(Non ho Sonno)
Sleepless feels like a renaissance of Dario Argento themes. There are many echoes of previous Argento works the killer writing about his obsession with murder reminds of the fevered opening of Tenebrae (1982); the scene where a victim gets their head bashed against a wall and their teeth smashed in is strongly reminiscent of a similar murder in Deep Red; theres the killer making cut-out animals from Inferno; the ending from Tenebrae with multiple different revelations of who the killer is; as well as the frequent Argento theme of the key to the solving of the mystery lying in some essential clue that the protagonist has half-forgotten. Furthermore, Argento, for the first time in 16 years, teams up again with the Italian rock group Goblin, whose soundtracks for several of his and various other Italian horror films, became cult items.
Sleepless is possibly the most disappointing of all Dario Argentos films. While many have admitted disappointment with other of Argentos works throughout the 1990s, I have defended them because they still have moments of great style. Alas, Sleepless seems lacking in this regard. There is certainly a great scene the first few minutes in when prostitute Barbara Lerici goes to visit a client, turns down his unmentioned request for something deviant, flees but by mistake picks up a blue folder that happens to contain his confessions and newspaper clippings for the killings, and catches a train home, only to be pursued through the empty carriages by the killer. It is a pure Argento-esque set-piece with fabulous shots cruising the length of the passing train to show Lerici running as the lights go out behind her, hiding in the accordion separator before being stabbed, and Argento then continuing on as her friend picks up the folder and becomes a victim too. The sequence is accompanied by the loud Goblin score pounding throughout the theatre, with swishes and whispers coming from all directions.
Alas, none of the other sequences in Sleepless come anywhere near the opening. In fact, aside from this, Sleepless is distinctly lacking in Argento-esque stylism. There are number of gory dispatches a victim drowned and then having her fingernails clipped off; another victim getting a pen impaled in his ear; the aforementioned teeth bashing; and a particularly nasty flashback where the hero as a child witnesses his mother having a French horn repeatedly impaled down her throat. Alas, most of these set-pieces are routine and lacking in the arty stylism that runs throughout Dario Argentos other films. There seems something distinctly missing this time around in other scenes, for instance, victims are more mundanely dispatched by simply being pushed over the stairway rail or being shot.
The plot is oddly one of the most straightforward that Dario Argento has ever had. Most of his psycho-thrillers give the impression that he has no interest in the plot and where the revelation of the killers identity often seems written in as almost an afterthought as though Argento had decided which cast member it was by randomly drawing straws. Sleepless is the nearest Argento has come to writing a traditional psycho-thriller, one that could function reasonably effectively as a thriller on its own with all the gory despatches taken out. (At no point does the film ever explain the relevance of the title Sleepless).
Dario Argentos ace in the hole is Max von Sydow who gives a characteristically thoughtful and dignified performance. The character comes with some wry effective speeches comparing the modern computerized detection that has taken over from the traditional methods of his day. Von Sydow stands out where the colourless younger leads in particular Stefano Dionisi, who makes almost no distinction on the film, and Chiara Caselli, who seems all of about the age of 14 do not.
Dario Argentos other films are: The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), The Cat ONine Tails (1971), Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971), Deep Red (1976), Suspiria (1977), Inferno (1980), Tenebrae/Unsane (1982), Phenomena/Creepers (1985), Opera/Terror at the Opera (1987), Two Evil Eyes (1990), Trauma (1993), The Stendhal Syndrome (1996), The Phantom of the Opera (1998), The Card Player (2004), Mother of Tears: The Third Mother (2007), Giallo (2009) and Dracula (2012).