It’s 1981 and the girls of Alpha Gamma Theta sorority are having a party. Amy, sick of living in the dorms, invites her roommate Ava to attend the party with her in hopes that they’ll both become Thetas. As the girls arrive, so does an uninvited guest watching them in the shadows. Amy’s choice quickly becomes a nightmare as the Theta girls begin to disappear one by one. Announcing his victims, the killer calls the house whispering the next to die. The police hunt for the missing girls and the killer, but will they find him in time? Or will all the girls sleep for good?
Christine Caprilozzi caught up with director, Justin Russell, to talk about The Sleeper.
Horror News Network: “The Sleeper” is a total throwback to the eighties. Although, the manner in which its shot is supposed to look eighties, the girls dorm feels a bit like the original “Black Christmas.” Tell us about the concept, and inspiration to keep everything real to the time period?
Justin Russell: The concept really came out of my deep love for the slasher film. They are my favorite of the genre. So when I sat down to write “The Sleeper,” I tried to keep it as true to my predecessors as I could. The problem with producing a period piece is always money. The Sleeper was made for such a small budget that a lot of the look and feel was created by the large pieces. When I wrote it, I knew where most of these locations were and I knew that they all still looked pretty retro. So when I didn’t have the money for wardrobe or other props, I’d try to focus on the big stuff. Keeping any cars out of the shots. Showcasing the house. Bringing in an old police car for a day just to have something from the era. I would have loved to have had an art department working on this, but it was essentially myself and ebay working to make it look just right.
Horror News Network: Your stalker is super creepy. Does he have a back story?
Justin Russell: The one thing I am not a fan of in the slasher film is the back story. In some cases it’s fine, like Friday the 13th. But in most cases I just want to see a madman going after some innocent co-eds. So when I wrote the character I never thought of him as very three dimensional. I wanted him to have a presence, which Crabtree absolutely nailed, but I wanted his motivation to essentially be â€˜The Slasher Film.’ Look at how they walked, moved, killed and lets go with that. A lot of those films were rushed into production to capitalize on the trend, so I tried to go about producing my film the same way. I wasn’t overly concerned with plot holes and back stories because I wanted it to feel like the studio just went for it as quick as possible.
Justin Russell: Crabtree and I met through a mutual friend and I always loved his presence. I didn’t know him that well when I wrote the story, but I really wanted him for the part. We were at our friend’s house and I told him I wanted him to play the part. A week later I called him and said, “So I was kinda serious about you playing the part.” And he responded with ” I’m kinda serious about playing it.” The film would have been nothing without his presence and his dedication to the film.
Horror News Network: There is one particular scene that’s pretty suspenseful. Without giving too much away, the “dark theatre scene,” where Amy is hiding under the seats, was the whole walking around the theatre and hitting every seat scripted?
Justin Russell: Yes and no. I wanted a really great chase scene in the film, followed by a long suspenseful â€˜wait and see’ moment. I originally had the character of Amy running into a cafeteria on the campus, trying to escape. Well, I re-wrote the scene when I was location scouting and found an old middle school. They allowed me to walk around and scout the whole building without anyone, so I just started opening up doors. I ended up opening the door to this amazing abandoned theater and my mind went to work. Before I even had the location locked down I was walking the theater and dreaming up the shots. We ended up only having the location for 3 hours, with 3 other scenes to film in the hallways, so that scene was practically shot in real time! It ended up being one of my favorite scenes in the film.
Horror News Network: I have to ask about another scene. The 1980’s, new wave, white kid, group line dance?? Whose idea was that? Who choreographed it? It was a personal highlight for me.
Justin Russell: That scene has become very controversial in a lot of reviews. No one really knows how to take it. The dance scene was my idea after watching Prom Night and noticing how many ridiculous dance moments there are. I loved the fact that amidst the chaos and killing, there was this “party” happening at the Night Owl. It was for sure going in the film when I hear James Curd’s Live Forever. That song was so perfect, I had to make sure the dance was in there. The lead, Brittany Belland’s friends actually choreographed the scene for me the night before we shot. That’s how indies are made!
Horror News Network: As for the horror fans, how would you describe the “kill” scenes to them?
Justin Russell: Obviously with an 80’s slasher, you have to have a high body count. When I wrote the story I picked a college campus so that there would be an endless supply to knock off. Again with our limited budget I could only do so much. Some of the kills, the first in particular, are very brutal, while others are somewhat absurd. When I watch a horror film it doesn’t all have to be completely conceivable. Adam Green’s Hatchet had one of the best gore scenes ever, when he rips a woman’s head apart. I sometimes think being able to cheer at a kill and not wince is sometimes more fun. A lot of newer style horror slashers are way too violent and real. I wanted there to be a level of campiness to the kills.
Horror News Network: There are many loose ends, and unanswered questions left at the end of the movie. Are you leaving the door open for “The Sleeper 2”?
Justin Russell: Almost all the slashers from that era ended pretty openly. I wanted it to end with that same sense of uneasiness that, he’s still out there! Don’t close your eyes tonight! If everyone wanted a Sleeper part II, I wouldn’t have any reservations about doing one. They are so much fun to make and really that’s what slasher movies should beâ€¦fun.
Horror News Network: Thanks for your time, Justin.
The Sleeper interview with Justin Russell