Damn horror movies always telling me what I can and cannot do. Don’t go in the house, they say. Don’t be afraid of the dark. Don’t open the door! Don’t go in the woods (alone). And now I can’t go to sleep?
This is such a common format for horror movie titles, I can’t actually keep up with what I’m allowed to do anymore.
Lame jokes aside, Don’t Go to Sleep is a schlock fun-fest that has everything you could want. Plus Rhoda Morgenstern. And Valerie Harper knows how to always brings a light to absolutely everything.
Laura (Harper) and her husband, Phillip (Dennis Weaver), move to a new house in the countryside after the death of their eldest daughter. With them are their two younger children, Kevin and Mary, and Laura’s elderly mother, Bernice (Ruth Gordon). The street address for the new house is, I shit you not, 13666.
And with an address like that, things are only guaranteed to go wrong. On the first night at the house, Mary’s bed starts on fire after she hears someone calling her name. Phillip discovers that the cord to one of the lamps was frayed an in need of replacing – so the family writes the incident off.
But the following night, while staying in Kevin’s room, Mary begins to shout in her sleep. By the time the boy fetches his parents, Mary has calmed down – making Kevin look a fool. But the boy isn’t going to be kept down as he vows, “No more Mister Nice Guy.” Fun fact, Kevin originated this popular idiom.*
Kevin plays a prank on his sister, scaring the crap out of her. So on the next night, when she hears someone calling to her, she climbs under her bed and asks whoever is there to go ahead kill her. But to her shock and surprise, it’s her dead sister, Jennifer, under her bed. Sitting and grinning like a Cheshire Cat.
Obviously Mary seeing and talking to her dead sister perplexes her parents a bit. They begin to argue whether or not she should see a shrink. Meanwhile, Mary falls asleep outside and speaks to her sister. Jennifer tells her younger sister that it’s their family’s fault that she’s dead and that she wants Mary to avenge her death.
The entire family is obsessed with their guilt over Jennifer’s death. Grandma Bernice creates a sort of shrine in her bedroom of pictures of the girl. Phillip can’t stop drinking. But in the roulette wheel of death, Bernice is first.
In the middle of the night, Kevin’s iguana finds its way into Bernice’s bed. Seeing the reptile gives her a shock so bad it gives her a heart attack and dies.
After another traumatic death, Mary’s parents finally agree to send the girl to a psychiatrist. Her increasingly strange behaviour doesn’t go unnoticed to her family. But with the help of Jennifer, Mary plays down her crazy behaviour in her sessions.
And then it’s little Kevin with the target on his back next. After he continues to argue with Mary (as siblings do), Jennifer focuses her eye on him. He falls off the roof to his death after trying to retrieve the Frisbee that Mary threw there. But at least Mary looks a little bit guilty during her brother’s funeral.
The deaths of two children and Laura’s mom really puts a strain on Laura and Phillip’s relationship. But they try together to pick up the pieces. Though Phillip is also killed after being electrocuted in the bathtub.
It’s this death that makes Laura realise that perhaps her daughter is a bit, well, crazy. While trying to emergency services, Mary cuts the phone line – WITH A PIZZA CUTTER – then proceeds to chase her mom around the house with said kitchen utensil.
Laura gets away from her daughter and is taken to the hospital where she’s told that Mary has been taken to a psychiatric ward. Though Laura is eventually taken home by Mary’s old shrink, she’s told that her daughter will eventually be released – much to the horror of her mother.
We’re then treated to the backstory of the day that Jennifer died. Bernice and Phillip are both a bit wasted, but Phillip drives home the children anyway. During an argument with Laura, Phillip nearly crashes the car, but drives into a field instead.
Having been picked on by her sister all night, little Mary ties her sleeping sister’s shoelaces together as a prank. And after the crash, refuses to help Jennifer out of the car. Then the car blows up. Mary was the least-favourite child, and Jennifer had been the most loved.
Mary, in all her issues, is also Jennifer (I think). Is it a Norman Bates-style possession or are we really supposed to believe that Jennifer is fighting for Mary’s body? IS MARY DEAD? Basically, it’s the most shambolic ending, especially since Jennifer is seen attacking her mother in her bed… Which means she’s not possessing Mary’s body… right?
Despite the ending, I think Don’t Go to Sleep is a fantastic little film if you want an extra helping of cheese on your plate. Yes it’s quite silly, but that’s what makes these things all the more enjoyable. Plus the cast really deliver some great moments, a bit more quality than the typical made-for-TV fest.
*This is not a true fun fact.