The Sleeper is one more piece of retro horror for the fire, a full-fledged attempt to recreate the feel of an early '80s slasher film. It's a pretty successful experiment by writer/director Justin Russell, but that also means the film is hampered by many of the same issues that plagued films like The House on Sorority Row or Madman. It's difficult for me to decide whether or not the presence of those flaws is a good thing or a bad thing about The Sleeper. So let's just talk about the movie for now.
The Sleeper starts with a murder in 1979 - filmed in a classic manner that reminds of Brian De Palma's slasher spoof at the beginning of Blow Out - and quickly moves ahead to 1981, where a proper college girl named Amy (Brittany Belland) is deciding to pledge herself to a sorority and is dragging along her less-sorority-typical roommate Ava (Ali Ferda). The sorority girls - just like any group of sorority girls in a slasher movie - are limited to five girls of varying shades of blonde and brunette, who portray exactly what you'd expect them to. They've got a big house complete with a loving house mother, but they've also got a prank caller who becomes a maniacal killer with a hammer.
The Sleeper is an odd little tribute, because it acts just like an early '80s slasher but doesn't always look like an '80s slasher. The characters' outfits are a glaring example of today's culture shining through the cracks in the film, as is a random disco dance number that comes off like an episode of Glee. (I've never actually seen Glee, but I think this is what it would look like.) I really don't think that's a major problem with the film - there's no rule that says it has to emulate every part of an '80s slasher - because the plot and execution fit so well with films like the ones I mentioned above.
The acting is another part of the film that has been criticized by detractors, but I don't buy their logic. None of the cast members are worthy of any awards for their work here, but they do what they should for this cheap slasher. For the most part, their performances evoke memories of slashers gone by, and I think they deserve more credit than we might initially think. It seems like we have a bunch of less-experienced actors playing roles originated by less-experienced actors, and their work only solidifies The Sleeper's status as an effective tribute.
The final argument will certainly be if any of this really matters, and that's an argument I'm still having with myself. I watched The Sleeper because I knew it was trying to emulate certain films, and for the most part I felt it emulated those films well. If you think the films it's emulating are crap, then you're definitely going to think The Sleeper is crap. If you love things like Happy Birthday to Me or even Black Christmas, you may still find yourself disappointed that The Sleeper doesn't hit all the notes perfectly.
As someone who enjoys slasher films of that era because they make good background noise and allow me to turn my brain off, I'm fine with The Sleeper. It served its purpose for me tonight. Maybe I'll think it's crap later when I'm in one of my "turn your nose up at the inferior slasher film" moods, but for now I think this is the kind of movie I wouldn't mind adding to my late night mindless slasher rotation.
(Oh yeah, and Joe Bob Briggs makes a cameo! That alone is worth the price of admission!)