Beth Bowman (Jocelin Donahue) has been having trouble sleeping recently and it's making her antsy, so when she returns to her sister's apartment one evening, she cannot act pleased to see that she and her friends have arranged a birthday party for them - Beth is a twin, and Kate (also Donahue) is far more relaxed about life than she is. Beth would like to open up about her problems, but fears they sound absurd: she has become convinced that her dreams and being turned to nightmares by the presence of a ghastly apparition that creeps up on her as she is awake but cannot move as she lies horrified in bed. This creature, which resembles a horrible old woman, grabs her around the throat until she jolts back to consciousness - is it really only a dream?
Could be, but this was a horror movie we were talking about, therefore you can bet the monster exists and is no figment of the sleep-activated imagination. As the opening caption helpfully informed us, sleep paralysis is something that regularly afflicts "3 million Americans", which was fairly accurate as quite a few people will experience this curious effect in their lives, though not as many will be consistent sufferers, as a small percentage of an unlucky few will find their sleeping hours blighted by bizarre visions that seem genuine, or they would if they did not feature things that were plainly impossible. Some believe there is some being interrupting the slumber, some claim it's space aliens, others say it's an affliction that has a reasonable explanation - but what?
Plenty of scope there for a chiller, and so it was: back in 1984, Wes Craven created possibly the definitive sleep paralysis movie with A Nightmare on Elm Street, and director Phillip Guzman found himself very much in the shadow of that cult favourite, only lacking the ingeniously nasty persona of Freddy Krueger to deliver his scares, meaning he had to rely on a cross between what looked like Sadako from the Ring movies and one of the possessed women from The Evil Dead. Fair enough, he was aiming for a night hag appearance, but he missed the mark if he wanted something iconic in an original manner, and the fact this was a watered down shocker meant it was never going to be a full on assault on the senses as far as scares went.
Most of what it relied on for unease was the concept that you could be attacked in your sleep by a weirdie, and that this was a thing that happened in real life, assuming you could call dream states real life. But the vast majority of sufferers do not get killed by these apparitions, in fact you could argue hardly anyone ever did, and if they did how would you prove it? You can't exactly ask the deceased. Nevertheless, this was the main menace Beth has to counteract, only she doesn't do a very good job of it and ends up dead within the first quarter of an hour, leaving Kate to investigate and get that expression of grimness settling on her features as her sister did. The point here was you could only die by the hag's hands if you believed you could, so the more convinced people there were, the more damage she could do.
We didn't get any more explanation than that, this was enough apparently, which left a fairly slick and professional affair that never roused itself out of dour clichés to keep its dawdling narrative moving. Russell T. Davies once observed the worst line of dialogue he could imagine was "Happy birthday, sis!" right at the beginning of your script thanks to how lazy and uninspired it was, yet here we were with Kate saying it to Beth for her opening gambit (maybe more acceptable because Donahue was playing both siblings?), which gave you an idea of the basic nature of the storytelling here. Later Jesse Borrego showed up as a doctor who has studied the hag, and only needed a turban to offset the feeling that he was a mystic dropped in from a nineteen-thirties supernatural yarn, and there was the mildly hilarious scene were Kate confronted a man who managed to beat the villain because he hadn't slept for over a year. Lori Petty, as another professor, sported a pair of massive glasses and spouted doomed scepticism, but there was that anti-science thread of 21st century horror rearing its head again. If you wanted to be spooked, best watch the real thing, the documentary The Nightmare, from the year before. Music by Marc Vancour.