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PARASOMNIA is one of this year’s most exciting horror films. It’s directed by William Malone, whose previous credits have not fully prepared us for this fine and original little horror. His THE CREATURE (aka THE TITAN FIND) was a watchable, but derivative rip-off of ALIEN starring two exciting creatures: a rubber alien, and Klaus Kinski. THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL had some very nice images, but the story was silly and mostly void of spirit, which was only partially redeemed by Geoffrey Rush impersonating Vincent Price. Finally, FEARDOTCOM had such bad reviews that I have yet to subject myself to it. So far, Malone’s episode in the season I of MASTERS OF HORROR (“Fair-Haired Child”) was the best example that, with the right kind of material, he could make something above average.
But, forget any prejudice entering PARASOMNIA. It has no real precedent in Malone’s opus. Let us hope that it represents a new direction, because this is a horror film which delivers the goods almost forgotten in the recent slew of horror sequels, remakes and clones coming off Hollywood’s assembly line. While most of the recent torture-porns claim they’re ”going back to the 1970-ies exploitation horror” (usually in a superficial and unconvincing way), PARASOMNIA effortlessly revives the 1980-ies type of horror, characterized by intriguing, eccentric characters, spirited dialogues and situations, offbeat and irrational scenarios, and inspired visuals. Think DREAMSCAPE for the XXI century, with bits of DREAM DEMON, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET III, and the existential surrealistic black comedy of the Italian comic DYLAN DOG (filmed this year as DEAD OF NIGHT with Brandon Routh).
The story does not resemble the usual horror plots, which may be its undoing in the eyes of the masses used to be fed by conventional moronic situations, but as it stands now, PARASOMNIA has all the elements of a cult film. It deals with a young man (Dylan Purcell) who stumbles upon a “sleeping beauty” – a girl suffering from a rare disease, parasomnia, which makes her sleep through the most of her life. He kidnaps her from an asylum where she’s in danger of being subjected to crazy experiments, and takes her to his home instead. What he does not know is that she is being pursued by an insane psycho killer, whose madness (and hypnotic powers) color her dreams into orgies of surreal nightmares (some of them inspired by the paintings of the Polish painter Zdzislaw Beksinski).
The main qualities of this film are:
1) A good cast. Danny Sloan (Dylan Purcell) is not your typical dumb horny teenager: he plays a sympathetic and somewhat idealistic character willing to go to great lengths to save the girl he loves. Although the beautiful Cherilyn Wilson, as his love interest Laura, does not have much to do, she certainly does not sleepwalk through her role, and possesses not only the beauty but also the charm rarely seen in today’s starlets. Patrick Kilpatrick is a scary villain with a nice screen presence, but sadly there’s not enough of it to make him into a new Freddy Krueger. Most of the time he’s with a black bag over his head (to prevent his hypnotic powers), or ‘present’ indirectly, as a monster in the girl’s dreams. Jeffrey Combs is somewhat underused in a conventional role of the detective investigating the killings, but he’s always fun to watch anyway. Also, watch for cameos by Sean Young and John Landis.
2) Spirited dialogues and situations. Here you won’t find the usual: “I heard a strange noise”, “Hello, anybody there…?”, or “Something strange is going on here.” And, thankfully, in this plot you won’t hear even the obligatory “Try to get some sleep”. Instead, some of the dialogues are actually interesting, especially those that Danny has with his junky friend, more similar to an indie drama than to a low budget horror. Some of the situations the characters find themselves in are refreshingly bizarre, funny, grotesque and even touching, like Danny’s first date with his rather inexperienced new parasomniac girlfriend. It’s up to him to teach her how to enjoy some of the pleasures of the waking life, like eating the ice-cream, or enjoying the smell of grass…
3) Offbeat and irrational scenarios. Once upon a time, say in the 1980s, horrors were not afraid to be quirky, weird, and outrageous, with crazy plots that actually tried to be different. It was a time when even the remakes were fresh and improving upon the originals (THE THING, THE FLY, BLOB, etc.), unlike the soulless crap produced today. PARASOMNIA has this retro-aura of a cult flick from the 1980ies strangely resurfaced today and only somewhat polished with occasional CGI. It has a dark romance, bittersweet irony and original bloodletting, while its over-the-top climax plays as a weird mixture of campy bizarreness of THE ABOMINABLE DR PHIBES with a Marilyn Manson video spot.
4) Inspired visuals. Whatever complaints one may have had about Malone’s previous films, no one ever said that they lacked good, memorable images. Luckily, now at last they are integrated into an intriguing and engaging story. Although the budget is obviously low (the film was funded by Malone, outside the studio system) and some of the CGI effects leave something to be desired, it is all excusable because one can still feel the heart that’s beating behind it. The waking world has its highlights (psycho’s cell in the asylum; his occult bookstore; the gory murder set-pieces…) but the real eye-candy comes in Laura’s vivid nightmares taken form Beksinski’s paintings and animated by both CGI and practical make-up effects. Even if the excessive puppetry and elaborate set-pieces at the end of the film somewhat slow it down and turn it into a side-show attraction and video-spot, the credits earned by then make them palatable, and the very last scene is a darkly beautiful final touch to this bravely unconventional film.
If you like good horror, don’t let PARASOMNIA slip under your radar. It is a brave little old-school horror which deserves all the attention and love it can get. At the time of this writing it has not yet secured a US distribution.
William Malone (director) / William Malone (screenplay)
CAST: Dylan Purcell … Danny Sloan
Patrick Kilpatrick … Byron Volpe
Jeffrey Combs … Detective Garrett
Cherilyn Wilson … Laura Baxter
Timothy Bottoms … Dr. Corso
Dov Tiefenbach … Billy
Alison Brie … Darcy
Katherine Carlsberg … Miranda