By Brian M. Sammons
Remember last time, when I was talking about movies that start with “H.P. Lovecraft’s” and yet, have absolutely nothing to do with the man or his tales? Well, here’s a prime example of that. Don’t let the title fool you; it has almost nothing to do with the Lovecraft story of the same name, other than that dreams do play a part in it. But by that logic, I guess A Nightmare on Elm Street could be considered Lovecraftian, right?
Worse than just being a cynical abuse of the title, in the attempt to give this movie some sense of gravitas, this film is incompetently made, poorly acted (even by a veteran of both the big and small screens), has laughable dialogue, unintentionally funny special effects (a highlight being a cheap fright wig one actor is forced to wear), nonsensical and confusing editing, and I could go on counting the ways this movie fails so completely, but then this just might be one of the longest reviews in movie history. Or I could make it the shortest: This flick is horrible, so don’t waste your time watching it and avoid it at all costs. Hmm, neither way seems to be suitable, so I guess I’ll just give you the rundown on this movie, as usual. I mean I already suffered through it, so why not let my pain be a warning to others? Yeah, I’m good like that.
Our story begins with a redneck, inbred farmer named “Joe Slaader” (played by a slumming William Sanderson of Blade Runner fame and most recently seen as the sheriff in HBO’s True Blood), who is taken to the Ulster Asylum for the Criminal Insane after being convicted of murder. Besides being as sharp as sack of shoggoths, inbred Joe has a few notable features, like a face growing out of his back. Why? Well, he’s inbred and that explains everything, I guess, but it is creepy and that little bit is the best this film can offer, so yay for that. Joe meets the prerequisite mad doctor, er…intern, named “Edward Eischel”. This poor man’s Herbert West is obsessed with hooking human brains up to batteries and seeing what happens. Seeing something “special” in mutant Joe, Eischel starts experimenting on him with a homemade mindreading machine and makes a connection with some evil entity beyond the walls of sleep. Oh, title plug!
Once the initial connection is made, things get strange and bloody, and that’s all good, but they also get meandering and confusing, which isn’t good no matter how you slice it. Not much happens for a good long time, other than icky killings, general “weird stuff”, and an exploration of why people suffering from A.D.D., who drink far too much coffee, should not be in charge of editing. Honestly, this movie is a collage of confusing images tossed in a blender and then duct-taped together in random order. There are jarring jump cuts galore; images blur together or are overlaid up to two or three at a time; scenes flash back and forth constantly and they’re usually the same blurry images running on a continuous loop. All these visual gymnastics aren’t creepy or shocking. They’re just annoying as all hell and it gets old really, really fast. The directors (Yes, it took two great minds to come up with this masterpiece) fall back on these overused techniques again and again, showing that such MTV-on-crack style of direction is the only trick in their sadly empty bag.
Things eventually get back on track, but the resolution to this mish-mash of a story really isn’t worth the wait. Oh, to be sure, there are some bloody bits for the gorehounds, but most of the effects are week and cheesy, at best. There is a bit of hero worship indulged in with the master of gore, and horror fan favourite, Tom Savini showing up for what amounts to an extended cameo as a local sheriff. Other than that, there really is no reason to sit through this 84-minute jumbled mess.
Final Verdict: This film is only mildly Lovecraftian. It takes a few names and characters from the story, like the inbred Joe, and one idea of the asylum intern who just so happens to have a freaking mind-reading machine! No, really, go back and re-read the story; it’s in there. But other than that, this flick goes off on its own pitiful path, far beyond left field and into the wilds of “What the hell were they thinking?” Furthermore, this film is not in the least enjoyable, not even on a so-bad-it’s-good level. I added both good friends and tasty adult beverages to the mix, in the attempt to wring any ounce of enjoyment out of Beyond the Wall of Sleep, and all of us were just bored to tears by it. So, do yourself a favour and take a pass on this one. You can thank me later.