HK and Cult Film News's Fan Box

Friday, December 16, 2011

BEYOND THE WALL OF SLEEP -- movie review by porfle

I'm not sure how the average H.P. Lovecraft fan will react to it, so my impressions of BEYOND THE WALL OF SLEEP (2006) were based solely on the movie itself and not on how well or how badly screenwriter Barrett J. Leigh adapted it from Lovecraft's short story.  As such, I found it to be one of the creepiest and most over-the-top horror films I've seen in recent years.

The story takes place in one of those nightmarish insane asylums (circa 1911) in which the grievously abused and neglected patients serve as guinea pigs in the mad experiments of crazed doctors.  Young Dr. Eischel (Fountain Yount) is conducting his own really interesting experiment on a catatonic, cadaverous-looking woman named Ardelia--strapped to a chair, her skull has been sawed through for easy pop-top access to her brain, into which Dr. Eischel sticks electrodes that are hooked up to a device he uses to stimulate various nerve centers.  I was never really sure what his goal was (something about harnessing the enery of thought), but it didn't really matter because the whole thing was wonderfully weird and horrific. 

Meanwhile, Dr. Wardlow (Kurt Hargan), a profoundly cruel, power-mad alienist (okay, I had to look it up--"alienist: n. 'A physician who has been accepted by a court of law as an expert on the mental competence of principals or witnesses appearing before it'", according to is presiding over the hearing of a wretched piece of human flotsam named Joe Slaader (William Sanderson, BLADE RUNNER, "Newhart"), who has been caught butchering a bunch of his fellow inbred hillbillies and running around in the woods with one of the severed heads.  Dr. Wardlow delights in pointing out Joe's myriad less-appealing qualities, including a large hump in his back that resembles a human face--the result of a fetal twin that didn't quite successfully make it through the gestation process. 

Wardlow, who can't wait to get this guy on an operating table for some good old surgical fun, applies leeches to Joe's body to "suck out the madness" and suggests cutting out the malformed twin, but Dr. Eischel contemptuously derides him as an idiot, initiating an intensely confrontational relationship between the two.  When Dr. Eischel later finds the chance to examine Joe on his own, he discovers that the fetal twin is alive and conscious--in fact, it is the dominant consciousness within the shared body, coming to the fore whenever Joe goes to sleep and telekinetically ripping people to bloody shreds (one of the few coherent things Joe ever says is the chant, "I kiss my loved ones...I go to sleep...I wake up with bad things").  Giddy with anticipation, Eischel vows to circumvent Dr. Wardlow's surgical plans and get Joe hooked up to his brain machine. 

And that's just for starters.  Believe me, this is one weird movie, and it gets weirder by the minute, eventually culminating in a grand, blood-drenched finale in which skulls are drilled, electrodes are implanted into living brains and the brains of several severed heads on spikes, and a terrifying Netherworld creature named Amducious claws its way into our dimension (via some not-so-great CGI). 

Along the way, some of the patients in the asylum find themselves hanging upside-down in their cells by some unseen force as all the flesh is ripped from their bones, and the lovely Ardelia, her body reanimated by Amducious' will, pries the head off of the recently-ousted asylum director who has discovered her in the basement, just as he is about to gleefully rape her.  One thing you have to say about this movie--it's pretty eventful.

It's also very deliberately stylish, and stylized--filmed in black-and-white, with color appearing only in the scenes in which Amducious' presence is felt, BEYOND THE WALL OF SLEEP is a dizzying collage of wild camerawork and sometimes rapid-fire editing, especially in the deeply unsettling dream sequences.  The most unique thing about it, though, which is also the thing that will turn off many viewers, is the highly stylized acting.  Everyone in the cast attacks their characters as though they were performing in a silent movie or perhaps the most melodramatic Grand Guignol theater presentation imaginable, manically emoting for the people in the back row, and this effect is even carried over into the stagelike makeup, costumes, and set design. 

It's purely intentional on the part of directors Barrett J. Leigh and Thom Maurer, and contributes to the heavy layer of black humor that permeates the entire movie, as well as its oppressive sense of unenlightened antiquity.  I'm sure a lot of people will simply regard this as horrible acting, which, in some cases, it may be.  But it worked for me. 

Will Lovecraft fans like this movie?  I have no idea, but judging from their reactions to most of the previous cinematic adaptations of the author's works, probably not.  On its own terms, however, I found it to be a wildly inventive, nightmarish, shocking, funny, and unabashedly bizarre experience that was enough fun for me to disregard its faults.  Plus, it's a visual feast for gorehounds, who will also be pleased to see Tom Savini in an all-too-brief role early on. 

BEYOND THE WALL OF SLEEP is a film that is definitely not for everyone, but if you get hooked into it just right, you may have almost as much fun as Ardelia does when Dr. Eischel sticks an electrode into the pleasure center of her brain and turns up the dial.

Buy it at

No comments: