Important note: the US DVD of Sleepless has one of the most wretched transfers I've ever seen. It turns what's an already dark movie into something that's intensely unwatchable, just scenes of black blobs shambling around the shadows. Arrow has a very nice R2 disc that's available from aftermarket sellers on Amazon.co.uk, so exercise that option if you're interested in this film. Otherwise, you will miss the artistry of scenes like this:
From what I understand, Sleepless is regarded by many as Relevant Argento's swan song. It certainly shares a lot of the same elements that made his early work resonate with so many. We get spectacularly brutal violence, a convoluted storyline, art deco lighting, a ripping Goblin score, black gloves, references to animals, themes of art intersecting with violence, and peculiar lapses into comedy. If you added Dario Nicolodi in there somewhere, you could sandwich this right between Tenebrae and Phenomena.
If you are familiar with gialli, you already know to expect a baffling plot. But here goes: in 1981, a woman was stabbed to death in front of her young son with an English horn. Fast forward to "today" and, again, very innovative and stylish murders are happening. Could it be the same perpetrator from the original killings, a guy called the Killer Dwarf? That would be my guess, and the guess of retired investigator Moretti (Max Von Sydow), who talks over the details of the case with his parrot.
Meanwhile, we are also presented with nursery rhymes, a harpist performing Swan Lake, a comic hobo, and scenes from Suspiria night at the Eurodisco.
The violence in this film is especially jarring. It's rough stuff, as women get stabbed with musical instruments, punched hard in the face repeatedly, slammed into walls, drowned, and so on. I can imagine that certain people complained about all this, but I'm of the mind that, if you're going to show violence in a movie, you should show violence in a movie—don't make it tepid or cut away in G.I. Joe fashion. If violence is there, it needs to affect the audience to mean something. And the brutality here will shake you up, even if you're jaded or have the entire August Underground collection hidden under your bed.
Another thing about the violence herein: no character is safe, which is an excellent choice on Argento's part and recalls paths taken by his own heroes, like Hitchcock. But back to the purely Argentish—we'd be in for a grim two hours if there weren't some respite from the battery, and Argento thankfully includes a few scenes of levity to lighten things up. I lma completely o at the scene below. Very inventive.
There's also a hilarious scene at an America-themed restaurant, complete with gaudy stars and stripes costumes. The gathering of the "usual suspects" that ends up being an all-dwarf ensemble also fits into the film's comedy column, especially since it's scored with music from a Daffy Duck short or something.
Overall, I thought this was quite enjoyable! It's a little overlong and bloated, but that's a minor complaint given the thought and effort clearly expended. I'm definitely going to check around more recent Argento, if only to see what might have happened between this level of competence and something like Dracula.