Color, 2008, 103m.
Directed by William Malone
Starring Dylan Purcell, Cherilyn Wilson, Patrick Kilpatrick, Jeffrey Combs, Timothy Bottoms, Kathryn Lee Scott, Dov Tiefenbach
E1 (Blu-Ray & DVD, US R1 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9) / DTS-HD5.1, Contender (UK R2 PAL) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9) / DD5.1

Let's talk about the strange case of William Malone. A seasoned horror fan and capable filmmaker, he first appeared on the scene with a pair of well-intentioned but very cheap monster efforts, Scared to Death and Creature. Over a decade of TV work followed, mainly for horror shows, before he finally hit the big time with Dark Castle's first theatrical release in 1999, a remake of William Castle's House on Haunted Hill. Though filled with style to burn and an abundance of what would become Malone's recognizable stylistic tics (stop motion creatures, distorted doll faces, anatomically impossible monsters), it suffered from a substandard and awkwardly profane script that eventually devolved into complete gibberish. Still, it was Dark Castle's best offering for many years (a very faint compliment) until Orphan came along and changed the game entirely. Malone's follow-up was 2001's disastrous FeardotCom, a miscast and painfully stupid attempt at online horror that looked even worse when the same idea was done far better a year earlier in Japan with Pulse.

Then something interesting happened. After laying low for four years, Malone returned in 2004 to contribute an episode to the first season of Showtime's wildly uneven anthology series, Masters of Horror. Alongside such contenders as John Carpenter, Dario Argento, Tobe Hooper, and John Landis, he seemed decidedly outmatched with his late-season offering, "The Fair-Haired Child." Surprise, surprise; his episode turned out to be one of the best of the bunch, a poetic, haunting, and truly creepy little fairy tale that perfectly balanced the macabre and the wistful with a masterful touch. It's still a benchmark entry in the series and one of the strongest horror stories ever conceived for the small screen.

Obviously Malone must have realized he'd reached a significant turning point as his subsequent feature film, Parasomnia, embellishes many of the themes from "Fair-Haired" into a much larger tapestry with results that confirm his maturation as a filmmaker. (Or maybe it's just that he finally broke away from the big studios.) His script fits his familiar visual and narrative obsessions like a glove as we follow the strange journey of Danny Sloan (Purcell), an art student visiting a fellow avant garde sculptor, Billy (Tiefenbach), who's drying out at a mental clinic. Down the hallway Danny spies and immediately becomes smitten with Laura (Wilson), a bedridden beauty he met once as a child who suffers from parasomnia, a sleeping disorder which only allows her to awake for very brief bursts of time. Even stranger, she's being kept next door to a dangerous mesmerist, Byron Volpe (Kilpatrick), whose ability to incite violence with his gaze causes him to be restrained with a hood over his face in a locked room. Unfortunately Byron has also developed a fixation with the sleeping princess whom he controls in her dreams, and when Danny decides to spirit her away to his apartment upon learning of plans to turn her into a medical guinea pig, Volpe's homicidal power explodes out of control...

A real treat for horror fans yearning for some vivid surrealism and a melancholy romantic streak along with their gory mayhem, Parasomnia is such a solid piece of work one can only wonder why it took two years to come out in the United States -- straight to video, no less -- while far lesser fare regularly makes it into theaters. Malone throws in enough carnage to keep gorehounds happy along with a few unexpected cameos, a nice turn by Dark Shadows's Scott as a nurse, and a scenery-chewing performance by Re-Animator's Jeffrey Combs as a possibly unstable police detective not far removed from his role in The Frighteners. The three leads don't seem to have much to work with in the opening act of the film, but as their characters became more unpredictable (and unstable), the performers all rise to the challenge for the unorthodox storyline, which seems to reach its natural climax an hour in before spinning off in a completely different direction. Malone also outdoes himself on the visual front, constantly surprising the viewer with imaginative dreamscapes, bizarre animated flourishes, and a showstopping finale involving a pair of female musicians, clockwork automatons, and feathered wings, all put to creepy effect. The film isn't perfect; the opening 20 minutes are unnecessarily convoluted with a completely superfluous flashback structure (the alternate linear opening in the deleted scenes would have worked better) and too many flashy transitions, but once the film settles into its narrative groove, it's a terrific ride.

E1's well-appointed release on both Blu-Ray and DVD makes up for its extreme tardiness on home video, the former offering both a superior AV presentation as well as a lower price tag. The transfer looks great throughout as you might expect, with the eye-scorching colors of the opening credits and the finale in particular standing out. The surround mix does a solid job as well, particularly when showcasing the soundtrack featuring an excellent Nicholas Pike score and occasional lashings of classical music by Holst and Prokofiev. Extras include an audio commentary with Malone (who points out a lot of nifty horror references and cites some unexpected William Castle nods), a short but enjoyable making-of featurette (which features Wilson talking about her first experience doing green screen work), a small batch of deleted scenes (including the superior B&W opening), and the theatrical trailer.


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