt Hargan), Edward notices that Joe has a grotesque growth on his back that appears to be a partially consumed conjoined twin. Further examination reveals that the conjoined twin is indeed alive and not only does it have a personality of its own, but it also has a name — Amducious. Edward drafts Joe to be his new experiment subject, but communicating with Amducious proves to be a big mistake, and lots of screaming and bloodletting ensue.
Once this initial foundation is set, the script for “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” gets murky pretty quickly, and as a result meanders about aimlessly for quite a while. When things do finally get moving again, we’re treated to some non-specific rambling about breeding the vessel of a demon through incest or some such. I’m not familiar with the Lovecraft story the film is based on, but I would hazard a guess that the story made more sense than this movie adaptation.
Not helping matters is the acting, which is amateurish across the board, with the overall acting style seeming to come from ’30s German expressionistic and Hammer Studios horror films via a high school play. I supposed this method was used in order to evoke the dark Gothic atmosphere of said older films, but it elicits laughs more often than not. St. John appears to be perpetually on the verge of a conniption fit, while Hargan chews the scenery like it was his last meal. In particular, watching Hargan and St. John facing off in a showdown of smirks had me in stitches. As the deviant intern Eischel, Yount’s performance is a mixed bag. In the subdued scenes, he’s actually quite effective at expressing repressed anger, but when he lets loose he overacts like a low rent Crispin Glover.
But perhaps the most annoying aspect of “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” is the visuals. They must have been serving Turkish coffee at the post-production booth because the result can only be described as hyperactive. There is hardly a moment in the movie where there isn’t a secondary and tertiary image flashing across the screen. Worst, those images appear to be the same half dozen images put in a continuous loop. Quickly intercutting violent images in a horror film is an effective and stylistic tool if used properly, such as in “Hellraiser” and “Event Horizon.” However, “Sleep” employs this visual aid as its raison d’Ãªtre. By the end of the film, the technique will have either grated on your nerves or has induced an epileptic seizure.
On the positive side, the filmmakers do a nice job with color management, having the film periodically shift from black and white to color and back again. The black and white sequences in the asylum are nice, effectively using light and shadow to produce an eerie atmosphere. Unfortunately these transitions are done with a subtlety that is sorely lacking in the rest of the film’s visual design.
“Beyond The Wall Of Sleep” is hampered with not just stunted imagination, but also stunted funding. If some of the time spent in post production was spent on refining the script to actually utilize Lovecraft’s donor material and to fashion some disciplined performances from the cast, this might have been a low-budget shocker gem. Even an attempt to look at the film as camp, to see if there was any ‘so bad it’s funny’ charm to it, resulted in boredom and further annoyance. Simply put, “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” is 80 minutes of sneering and a lot of blinking lights.
Barrett J. Leigh, Thom Maurer (director) / Barrett J. Leigh, Thom Maurer (screenplay)
CAST: George Peroulas …. Mental Patient
Fountain Yount …. Edward Eischel
Greg Fawcett …. Francis
William Sanderson …. Joe Slaader
Kurt Hargan …. Dr. Wardlow
Frank Schuler …. Peter Slaader