Feb 27th: “Don’t Go To Sleep” (1982)
Celebrating 28 days of underrated 80s cinematic treasures.
I would not have come in contact with this film had it not been for a podcast series I started called 31 Days of Horror, 2018 edition. In that podcast, Andy Lewin and myself gave up with reviewing the 80’s comedy, High Spirits and decided to put out a segment that we called “dream or film” in which we both tell a story, remembering something we believed we had seen from our childhood, but had not encountered it again, making us wonder if it was not a film, but imaginings of our subconscious. I know! That’s quite a pitch, and longer than 25 words.
Andy recalled the family setting, and the old American house. He recalled the staircase, and a little girl who was reminiscent of Carol-Anne in Poltergeist. All of this seemed to be a needle in a haystack of vivid imagery, and by this time I was certain it was a film that he had recalled. It wasn’t until the detail of the little girl, running the pizza cutter down the stair rail that we had something out of the mundane, or the generic to work with.
Indeed the imagery of the pizza cutter led me to Google and sure enough, it led us to this gem of a tv movie. We had already chosen — and near enough wrapped up — on our 31 days list, and so couldn’t include Don’t Go To Sleep in a list.
Don’t Go To Sleep is a genuinely creepy haunted house /possessed girl story, and what’s incredible was that this is simply a TV movies of the week. Without it’s cinematic release, it would be a title that would free roam, beyond its parent, ABC through to other, worldwide networks.
The family in question in this story comprises of the Mother, Laura, played by Valerie Harper, the father, Phillip played by Dennis Weaver. Mary is the guilt-ridden daughter, played magnificently by Robin Ignico, and the typical brat of a brother, Kevin, played by Oliver Robbins. The family have moved into a new/old house, which goes without saying, needs more than a lick of paint.
They bring with them the Grandmother — Laura’s mother — Bernice, playing at full force by Ruth Gordon as the sometimes drinking, always smoking in bed — not in a good way.
The family become the target of a restless spirit. The daughter who died in a fire has come back to seek revenge, albeit to spare Mary of her life. The film plays on a few twists and turns, and is greatly satisfying by the end.
Those who remember this movie, much like Andy, will recall it for getting under the skin, and leaving its mark in memory. No doubt there were moments in the years since that viewers have caught the glint of light from a pizza cutter, finding themselves thrown back, with the sound of carousel orchestration mixed in with the screams of Jennifer’s victims. If you are seeing this for the first time as an adult, by now your palette is well experienced, and the toppings on this movie aren’t going to stir you very far off the plate.
Saying that. No matter when or where you see it, at the very least, preparing pizza and reaching for that pizza cutter may never feel right.
Those with a keen eye would recognise Robin Ignico from her role in Annie. She was Duffy, one of the orphans who danced her way around Aileen Quinn. She’s great in this film, and is able to grasp a lot of what would be quite deep, psychological traits that are years ahead of her sense of youth. Her performance is worth watching. I would have to say however that this film would be nothing worthy of note if it wasn’t for two other factors: Ruth Gordon, and the incredible pizza cutter scene that brought this movie to my attention in the first place.
I think about the latter everytime I run the cutter for a six slice.
Don’t Go To Sleep was spared the criticism or stigma of box office earnings. A made for TV movie is still however given the criticism, all of which was favorable, and yet, still this film is not widely known, nor does it have its crust stuffed with the acclaim that it deserves.
Written by: Stephen Radford