Dario Argento's career over the last two decades is like a nightmare to many fans. After releasing a series of genre-defining classics, Argento's creativity appeared to enter hibernation and his output became but a pale shade of what we knew he was capable of. The dream, it seemed, was over.

Then came Sleepless. Described as a "return to form", it was hoped that Argento had ended his long dark night of the soul, woken up and smelt the coffee. Indeed, this was clearly an attempt to rouse the Giallo spirit of his earlier films, even going so far as to feature the return of the much-loved Goblin to the soundtrack. Fans queued with baited breath, hoping this would be the one to justify their devotion and to see Argento reborn and refreshed from his creative sabbatical.

Sleepless fulfils as many hopes as it dashes. It's a good film by any standard, but Argento set the bar pretty high with earlier works such as Profondo Rosso, Suspiria, Inferno and the underrated Tenebrae. While Sleepless has many of the classic elements that made these films great, it sometimes feels awkward and forced. Where, for example, Suspiria soared like a graceful ballerina, Sleepless feels like it's taking tentative steps after a long injury, stumbling as it tries to remember how to do the moves.

But when it pulls those moves off, it does them with style. Argento has never been one to shy away from a set piece, and Sleepless has them in spades. The opening sequence aboard a deserted train is justly acclaimed, and builds nightmarish tension as our hapless heroine races against time to remain hidden from a lurking stalker long enough for the train to arrive at the supposed safety of the next station. Despite finding one of the best hiding places in cinematic history, it won't come as much of a surprise to anyone who's seen an Argento film that the scene ends with gallons of red stuff spraying about. Fingers fly off as Goblin's soundtrack thunders and blares like a moving train, and the killer quickly takes advantage of a "buy one, get one free" offer on female victims. It's a shame that most of the remaining murder sequences (and there are many) don't quite live up to the standard set in the opening 20 minutes, although several come close. In particular, a slow tracking shot through a theatre culminating in a severed head dropping to the floor, its eyes and mouth still twitching, and an absolutely revolting murder involving an English Horn stick in the mind.

As the bodies mount up, retired detective Max Von Sydow takes an interest in the case. The methods of killing, and description of the murderer, match a case he worked on many years previously. He teams up with the now grown-up son of one of the original victims in order to track down the nursery-rhyme spouting "killer dwarf". That's pretty much it as far as plot goes. While storylines in Argento films could often be accused of being slight, the narrative structure of Sleepless feels like nothing more than a little frame covered in enough hooks to hang the imaginative murders on. Characters lack personality, existing either to deliver exposition or be murdered, and any plot logic had is utterly jettisoned in a brilliantly deranged finale featuring puppets, bizarre acting, skeletons in boxes, exploding heads and a frighteningly trigger happy cop yelling "It's about time!" to signal the film ending.

Sleepless is plenty of fun. It's the most satisfying of Argento's recent output and certainly the last decent movie he made (up until this point). While it can only dream of living on the same street as Argento's great works, the film at least provided a tasty midnight snack for fans before the celluloid sleeping pills he's been serving up recently.

Arrow's Masters Of Giallo DVD provides a welcome improvement in terms of sound and vision over the previous MIA disk. The image is sharp and detailed, and those more technically minded than I have suggested the same transfer as on the Italian Medusa disk was used. The framing on this disk appears slightly different to the MIA one, losing a small amount of picture at the top and gaining a little at the bottom. Shots of books, notes, etc, in this presentation are in Italian rather than English, another change from the MIA disk.

Sadly, the excellent Italian DTS soundtrack from the Medusa disk couldn't be used here for licensing reasons. Instead, we are given the choice between 2.0 or 5.1 English language versions. I personally found these mixes a little quiet, and had to turn up the volume a fair bit higher than I normally would, but the surround mix is very good. The English version gives us the benefits of hearing Max Von Sydow's wonderful performance, but at the cost of many absolutely appalling vocals from some of the supporting cast.

The extras are pretty brief. There's the same Italian making of as on the MIA disk, which while hardly groundbreaking is quite interesting. You also have a short (ten minute) original feature on Giallo and Argento's place in the genre. This features interviews, primarily, with Joe Dante and manages to show virtually every gory moment from the main film, so don't watch it before you've seen the movie. It's a nice little piece, but there's very little in it that most seasoned horror fans won't already know. The Eye For Horror feature on the MIA disk went into much more detail and was a better primer on the important parts of Argento's career. It's a shame it wasn't included on this disk too. The trailer and a photo gallery round up the main extras, but there is some DVD-ROM content including the script and some poster artwork.

Arrow have commissioned an original piece of artwork for the cover, which I imagine will be a matter of taste for some. The Sleepless sleeve is the best of the bunch, in my opinion, but should you take against it for some reason the cover is reversible with the slightly less "video nasty" style original poster art underneath.

Overall, this is a very good presentation of Argento's film, and certainly the best UK release of it so far. Arrow should be applauded for taking time to source a better quality transfer than had been previously used, and I look forward to their future releases with great interest.

Review by Paul Bird

Released by Arrow Video
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review