An undeniable improvement on Dario Argento's last — the career nadir that was 1998's Phantom of the Opera — Sleepless boasts a handful of prime Dario moments and an excellent central performance from Max Von Sydow, but still remains a frustrating shadow of past glories.
Von Sydow plays Moretti, a long-retired Turin cop who some 17 years earlier came close to catching a vicious killer known as the 'Killer Dwarf', whose murders were inspired by a children's nursery rhyme. When the main suspect was found dead, the killings stopped, and the case was closed. Now in the present day similarly slain bodies have started turning up, and Moretti finds himself drawn back to the case, as does Giancomo, the son of one the original victims.
All the elements are here... the bloody murder sequences, swooping camerawork, half-remembered clues, a large cast of characters from which the killer will inevitably be sprung; Argento's former musical collaborators Goblin have even reformed to provide a suitably rowdy soundtrack. And this is the problem— there's nothing we haven't seen before. Argento can't even muster any new and interesting ways to kill his victims (save for a disgustingly hilarious death-by-English-horn!) — there's a bath killing and a smashing in of teeth straight out of 1975's Deep Red, while the way in which one unfortunate ends up getting stabbed through the cranium by a fountain pen must set a new standard in victim stupidity. The plot trundles along well enough and the film never gets dull, but it never truly grips either; Argento simply seems to have lost his desire to shock and excite.
The film's big saving grace is Max Von Sydow, who transcends the material with a wonderfully judged performance as the ageing cop who seems to take a delicious pleasure in helping hunt down the killer after so many years in retirement. The rest of the cast fare less well, and Argento's decision to have his predominantly Italian cast deliver their lines woodenly in English seems to make little sense when they end up sounding like they're dubbed anyway!
Sleepless is by no means terrible; but it's only just above average. There are some great touches — the lengthy tracking shot along a theatre carpet that terminates at the feet of the murderer as he throttles his victim, the pop-up animals that illustrate Moretti's recital of the nursery rhyme, the delightfully gruesome way in which the killer finally buys the farm. But such moments only really serve to highlight the general sense of half-hearted malaise from which the film suffers.
Italian horror maestro who began his film career as a critic, before moving into the world of screenwriting, collaborating most notably with Sergio Leone and Bernardo Bertolucci on the script of Leone's Once Upon A Time In The West (1968). Argento's first film as director, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) set the template for much of his subsequent work - inventive camerawork, sly wit, violent murder set-pieces, and a convoluted whodunnit murder plot. He perfected his art in this genre with Deep Red in 1975, before proceeding to direct the terrifying Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980), the first two parts of a loose trilogy of supernatural chillers that were finally completed with Mother of Tears in 2007.
Since then, Argento has pretty much stuck to what he knows best, sometimes successfully with Tenebrae and Opera, sometimes, usually in the latter half of his career, less so (Trauma, Sleepless, Dracula), but always with a sense of malicious style.