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TCM Underground - October 2018
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Remind Me

Dead Sleep

A late entry in the cycle of Australian thrillers that had been big business since Patrick (1978), Dead Sleep went straight to video in the United States but was intended as a significant theatrical release in its native country from one of the biggest distributors, Village Roadshow Pictures. It was common practice to import an American star or two to give extra sales potential for suspense films made in the Down Under, with the inclusion of Jamie Lee Curtis in Road Games (1981) and P.J. Soles in Innocent Prey (1984). This film was no exception with Linda Blair starring as Maggie, a nurse who suspects that something is terribly wrong with a new medical approach called - yes - "Dead Sleep" that can harm or even kill psychiatric patients for financial gain. The film belongs to the small but potent tradition of hospital terror made famous by Robin Cook's Coma and its 1978 film adaptation by Michael Crichton, with other subsequent entries including Terminal Choice (1985) and Anatomy (2000).

This is the second and final film directed by Alec Mills, best known as a camera operator on James Bond films from On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) through Octopussy (1983). Dead Sleep also marked the first produced screenplay by Michael Rymer, an Australian who would go on to direct the troubled Queen of the Damned (2002) and work extensively as a producer and director on the TV series Hannibal as well as the revival of Battlestar Galactica. Of course, this wouldn't be a so-called Ozploitation film without a score composed by Brian May (not to be confused with the Queen band member), the name most closely associated with homegrown action, horror and mystery films including Thirst (1979), The Road Warrior (1981) and Escape 2000 (1982), among many others.

This film was actually the first of two features Blair made in Australia around the turn of the decade, followed by lesser-seen Fatal Bond (1991), also sent straight to U.S. video. Although still best known as the young star of The Exorcist (1973), Blair had proven herself as a reputable and wide-ranging actress capable of carrying everything from women-in-prison sagas to goofball comedies. The Missouri-born actress and passionate animal welfare crusader had just lampooned her most famous role in the spoof Repossessed (1990), which would prove to be her last headlining theatrical release in U.S. theaters to date. However, she has remained in high demand in TV and video projects ever since, including a strong guest turn on Supernatural and even a cameo in Scream (1996).

Dead Sleep was shot from March to April of 1990 in Brisbane, the capitol of Queensland and Australia's third-largest city. Though not as busy as some other locations on the continent, it has been a steady filming location for many films over the years, most recently including such titles as Thor: Ragnarok (2017) and Unbroken (2014). Though much of the film takes place inside interior sets, the opening minutes provide an expansive snapshot of the city, including a picturesque view of the distinctive Story Bridge. The finale also offers a peek at the nearby coast including its black rock cliff and beach - though how they're put to use will have to remain a surprise until you watch the film.

By Nathaniel Thompson

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