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After venturing away from Giallo territory with the release of his much maligned retelling of Gaston Leroux's Phantom Of The Opera in 1988, Dario Argento returned to the land of black gloved killers and sharp, shiny knives with Sleepless (also known as Non Ho Sonno or I Can't Sleep) in 2001. The results? Quite mixed.
When a woman was brutally murdered in 1983, Police Commissioner Moretti (Max von Sydow of The Exorcist and many a fine Bergman film) tells her son, Giacomo (Stefano Dionisi), that he'll bring his mother's killer to justice if it takes him the rest of his years. Fast forward seventeen years to 2001, and an aging Moretti still lives in the same town and has reached the age of retirement.
By a very strong coincidence, the killer from 1983 has returned once more, and he makes very short work of two girls to announce his return. This strikes Moretti as odd, because the police believed that the man they had caught, a dwarf who penned mystery novels, was the real culprit – however he did die before he could be convicted in a court of law and proven beyond the shadow of a reasonable doubt to indeed be the murder. Giacomo meets up with Moretti the pair decide to work together to bring the murderer in. In order to do this, they'll have to decipher a series of clues that the killer leaves at the scene of the crime and cross reference it with an old nursery rhyme.
Argento is definitely not breaking any new ground with this film. He lifts plenty of character traits and ideas from his earlier work and even a couple of the kill scenes look a little familiar when compared to some of his earlier Giallos like Tenebre and Deep Red. But, if you're going to steal from someone you might as well steal from yourself and Dario does do a pretty good job of it here. The action and intrigue move along quickly enough that the film is never boring, even if ultimately when you pay close attention to it (and keep his past films in mind while doing so) it isn't overly difficult to figure out.
Max Von Sydow is fantastic in the lead role, and as always, he makes the most of the material that he is given to work with. Argento often tells his stories more with images and pacing than he does with expert dialogue or witty banter but even with that in mind, Max is good as the aging Commissioner. He's a likeable and sympathetic character who truly believes in doing the right thing and helping people. Von Sydow looks the part and fits the role very nicely.
When Argento returned to the Giallo genre with this film, so to did prog-rock champions, Goblin. Claudio Simmonetti and company do a fine job of creating a nice retro sounding score that pulses and pounds along with the film's own rhythm to heighten tension and pacing. Their music works very nicely alongside Dario's patented over the top murder scenes, which once again are dramatic and artistic while proving to be pretty grisly at the same time.
Sleepless is presented in it's original aspect ratio of 1.85.1 and is enhanced for anamorphic widescreen sets. The colors look very nice and the level of detail present in the image is pretty good. There aren't any problems with mpeg compression and edge enhancement, while present, is quite minimal. Now for the bad news – there is some mild print damage that appears in the form of some specks and the occasional scratch or two, and there is some motion blurring when the characters move quickly. It's not horrendously distracting, but I did notice it when I watched the film and it is there and it is worth noting.
You've got your choice of a DTS ES 6.1 Surround Sound mix or a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix, both of which are presented in the English dubbed version. There are optional subtitles available in English or in Chinese. While the over all clarity and quality of both mixes is very good, it's a shame that the Italian mix wasn't included on this release. Overall though, there are some nice, clear and distinct moments of channel separation and a few of the murder set pieces make nice use of the surround channels to heighten the tension a bit. Dialogue is never problematic nor is it overshadowed by sound effects or background music. There are no problems with hiss or distortion – this DVD sounds good.
Sadly, the only extra feature on this DVD is the theatrical trailer for Sleepless. I do admit that I like the cover art, but that's about it. There really should have been more effort put into gathering some supplements for this release.
While this import from Hong Kong can't top the Italian DVD from Medusa, it's sure a whole lot better than that atrocious release from Artisan a couple of years ago. The movie looks ok, sounds very nice, and is light on extras but at least it's an anamorphic widescreen transfer and not a pan and scan deal. If you don't already have one of the European releases, then this one comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.