Review Date: December 21, 2001
Released by: Artisan
Release date: 12/18/2001
Region 1, NTSC
Pan & Scan
"The Italian Hitchcock." "The Master of Horror." Those nicknames have been ascribed to Italian horror auteur Dario Argento for more than 30 years. He made his name in the giallo genre, violent murder/mystery films featuring a secretive black-gloved killer. His fans have decried his abandoning of the giallo, not having made a traditional one since 1987's Opera. Trauma in 1993 had giallo elements, but was more Americanized. 1996's The Stendhal Syndrome was a great film that took a bizarre artistic turn. But in 2000, Dario returned to his roots, directing Nonhosonno, a much more typical giallo film. Artisan has released the first American version of this film, under the title Sleepless. Has Argento made a film similar to his popular Deep Red and Tenebrae, and has Artisan done an acceptable job bringing this film from Europe? The answer to each question is both yes and no. Let's take a further look.
After a short introduction scene in Turin in 1983, Sleepless opens in Rome 17 years later. A prostitute (Barbara Lenci) is a bit freaked out by her customer, and leaves in a hurry. She accidentally picks up a folder, and soon discovers that her client had committed some horrible murders several years ago. Before she can alert authorities however, she's savagely murdered on a train, as is her girlfriend shortly thereafter. The only clue is what she told the train's porter, something about a dwarf.
The dwarf angle leads the police to retired detective Ulisse Moretti (Max Von Sydow). He was the investigator of the "Dwarf Murders" 17 years prior, at least until the case was presumably solved when main suspect Vincenzo was found dead. When more people turn up dead, with cutouts of farm animals near the bodies, Moretti suspects the same killer is afoot, using a morbid nursery rhyme (written by Asia Argento, Dario's daughter) as his or her inspiration.
Also arriving back in town is Giacomo (Stefano Dionisi), at the request of a boyhood friend Lorenzo (Roberto Zibetti). Giacomo's mother was killed by the dwarf 17 years ago, and Moretti had promised him he'd find the killer. As Giacomo learns of the reappearance of the murderer, he teams up with Moretti to try to solve the case.
They learn more about Vincenzo, as Giacomo remembers listening to him read his children's stories. More and more people are killed, and each time the murder is related to the strange nursery rhyme. Can the duo use the rhyme to find the killer's identity, and is Giacomo's new girlfriend Gloria (Chiara Caselli) next on the list? Is Vincenzo really dead, and was he even the Dwarf Killer from 1983? This is indeed a true giallo, and to say anymore would only ruin the film.
Many have touted this as Argento's best film in years. It's certainly better than his last effort, The Phantom of the Opera. I still prefer the woefully underrated The Stendhal Syndrome from 1996, but this is a definite return to form of the films that made Dario so famous. It has all the trappings (both good and bad) that giallo fans have come to expect: the killings always seen from the murderer's point of view, the red herrings, and the final revelation of the killer.
Almost all of Dario's gialli feature an artist of some sort as a main character. Whether it's a writer, musician, or opera diva, it's Argento's aim to create an autobiographical theme. Sleepless uses this artistic theme to some degree as well. The killer is using the morbid nursery rhyme as an inspiration for murder. Even though the theme of the rhyme is quite deathly, the lilting tone is designed with children in mind. I think Dario is trying to show how movies and books, clearly designed as entertainment, can be used by unstable individuals as a recipe for murder. The art is not the evil, the killer is. Perhaps a reaction to the Columbine incident?
Other Dario-isms are apparent in this film as well. First off is the score from Goblin, which has long been missing from Argento's films. The excessive camera tricks and gaudy color schemes appear as well, though to a lesser extent. But one of the most obvious facets of Sleepless is some of the most violent and brutal killings in all of Argento's resume. The opening train sequence is a classic in suspense, setting the tone for the rest of the film. No one can film a stalk-and-chase scene as well as Dario Argento, and some of his best work is in this movie. The "carpet crawl" late in the film will certainly remind fans of Tenebrae.
Sleepless isn't perfect though. Many of Argento's best gialli, like Deep Red and Tenebrae, are classic studies of tortured minds. The main characters in those movies are explored in extreme depth, and that's what elevates his films above so many others in the horror genre. Here, we don't get too much about Manetti or Giacomo, and that's a shame, especially given such a talented actor as Max Von Sydow. Plus, the killer's backstory and motives are not the most interesting or innovative. However, there's one glaring deficiency in this release of this film, but that has nothing to do with Dario Argento at all…
This one's been argued about for several weeks on the Internet, once consumers found out that the transfer would be full-frame. And it's in the term "full-frame" that I have a big problem. You see, this is NOT a full-frame transfer (as Artisan claims on the packaging), it's PAN AND SCAN. Full-frame is when a film is shot in the square ratio, but matted to a widescreen presentation for theatrical release. While I believe that those films still demand a widescreen transfer as well (and that's a whole different argument), at least you don't lose any visual information in the transfer.
That is not the case in Sleepless. For this movie, Artisan has chosen to use a transfer that REMOVES screen information on the sides for 4:3 presentation. This is totally unacceptable. The viewer will notice several scenes where the sides of some characters faces are cut off, and the composition definitely seems too tight. There are rumors as to why Artisan has done this, but I won't pass on information for which I have no factual basis. What I will say is that this is simply an incorrect aspect ratio, and there is no acceptable excuse for it. If Artisan is not going to respect the integrity of the film composition, they have no business producing those DVDs. Harsh words, I realize, but it's 2001, and pan and scan transfers on DVD should not be tolerated, unless a correct aspect ratio version is available.
As far as the actual transfer quality (disregarding the obvious shortcoming), it's below par as well. It's quite grainy and fuzzy, and the dark scenes can be a little hard to make out. Dario's newer films are not quite as big-budgeted as his classics, so I don't expect the gorgeous colors from Deep Red and Suspiria, but I'd have to think it could look better. Plus, since this is pan and scan, it goes without saying that anamorphic enhancement was eschewed on this release.
Here's one thing that Artisan definitely did right; they used the Dolby Digital 5.1 sound transfer. Now, it's not a great mix, and the surrounds get very little use, but it does show off the Goblin score quite nicely. As with all Argento films, this one's dubbed. So while the dialogue doesn't match the actors movements very well, it at least sounds clear.
This is a pretty generic edition, supplement-wise. You get an extremely brief filmography of Dario Argento (I never knew Tenebrae was called Under the Eyes of the Assassin) and some cast members. I can't believe they omitted The Seventh Seal from Von Sydow's filmography. You'd get more detailed information from IMDB.com. There's a frenetically edited and Americanized trailer that is teasingly shown widescreen. But the lack of extras doesn't bother me with an Argento film. All I ask for is an uncut transfer in it's theatrical aspect ratio, and I've already stated my opinion on that.
Dario Argento has returned to the genre in which he began, and shows no signs of having lost one whit of talent. Sleepless doesn't flow quite as well as his classics, nor is it as deep and introspective. But it's still an Argento film, and essential viewing for any Dario-phile. This is the first official appearance of this movie in Region 1. Unfortunately, for inexplicable reasons, the normally reliable Artisan Entertainment chose to release this film in a compromised format. I'd still recommend this disc to those who don't have access to multi-region players and import discs, but I base that recommendation solely on the film's content. I'm completely flabbergasted that a studio like Artisan would release a butchered version. It really is a good movie, and Artisan deserves some praise for releasing it to America, but I have to wonder what they were thinking when they OK'd the pan-and-scan transfer.
Movie - B+
Image Quality - F
Sound - B+
Supplements - C-
- Running Time - 1 hour 57 minutes
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- Dolby Digital Surround 5.1
- Dolby Stereo 2.0
- Director and Cast Filmographies
- Sneak Peeks