Beyond the Wall of Sleep (DVD)
Starring Fountain Yount, William Sanderson, Kurt Hargan, Marco St. John
Directed by Barrett J. Legih & Thom Maurer
Distributed by Lionsgate
We’ve been mentioning this film off and on for years now, so needless to say when the filmmakers contacted me to let me know it was ready for viewing, I was pretty excited to check it out. Unfortunately, once the movie was up and running, my excitement level dropped in direct relation to the quality of the acting and narrative. In other words; fast.
Beyond the Wall of Sleep is based on the story of the same name by H.P. Lovecraft, so right there you have to approach it with some trepidation; the number of quality Lovecraft adaptation is equal or less that than Stephen King adaptations, though much like King’s work, when it’s done well it’s usually an extraordinary film. That’s one of the reasons why my opinion on the film is still a bit muddled because, while certainly not the kind of movie I was hoping for, it does have it’s share of strong points.
The story is about an intern named Edward (Young), an employee at the Ulster County Asylum when a mountain man by the name of Joe (Sanderson) is admitted after he’s found at the site of the brutal murder of his entire family. When this scene actually happens it’s difficult to get any idea at all what’s going on because of the over-caffeinated editor, which is continually one of the film’s biggest drawbacks, but I’ll get to that.
Edward is obsessed with the human brain, going so far as to keep a few in jars for future use, and even keeping one of the patients locked in the basement for his plaything. Her skullcap has been removed for easier access to her brain, wherein he inserts electrodes and tries to make her horny. He gives long-winded and mostly badly-delivered speeches about "making thought reality" and all such nonsense, but in reality all he’s doing is triggering the pleasure sections in her brain which makes her moan a lot, though not nearly as much as we’re led to believe Edward thinks she is. If that makes any sense.
Anyway, back to Joe. He’s got a strange growth growing on his back, which the head physician, Dr. Wardlow (Hargan), believes must be cut off to remove Joe’s insanity. Edward, however, believes it’s a second, more powerful being that is trying to find it’s way back into the world, eventually discovers he’s right, and risks his life and job (not in that order) to make the creature flesh.
The first thing your going to notice when you watch Beyond the Wall of Sleep is they lush and competent (for the most part) cinematography. The second thing you’re going to notice is how quickly it’s all ruined by fast cut after fast cut after fast cut, most of which consist of: Joe laughing in the rain, a quartet of semi-creepy little girls laughing, or the aforementioned mental patient strapped to a chair. They throw some stuff that looks like entrails in the mix for the ick factor, but all it does is serve to confuse the images all the more. The editing is the worst example of the music video-style crap that seems to permeate all levels of our genre these days, making an overall statement akin to "Wow! Look how edgy we are!"
Before the very well done title sequence, I really thought the whole movie was put together like that and I was ready to pop it out right then. Instead, a narrative picks up after the titles finish, and we’re treated to some exposition in roughly 10-15 minute blocks before the film submerges itself in ADD-riddled cuts yet again. In most cases this editing style never really goes away for that long. Would the movie have been better without it? Consider it’s other flaws it’s actually hard to determine, but since it was shot so well and featured a comparatively subdued soundtrack, I can’t help but think it would’ve lessened the pain.
However, that would still leave the performances, which across the board range from passable to downright high school drama class bad, with little rhyme or reason to the range. By that I mean an actor can do a relatively decent job in one scene, then in the next spout lines so dreadful and delivered so badly you wonder if maybe you’re not watching another film. Our lead is the worst, trying his damndest to be the poor mans Jeffrey Combs but coming off more like a community college Shakespeare student. That’s not even mentioning the horrible, eye catching-and-keeping wig he’s got on for pretty much the entire duration of the film, which makes it virtually impossible to take anything he says seriously. Hargan is really the only bright spot of the entire film, able to deliver even the most cringe-inducing lines with some real conviction. He’s obviously comfortable in the overbearing asshole role so his casting, at least, was inspired.
Essentially what the filmmakers were going for here was a film that feels more like a nightmare than a straight-up narrative story. I get that. That’s why there are so many fast cuts and bizarre imagery thrown at the viewer so often. Just when you get comfortable with the flow of the film, it switches gears and becomes something else for a while. None of that is a negative against, and I’m going to bet that it eventually develops a cult following akin to Dante Tomaselli’s Horror, which utilized similar methods, albeit in a more subdued form. Unfortunately for me it just didn’t work on pretty much any level, it just seemed like it was trying too hard to be cutting edge, or different, or nightmarish.
I don’t envy the position of these two filmmakers. Embarking on your first full-length feature is difficult enough; throw in financing it yourself, insisting on it being filmed in 35mm (wisely, I might add,; it does look really good for the most part), and adapting one of the most un-adaptable authors of all time, and you’ve got a major mountain to climb. They certainly got higher than most, but if more focus had been put on the performances and less on trying to disorient the viewer, they may have made the summit. Or at least get close enough to plant their flag.
Still galleries and animatics
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