Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Good concept killed by too low a budget

The Sandman (1996)
Starring: A.J. Richards, Terry J. Lipko, Rita Gutowski, James Viront and Matthew Jason Walsh
Director: J.R. Bookwalter
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

A romance novelist (Richards) suffering from insomnia discovers that a monstrous creature is killing his neighbors in their sleep. Will he find a way to stop before he or his girlfreind (Gutowski) become its next victims?

"The Sandman" is a low-budget horror film that has a cool idea at its core but it is one that ineptly implemented from a writing and filmmaking point of view.

First of all, the script is sloppily written, with a major extraneous character that comes and goes throughout the film and whose presence ends up not adding anything to the film but a few mild chuckles and running-time. There's also a redundant delivery of information about the Sandman, information that's delivered primarily for the viewers' benefit but which we have to sit through twice, with one of the instances being particularly badly motivated and unnecessary. (Our hero, Gary, needs to know the legend of the Sandman and the source he gains it from makes a lot of sense--an unhinged Vietnam veteran played for laughs by James Viront who has confronted the creature in the past--but his girlfriend gets the same information and she gets it out of left field in a badly motivated scene.)

Second, the film is badly staged and poorly acted from beginning to end. Only the actors playing the comic relief characters do a decent job (with Lipko and Walsh being the best), while those called upon to drive the horror aspect of the film are very unconvincing in their parts. It's not entirely the fault of A.J. Richards and Rita Gutowski (who play Gary and his love interest respectively), as they are working with some badly written dialogue and poorly edited and filmed scenes. Part of the lack of drama arises from pauses in action or dialogue that could have been fixed with tighter editing, although nothing but additiinal drafts of the script or better filmmaking could have improved the other problems.

For every cool coment in the film, there is a botched one. For example, when Gary tries to shoot the Sandman with a gun, he strikes back with his magical scicle, destroying the gun in a shower of sparks, but then the fight loses momentum when Gary picks up a baseball bat in a badly staged scene where the editing gives you the sense that the Sandman is politely waiting for him to arm himself again instead of pressing the attack.

"The Sandman" is one of those low-budget horror films that had me wishing someone with either more money or more skil would remake (and tighten the script in the process), because there's an excellent fantasy/horror movie that didn't quite make it to the screen with this version. (I've got another of writer/producer/director J.R. Bookwalter's films in my Stack of Stuff that actually did get the remake treatment; both Bookwaler's original film and the remake are on the same DVD, and I'm looking forward to reviewing them side-by-side. He's obviously got good ideas, but is either lacking the talent or the experience to properly bring them forward in this film.)

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