Final Kill Pictures' New Film 'Waking Nightmare' Is A Sweet Dream For Horror Fans

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Som·nam·bu·lism (som namˊbye lizˊem), n. SLEEPWALKING; see also: som·namˊbu·list, n. som·namˊbu·lisˊtic, adj.

Chronic sleepwalking affects roughly two million sufferers in the United States alone. Children are more prone to the behavior than adults, though two out of every 100 over the age of eighteen report repeated occurrences of unaware nocturnal wandering. A vast spectrum of sleepwalking activities have been recorded: sleep-eating, sleep-sex, sleep-shoplifting, sleep-tightrope walking, even, most disturbingly, sleep-murder. On August 16, 1943, Kentucky government official Carl Kiger and his son Jerry were killed by Carl’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Jo Ann, who shot them both numerous times while dreaming that an intruder had broken into their house; in November, 1946, Arkansas chicken farmer William Pollard bludgeoned his four-year-old daughter to death with a flashlight while fast asleep; American Staff Sergeant Eugene Boshears woke up on New Year’s Day 1961 to find he’d strangled an English woman with whom he’d spent the previous night. All three offenders were ignorant of their own nighttime actions, and all three were acquitted.

It’s fascinating yet disquieting cases such as these that filmmakers Steve Craig and Brian Farmer mine for their new Final Kill Pictures/Holy Tera Toma movie, Waking Nightmare. A heady hallucinogenic brew of bad dreams, broken trust and murder, the plot centers on Jordan (Shelley Regner), a 23-year-old Harvard dropout who’s ever-worsening lifelong sleepwalking condition was recently re-triggered by the abrupt suicide of her college roommate. Living back home again and experiencing nightly sojourns that leave her rousing in unfamiliar places, Jordan encounters friction with her high-strung mother, Danielle (Diane Franklin), a woman whose main hobbies include smoking cigarettes and obsessively listening to the same self-help cassette tape, and her overgrown frat-boy dad (Jamison Newlander). Seeking solace with an old hometown bestie, saucy punkette Zoey (Kelly Leon Guerrero), Jordan’s situation further deteriorates one evening when she awakens from yet another night terror to discover herself covered in blood. When police investigators begin poking around and posing questions that imply two recent slayings may have been committed by Jordan during her somnabulistic escapades, the story takes a wild right turn into some truly psychotic territory.

An intentional Dali-esque surrealness imbues the narrative of Waking Nightmare.At times solidly real but devolving into the irrational at any given moment, the dream sequences are a fragmented psychedelic head trip that vividly portray the landscape of an unraveling psyche to perfection. As a lead, Regner’s Jordan is a compelling exhibition of a woman driven to her physical and emotional limits by the lingering, if misplaced, guilt she feels at the sudden death of her friend. Co-director Brian Farmer’s script, too, is a wringing internal journey; with its sparse running time (an hour and some change), compact plot and skillful characterization, it leads the viewer softly by the hand into the darkest of areas and then brutalizes them with unflinching, squirm-inducing scenes of intense violence sure to please any avid gorehound.

Even if it sometimes has the feel of a television episode or short film stretched to the barest minimum requirement for feature length, tiny self-referential gestures (including nods to The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, a lively on-screen debate over the merits of slasher flicks, and a brief appearance by actor David Naughton of An American Werewolf In London fame) go a long way in showcasing the filmmakers’ genuine genre passions. More than anything, however, Waking Nightmare is a harrowing depiction of a crumbling mind, a destabilized family and the lengths some people will go to protect their loved ones, and for those reasons I hereby grant it a solid 4 (out of 5) on my Fang Scale. If you happen to see Waking Nightmare pop up on the menu of your favorite streaming service, do yourself a favor and give it a watch. Sweet dreams.

4.0 / 5.0