As a youngster, Griffin (Jay Underwood) saw his parents brutally murdered by a sadistic serial killer named The Sandman. Justice was served when the captured killer was convicted and executed for his heinous crimes. But now, freed from his mortal coil, The Sandman has returned to mete out vengeance in the guise of The Sleepstalker. And that doesn’t bode well for Griffin. This waking nightmare isn’t confined to Elm Street!
A slasher film needs a really inviting hook to grab any attention at this point, with every killer and every kill being imagined. We’ve had killer clowns, killer man-children, killer dead child-killers, even killer dolls, so it’s obvious that it’s going to take a lot to make someone give even the slightest of sh*ts when it comes to a slasher, especially a no-budget number with zero star-power, middle-of-the-road gore and a story that’s by-the-numbers and leaving more than a bit to be desired. But I guess that killer sand fits the bill enough to make a movie, hence the creation of Turi Meyer’s 1995 direct-to-video “masterpiece” Sleepstalker.
The premise is simple enough; Griffin (played rather well by a marginally underrated Jay Underwood) is a young, up-and-coming photojournalist who’s working on a big, career-making piece about Los Angeles gangsters. At the same time as this is happening, the man who killed his family when he was a child, a tuba-voiced creep known as The Sandman is about to FINALLY be executed for his murderous ways. Naturally, the sh*t hits the fan and all goes awry, and suddenly Griffin’s friends start dying and his very existence is in great danger.
From that point, Sleepstalker veers off the “modestly interesting” highway and takes the first exit that lands it right into “formulaic slasher flick” territory. We are treated to some inventive kills, mostly due to The Sandman’s gimmick–you know, he’s made of sand–but the movie is about as slasher as slasher gets. We’re introduced to a bevy of stock characters who die before we really get to know them, there’s a flashback origin story (that, to be honest, is really f*cking creepy), and we even get a blind, voodoo-practicing psychic black man! Trust me, if you’ve never seen this movie, you’ve still seen this movie.
All that said, the movie is worth watching again…even if it’s your first time. There’s something endearing about the film. Most of it, honestly, is the absolutely flawless good boy that Jay Underwood plays as Griffin. He’s such a naturally decent, kind-hearted character that one simply has to identify with him or, at the very least, sympathize with him. He’s no wimp and no fool, which is really refreshing in a slasher flick, and the dire situations into which his character is placed are actually pretty plausible. Sure, it’s a horror movie and so everything’s a little bit exaggerated, but the movie isn’t so unbelievable that the viewer is taken out of the movie with a pronounced “what the Hell?” moment.
Additionally, The Sandman is an excellent antagonist. Michael Harris plays the character with an unsettling, unnerving deadpan calmness to him, and that nature makes his vicious, murderous nature all the more creepy. That aforementioned origin flashback very skillfully negotiates the high-wire between making us sympathize a little with The Sandman and just giving us goose bumps. And he, for the most part, kills with a purpose. He’s a guy who, yeah, will kill you if you look at him the wrong way, but he’s more intrigued by inflicting pain on Griffin, Griffin and only Griffin. A mindless, hulking beast of a killer is scary enough, I suppose, but one with focus, direction and a major-league vendetta is far more terrifying. There’s no distracting The Sandman, and it makes him a really effective, scary character.
Sleepstalker is also not without its sub-plots, which add depth to a slasher film that’s so often missing from the sub-genre. From our voodoo priest to our Mexican gangsters, there’s simply more information, more meat for the viewer to sink his or her teeth into with this movie, and that adds replay value and a sense that the movie the viewer’s watching isn’t just some random, late-night piece of sh*t. We’re actually fooled into believing that Sleepstalker is somehow more than the sum of its parts. And ultimately, it might very well be.
The movie is criminally overlooked by even hardcore horror fans; whether by the admittedly clichΓ© name or the piss-poor marketing budget, the lack of stars or the simple fact that its a niche, sub-genre movie, the movie gets no love whatsoever. It should, though. It’s worth a view, maybe two, and it’s a remarkably likeable run-of-the-mill movie. It perfectly straddles that bar between being a throwaway and a must-own, and proves its mettle anytime someone watches it. It’s unfortunate that it’s only been watched about 46 times, because in a decade that was absolutely starved for quality horror, it fit the bill…and no one cared.