A Journal Of The Dark Arts
One of the dangers of internet/digital Cable culture is we have less opportunity to come across oddball anomalies. People aren’t spending as much time wandering through dusty library aisles, cheap mom ‘n pop video stores, or merely flipping channels due to sheer bloodyminded boredom and unstimulation.
The danger is a gradual sandpapering of the rough edges of society – a dismissal of the crude, the cheap, the weird. This is probably inevitable and possibly even a good thing, as not every dust mote of culture needs to be preserved. I can’t express how many millions of hours of bad television in my life – could happily forget Full House and Perfect Strangers and live a full and happy life; they do not preserved for posterity, or re-appreciated by my adult self (although i’m sure plenty enjoy these sitcom spectacles and revisit them regularly). The prevalence and access to information makes it so much more possible to find and surround one’s self with Good Art. I spend my days surrounded by brilliant masterpieces of all cultures, and i’m quite sure i’ll end up a genius because of all of it.
We run the risk of losing the obscure, of forgetting the marginal and the strange, just because they are not exactly masterpieces, per se, but they have redeeming qualities. Odd, off-the-cuff moments of brilliance when hardly anyone was paying attention, when an actor might deliver an inspired performance, or some cheap, homemade musician delivers an epiphany, recorded on a phone. You just never know when you’re going to find brilliance, and it is important to not succumb to a cultural hegemony, that no OTHER may penetrate.
As i’ve mentioned, this page has the occasional subtitle, ‘How I Found The Akashic Records; and what i did when i got there.’ We seek to blast and broadcast not only art that either samples from or is inspired by some original source, but also the source itself. It’s a treasure trove and archive for crate diggers and sample hounds and data junkies and movie obsessives and fanboys.
So as you know, horror is our favorite genre, the inky black aesthetic we paint our eyes with. We seek to spread the word on horror wherever we find it, across all media, and unearth buried psychologies and lost wisdoms from our baptism.
Over time, Forestpunk will become a rich, varied, and infinitely surreal, dark and wondrous archive: a place where you can spend days, weeks, years. It’s a great place, albeit a bit dusty; heck, we live here and never leave. We have always lived in the castle.
So let us remember the feeling of gathering around blurry, pixelated television, to watch weird delights on Sunday afternoon. Let us be a weird, pale family, munching popcorn and waiting for bloodshed. So if you’re just sitting around tonight, looking for something to do, we have such sights to show you!
For our first installment, a bloody, made-for-TV gem from 1982, Don’t Go To Sleep!
Don’t Go To Sleep originally aired on ABC on December 10, 1982. It was directed by Richard Lang, who would go on to direct episodes of Melrose Place and Beverly Hills, 90210, and was produced by the most famous exponent of that area code, Aaron Spelling himself. The film is a cavalcade of late ’70s/early ’80s cinematic talent, starring Dennis Weaver, from one of the most famous traumatizing made-for-TV spectacles ever, 1971’s Duel, as well as TV’s Rhoda, Valerie Harper, who was also a character on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. The film also stars Ruth Gordon, Maude from Harold And Maude, as the wily battleaxe grandmother; Oliver Robins, the brother from the Poltergeist movies who almost got his braces plugged into a light socket; and the main attraction, Robin Ignico as the youngest daughter, Mary, here fresh off the set of the movie adaptation of Annie.
The movie begins with the family moving into a sprawling country estate outside of L.A. with their grandmother, looking for a fresh start. See, there’s been a tragedy; the oldest daughter, Jennifer, died in a car accident, nearly ripping the family to pieces in the process. It seems that normal life could be resumed, until…
Mary starts seeing dead people.
More specifically, Mary starts seeing the ghost of her dead sister, Jennifer. And not just seeing her – talking to her. Playing with her. Mary starts spending A LOT of time with her dead sister, and begins to change from the cherubic, blonde-haired innocent at the beginning of the film.
Jennifer, played by Kristin Cummings, who would go on to be on Silver Spoons and The Facts Of Life (o, those 80s memories are piling up, now), convinces Mary that the family are going to move, that they’re going to separate the two sisters again. Something must be done…
What begins is a war of attrition against the family members, as they are eliminated, one by one, as an act of revenge for the eldest daughter’s demise.
As ever, with any kind of horror/suspense/thriller, i don’t like to give away too many details, as the details and surprises are most of the fun. Suffice it to say that this is a merciless horror drama, surprisingly bleak and hopeless for the TV (or for any screen, for that matter).
The bummer vibes and high body count are the first, and most shocking aspect of this lost opus. The other most noticeable feature, even more important, is the in-depth and real portrayal of a family ripped to shreds by grief and blame. This can be seen, most poignantly, in a scene in Kevin’s bedroom, where Philip (the father), who has taken to drinking constantly, is trying to feed his son’s iguana, the sinister Ed, and breaks down sobbing, putting his arm around his wife’s shoulders, saying simply “We’re going to get through this”.
Pretty much the entirety of Don’t Go To Sleep takes place inside the country estate (the unsubtly labelled 13666, whose exterior is featured about a billion times), which places this firmly within the Gothic Tradition. The Gothic, almost always, takes place within a home (which is why most ghost stories are of the gothic tradition), and have to do with families, traditions, and secrets.
Because of this, Gothic tales have the ability to be more disturbing and frightening than either Cosmic Horror, or random horrorshow slasher mayhem. It’s more relatable, strikes closer to home. It’s unsettling, it creeps in and gets inside you.
There’s some lovely acting, from all involved, with some genuinely moving depictions of families dealing with grief. It all builds to a bonfire conclusion, involving an ominous pizza cutter, that manages to be both creepy AND utterly terrifying, and has left generations of viewers feeling unsettled around those spinning wheels of death.
Don’t Go To Sleep eventually leaves us with a inconclusive ending of Let’s Scare Jessica To Death proportions, which will probably drive the most literal minded crazy, but just adds to the sense of creeping unease of this film.
This film is not perfect – it’s overlong, and stuffed with padding, like those exterior shots i mentioned above. But it’s partially for this reason that i chose to feature and spotlight this film, as a lot of these oddball nonsequiturs, like the 1001 shots of iguana foreshadowing, that would never make the cut in today’s hyperpop horror climate.
It is this incidental details, these passing moments, that end up being some of the most sublime, of art from the past. Could be a passing piece of music, or a bit of set design; a memorable performance from yr favorite actor, a sidelong glance, an implication. Where actors are allowed to ACT, and directors are allowed to get freaky and weird.
I love and admire a lot of today’s razor sharp editing, but we must never forget the weird and the incidental. For the devils are in the details, and you never know where you’ll find inspiration.
This film is nearly impossible to find, which is another reason i chose to shed some light on it. I managed to find a poor quality VHS rip, and i feel that it is important for people to see this film, lest it vanish into dust. So for all you horror lovers, who either remember this from the first time around, or for those looking for new bizarrities, let’s watch a film together this afternoon.
Read more reviews:
kindertrauma (kindertrauma is THE BEST!)
interview with Oliver Robins at icons of fright