Sleepless (2001) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Original Italian title: Non ho sonno

For those of you who like Dario Argento's best movies and mourn the fact that he has forgotten how to make them, this movie may be a real pleasure. Dario returns to the type of movie that made him famous, the slasher murder mystery. It even has a musical score by Goblin! While this particular film may not be up to the highest standards of Dario's gialli (Deep Red, Suspiria), it is reminiscent of some of his best films, and it is substantially better than any of Dario's other post-1987 films that I've seen. To be honest, the Italian commenters at IMDb didn't like this movie very much, judging it to be a pale copy of the films in Dario's glory period. I guess there is some truth to that, but a pale Dario is still a ruddy little flick.

The first scenes of this film are brilliant. A prostitute refuses to perform some perverted unspecified sadistic sex act, is paid anyway, and leaves. On her way out, she trips over something, and the accident reveals a selection of frightening knives and a file full of newspaper clips. She picks up her spilled purse, and stuffs the file in her purse along with her own objects. She's obviously very frightened of the man in the apartment. We we see her descending the steps down toward the street - is someone behind her? No that is just her own image in a mirror on the landing.

She takes the train back to her own town. We know from the dialogue that it is a long non-stop trip. While on the train, she receives a cell phone call from the man in the apartment. He's very upset that his file is missing, because the contents of that file connect him to a wave of murders. The woman is terrified because he seems to know where she is, and she's trapped on the train. If you've ever been on one of those overnight train rides in Europe, where the train is essentially deadheading to the correct place to begin its morning work, you know how frightened she is. I once rode a train from Paris to Lyon, non-stop, in the wee hours of the morning, with no other passengers except the woman who accompanied me. That is the same situation in which the film character finds herself. She manages to find the conductor, and feels safe momentarily, especially when he agrees to let her stay up front with him. Unfortunately, she has to go back for her purse. As she bends over to pick it up from the seat, the train passes a light source, which casts behind her, just for a fraction of a second, the fleeting shadow of a man in a hat. She is not attacked, but she senses danger and runs panic-stricken through the empty train, toward the front and the safety of the conductor. We follow her from behind, with the camera just over her shoulder. Then our POV changes and we see the deserted train from the outside, with a solitary figure running through the cars, toward the front.  We come back inside to her POV. She sees the conductor's hat above a seat and runs to him -  but he has been attacked. She is now most certainly alone in a speeding train with the killer. Rain pours down outside. Lightning and thunder are omnipresent. 

Meanwhile, her girlfriend waits for her at the rain-drenched station, alone, vulnerable. 

Great, great scene. After watching it, I forgot about the other things I was planning to do, and focused on the movie, thinking it would be a masterpiece. While the rest of the movie came nowhere near living up to its brilliant opening, I still enjoyed it.

The usual bad English dubbing (Dario must use the same guys that dub Godzilla movies) tends to ruin some of the dialogue, but the film does have one thing that Dario isn't used to - a real actor who is proficient in English! The timeless Swedish icon Max von Sydow plays an elderly detective who has come out of retirement to solve a series of crimes which seem to have resumed after a 17 year quietus. Max had been the officer in charge of the original investigation decades ago, but is now an old man with a failing memory, trying to solve the crimes with the help of the son of one of the original victims. Max does such a good job in this, speaking his own English lines, that he seems to be in a different movie from everyone else. In a way, he is too good. If you saw that Ethan Hawke Hamlet, you know how weak the other actors seemed after Liev Schreiber did his lines and they had to respond. Liev was brilliant, but they never should have hired him because his presence served to remind the audience that everyone else sucked. To a great extent, Max does the same thing in this movie. He seems like a real person walking around and speaking to characters in a Godzilla movie. To the audience, it seems that a good detective should be more suspicious that Italian people seem to be speaking dubbed Japanese. To Dario Argento's credit as a writer, the character's success was not entirely because of Max's touching performance. The role was written very well to begin with, and the character's memory problems presented an interesting twist in the overall story.

I should point out that there were giant flaws in the logic of the film. In that exciting chase through the train, for example, the killer's phone call said, "Where are you? Oh, I can hear. You are on a train, aren't you?" Only one problem - if he didn't know where she was to begin with, how did he then get on that same non-stop train? If he did know where she was, why bother with a phone call? The only other possibility is that he was already on that train, and had taken it on spec, not knowing she was also on it. That certainly would have presented a mammoth detour for him if she had decided to stay in a local hotel, or if she had gone in the opposite direction!

OK, maybe it wasn't the tightest script in the world, but the mystery was interesting. Was the murderer the original guy from seventeen years ago, now considered long dead? Or was he a copycat who studied the original? In either case, why did he wait so long? Why did the murders follow a theme based on the animals murdered in a child's nursery rhyme? In general, the clues invited the viewer to solve the crime along with Max and the young guy, so there were some genuine mystery elements which raised the script above a mere excuse for visual mayhem. In addition, Max was outstanding, and the train scene was excellent. Not a bad entertainment package at all!



  • no widescreen

  • no features



Barbara Lerici was shown totally naked, full-frontal, in the opening scene

Chiara Caselli was naked in a sex scene, but not much was visible - perhaps a brief glimpse at her pubic area, but in the shadows.



Sleepless (2001) marks Dario Argento's return to his roots, the classic giallo murder mystery. Someone is killing women, using the M.O. of a long dead suspect.

There is some truly great photography. Imagery is everything in these films, and the gory visuals don't disappoint. Max Von Sydow is also wonderful as the original detective, now retired, who comes back to work on the case, despite old age and memory problems.

The plot, however, wore on me. The script jerked my chain with red herrings so many times that I felt like a glow-in-the-dark Duncan, although to Dario's credit, the evil dwarf didn't do it.

The Critics Vote ...

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 6.1 
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C (both reviewers).  Pretty good, not great, genre flick - but parts of it are great. Entertaining if you like gialli.

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