On December 10th, 1982 ABC aired the horror-thriller DONâ€™T GO TO SLEEP at 9PM. This â€œABC Friday Night Movieâ€ was produced and directed by Richard Lang, executive produced by Aaron Spelling & Douglas S. Cramer, and written by actor/screenwriter Ned Wynn. The unique production combined BAD SEED-inspired evil child elements with the popular slasher movie formula of its day while still tightly embracing the heart of a classic gothic ghost story. The end result (in my opinion anyway) is arguably the best made-for-TV horror film of its decade.
When recovering from the death of a child maybe itâ€™s not a good idea to move into a house with the address of 13666.
Dad Phillip (Dennis Weaver), Mom Laura (Valerie Harper), daughter Mary (Robin Ignico) son Kevin (Oliver Robins), and cantankerous grandma Bernice (the great Ruth Gordon) are hoping for a new start after eldest child Jennifer (Kristin Cumming) died in a tragic car fire. Allâ€™s well until the ghost of Jennifer seemingly appears before Mary, vocalizing a grudge that wonâ€™t be satiated until the entire family is dead. Is Mary mad as a hatter and hallucinating her sister or has her devious sibling really come back for revenge? In any case, burning beds, iguana-induced heart attacks, rooftop falls and baths with electricity ensue. Eventually, Mary is prime suspect number one and is fitted with a child-sized straight jacket and shoved into a padded room where she recounts the genesis of the horror and becomes the poster child for those suffering from middle child syndrome everywhere.
Two scenes, in particular, seem to have been seared into viewerâ€™s memories deeper than others. One involves a pizza cutter being used as a threatening murder weapon (hey, this was during the eighties slasher boom when literally no tool found in a kitchen, garage, or barn was out of bounds as an instrument of death), and the other concerns the movieâ€™s door slamming mind-blowing closure. The latter delivers a visual so eerie that it boggles the mind how it could be so perfectly constructed without some kind of trickery. I wonâ€™t spoil much here but it presents the creepiest Cheshire Cat grin I pray Iâ€™ll ever have to witness. Not since I think, THE HAUNTING (â€˜63) has a singular image carried so much phantasmagorical weight.
Momentary lapses toward soap opera histrionics aside, DONâ€™T GO TO SLEEP delivers an exceptionally dark vision of family dysfunction, sibling rivalry, grief, and finally insanity. Unlike the same yearâ€™s ghost spectacle POLTERGEIST (which shares actor Oliver Robins) thereâ€™s no â€œphew!â€ happy relief ending and few family members survive. You may need a neck brace for the way this movieâ€™s mood swings from campy to cutthroat to undeniably uncanny and back again. Absurdities abound (that pizza cutter!) but donâ€™t be surprised if this TV movieâ€™s final image is difficult to shake from your brain.
Love these recounts, always end up watching the films after reading them. Got it playing right now woohoo!
Excellent choice! I just saw this movie recently and was really impressed by it. How could you not be when it stars Valerie Harper AND Dennis Weaver?! The scene of Weaver in the bathtub sticks in my mind. The whole movie has that made-for-TV malaise and sadness to it — but in a good way that totally works in context!
Just watched this again for the first time since … 1982. I misremembered pretty much everything. I distinctly recall thinking that the girl in the final scene was Mary, escaped from the asylum. I thought the iguana was a snake. I seemed to recall actually seeing Kevin’s head explode upon hitting the pavement (I wonder why…) Anyway, pretty traumatizing.
Talk about people who shouldn’t be breeding, holy God; this family was a group of assholes.
My favorite part was after Mary’s bed bursts into flames, Ruth Gordon says she shouldn’t have been smoking in bed; hilarious.
Dennis Weaver is emblematic of so many insufferable, narcissistic, neurotic, idiot, ineffectual striver yuppie boomers I know and despise.
At one point, Valerie Harper having one of her increasingly frequent breakdowns in front of her daughter in order to elicit sympathy for being such a shitty mother delivers a lachrymose eulogy for “poor sweet little Kevin”; poor sweet little Kevin? Kevin was a little dick and she raised him. He shoulda went up on the roof years ago.
I can see why Jennifer wanted to off the lot of’em.