Color, 2001, 117m.
Directed by Dario Argento
Starring Max Von Sydow, Stefano Dionisi, Chiara Caselli, Gabriele Lavia, Rossella Falk, Roberto Zibetti
LFG (Blu-Ray & DVD) (Germany R0 HD/PAL), Medusa (Italy R2 PAL), M.I.A. (UK R2 PAL), Holland (Dutch Film Works R2 PAL), Free Dolphin (France R2 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Artisan (US R1 NTSC) / DD5.1
Following the unsuccessful, divisive experiment of The Phantom of the Opera, director Dario Argento went back to basics for this equally controversial pastiche of his previous giallo hits. Long criticized for his unorthodox storytelling (usually dismissed as "weak scripts"), he continued to twist convention by concocted a serial killer yarnin which all of the protagonists are passive, mostly ineffectual figures, bounced around by a helter skelter plot. In the opening scene, Inspector Moretti (Von Sydow) investigates a woman's brutal murder in Turin and promises her young son, Giacomo, that the killer will be apprehended. Flash forward a couple of decades as the same murderer stalks and butchers an especially dim pair of prostitutes on a dark and stormy night at a train station. The retired Moretti is struck by the similarities of the crime to past events, mainly due to the obsession with a macabre children's book, The Death Farm, whose suicidal dwarf author was fingered for the previous murders. The now adult Giacomo (Farinelli's Dionisi) returns to Turin and reunites with his old friends, rich asthmatic Lorenzo (a very weak Zibetti) and pretty harpist Gloria (Caselli). The murders continue, each modeled on the animal-themed killings from the book, and soon the list of suspects grows…
Even more than the underrated Trauma, Sleepless cribs bits and pieces from the Argento canon: the thunderous opening and ill-fated ballerinas from Suspiria; the flawed-memory hero, "animated" dummy, and double-whammy twist ending from Deep Red; the pounding rock score from Goblin; and the monstrous parent-child dynamics from Phenomena and Four Flies on Grey Velvet, to name but a few. One’s enjoyment of the film will largely depend on how much one can savor style over content; the wooden performances (Von Sydow excepted) and jagged narrative are stumbling blocks as usual, but the film’s queasy atmosphere and pulse pounding murders are certainly compensating factors. Certain scenes indicate Argento most certainly had his tongue firmly planted in cheek throughout the film: a disorienting location card reading “Rome” while showing a Chinese restaurant with Asian music tinkling in the background; the bizarre dwarf subplot (including a peculiar interrogation scene that parodies The Bird with the Crystal Plumage); the hilarious introduction to the rabbit-toothed waitress/murder victim; the naked hooker who quickly drops her clothes and inhibitions when the killer flashes a handful of cash. This growing humorous tendency in Argento’s work (already plainly exhibited in The Phantom of the Opera) has been a major stumbling block for many of his fans, who understandably have a problem with the fact that Argento is hardly a comedy director and doesn’t have the razor-sharp sense of satire blessed upon, say, Brian De Palma. For better or worse, this film finds him continuing to explore and evolve with a few interesting stumbles along the way.
Even more than the aurally painful The Stendhal Syndrome, Sleepless (Nonhosonno) is a film that suffers significantly in its English language version. While all of the cast spoke their lines in English, only Von Sydow’s voice remains on the soundtrack; however, the dubbing and line delivery are so awkward that any Argento fans, even those who didn’t warm up to this film in English, should feel obligated to seek out the Italian version, which truly plays like an entirely different film. Audio-wise the best option is still the Italian DVD from Medusa, which sports magnificent 5.1 and DTS mixes of the Italian soundtrack with optional English subtitles, or the English version in 5.1. The disc also includes a making-of featurette (in Italian only) and the Italian trailer. Image quality is excellent and the best of all standard def options with a rich, colorful anamorphic transfer that makes mincemeat of the sorry-looking English theatrical prints. The same video transfer is available in several other countries as well, including France (as Le sang des innocents, with the French, Italian, and English tracks but no English subs), Holland, and the UK from Arrow (English version only); the latter also includes the featurette (with English subtitles) as well as a bonus disc of Dario Argento: An Eye for Horror. This commendable one-hour documentary features interviews with many of the principals from Argento’s films, including an intimidating Daria Nicolodi and some controversial thoughts from Asia Argento about her father’s cinematic abuses directed at her throughout their collaborations. Only those completely unable to access either the Italian or British discs will find any reason to seek out the U.S. disc from Artisan, which is the worst possible way to make this film’s acquaintance. Painfully pan and scanned with a shoddy, muddy transfer, this painful joke of a release is one of the low points of DVD Euro horror; even the 5.1 track sounds more like a flimsy, lexiconed version of a 2.0 track than the dynamic mix found on the European releases. Even more perplexing, Artisan’s early VHS screeners and even the theatrical trailer on the DVD are letterboxed! At least the DVD is uncut, as opposed to the abortive R-rated VHS release, but it should still be avoided if at all possible; the tacky cover art does it no favors either. It isn’t quite as agonizing as the home video travesties visited upon Trauma, but that’s not for lack of trying.
One would imagine Sleepless would be a prime title for Medusa to upgrade to Blu-Ray in Italy, but instead its first HD presentation came in late 2012 from Germany courtesy of a very attractive region-free release containing an excellent, pin-sharp 1080p transfer, by far the most impressive-looking version of the film to date (and again miles ahead of its cruddy 35mm prints). Colors are very rich and satisfying, while the film grain looks natural and doesn't appear to have been tampered with to any significant degree. The DTS-HD 5.1 audio is available in both English and German (plus a two-channel German option), so the absence of the Italian track is really the only major strike against this one. As usual the English track sounds great, with plentiful surround effects including that show stopping train sequence. The making-of featurette is carried over here, but most surprising is the inclusion of an extra Argento interview running for six minutes - in English! He calls making thrillers "my life" and talks about his influences and reasons for staying within the genre he loves; it doesn't really go into this film specifically, but this is a nice bonus nonetheless. Also included are the Italian and German trailers (identical apart from the spoken languages) and a stills gallery. Currently this edition is imported in America by Diabolik DVD.