Saturday, May 07, 2011

The Sleep of Death – review

Director: Calvin Floyd

Release Date: 1981

Contains spoilers

Despite being in ‘In a Glass Darkly’, the volume by J Sheridan Le Fanu that contained Carmilla, the story ‘The Room in the Dragon Volant’ was not a tale of the supernatural and only mentioned the word vampire once, when dismissing peasant superstitions generally.

This adaptation of the story, however, does have a vampiric undercurrent. It is no spoiler to say that there isn’t a vampire in the film, what it contains is a belief in vampires and an exploitation of that belief.

It begins in 1793 during the French Revolution and one Count St. Alyre (Curd Jürgens) is locked in the Bastille. A guard enters and informs him he has a visitor, a priest come to offer him the last rites before he goes to the guillotine. The priest, however, passes him a bottle containing what St. Alyre describes as the Sleep of Death. Once alone he takes the concoction and the guards rush in to find him dead.

Robert and Sean
Cut to England in 1815 and Robert Terence (Brendan Price) is the son of a Gentleman Farmer. He spends his time messing with women (and receiving a book from a friend that allegedly contains a foolproof roulette system). He has been prevented from going on his Grand Tour by his father (Christopher Casson), who believes Europe too unstable and has chosen, much to Robert’s disgust, a bride for him. However his father dies and, within three months, Robert and his servant Sean (Niall Toibin) are in France.

dangerous eyes
Their carriage is nearly run off the road by a large black carriage bearing a dragon coat of arms. When the carriage window opens Robert sees a women’s eyes and is immediately obsessed with her. Despite the fact that their wheel needs fixing he has Sean follow the carriage and they just about make it to the inn where the black carriage has stopped. Robert enters the inn, into the rooms’ area, and meets the woman who we discover is the Countess Elga (Marilù Tolo). He has heard her husband shouting like a bore, he is the much older (than the Countess) Count St. Alyre.

neck wound
In the inn a Marquis (Patrick Magee, Track of the Vampire) who claims to have known Robert’s father, introduces himself and they dine together. When the Count and Countess enter the dining hall they are violently confronted by a soldier named Colonel Gaillard (Per Oscarsson). Robert prevents the attack but the Count and Countess immediately leave for Paris. Robert wants to follow and the Marquis suggests they travel together, Sean can follow on. That night Sean goes to a maid’s room but finds her dead – a neck wound.

Patrick Magee as the Marquis
Robert spends a couple of days in Paris (miraculously the roulette system seems to work, at least at first) when the Marquis mentions he has been invited to the countryside, to a village in the estates of the Count St. Alyre, for an annual masked ball the Count throws. The ball is held on St Andrew’s Eve – the night that witches and vampires choose their victims for the coming year. Robert agrees to attend. Long story short, the Countess declares her love for Robert, says her husband is a beast and arranges to run away with him but it is a ruse and eventually she actually drugs Robert with the Sleep of Death.

suffering the sleep of death
The Count is going to steal the young Englishman’s money but worse, as he was supposedly dead and is now alive the villagers believe him a vampire. The Sleep of Death could be said to be like zombie powder, paralysing the user, hiding all signs of life but leaving them alive and aware. Their intention, to distract the locals from their suspicions of the Count, is to inter Robert, have the tomb detected and then stake him. The fact that his blood is not congealed will give the proof of vampirism needed.

vampire detection
During his stay there have been more murders, specifically with neck wounds. Wolves have also been heard back in the region. Rumour spreading has connected the appearance of Robert with these events. The method of detection is to be the traditional naked male (virgin, presumably) youth on a white horse that will be led through the graveyard and, where it refuses there is the vampire.

brandishing a stake
Will the plan work? Will Robert be saved? I’m not telling.

The acting seemed good enough throughout this and I liked the use (by the filmmakers) and abuse (by the characters) of some of the traditional lore. There was a decent atmosphere generated but the film did take a while to get to the point and meandered along before then. The vhs print I watched was a little too dark in places and the film could do with a digital clean up and DVD release. 5.5 out of 10.

My thanks to Suzi who put me on to this film.

The imdb page is here.

Sleep of Death on Amazon US


RoseOfTransylvania said...

Sounds like there is good ideas and grest cover!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

some good ideas but the general film needed tightening up a bit