As I’m sure you have heard numerous times before, and as I myself have stated a few times, Halloween is about the children. The candy, the costumes (at least, until more recent years), trick-or-treating… these are all elements of the Halloween season (and of the day itself) that many associate with children and their having fun at Halloween. As today’s Halloween Horrors topic helps prove that, in certain situations, children can also be creepy as Hell!!
Talking Terror‘s Andrew Guthlein returns to our series for his 4th year to discuss this concept with his take on the 1982 made-for-TV spine-chiller, Don’t Go To Sleep. While examining this evil little Hellspawn, we also get a full-on ghost story, which is always welcome at every Halloween. However, maybe after reading this piece, and watching the full movie with the link included at the end of this post, parents will be less concerned about checking their child’s candy bags and will instead start checking the children for razor blades. Oh, and pizza cutters!
As always, be sure to follow and support King Andy G and the rest of the Talking Terror crew (shout out to my boy, The Mad Monkey) at https://www.blogtalkradio.com/talkingterror! New episodes drop Wednesdays at 9pm EST!
Don’t Go To Sleep (Seriously, just don’t!)
by Andrew Guthlein
ORIGINAL AIRDATE: December 10th, 1982
Horror movies don’t have happy endings. Sure, the final girl (or guy) may survive to see the dawn of a new day, but is it a happy occasion? Well, just go ask the pile of their dead friends if it’s a happy way to wrap things up. I say this because this year, for “Halloween Horrors 2020”, I want to talk about a made-for-television horror film called Don’t Go To Sleep. It’s an obscure title from 1982 and directed by Richard Lang, but it boosts a fairly familiar cast. Spoilers ahead, I don’t just plan on explaining my “no horror happy endings” statement, but I may also ruin pizza cutters for you. Strap in, boys and girls, because the television is on and the movie has just begun!
Following the tragic death of their eldest child Jennifer (Kristin Cummings), a couple, Phillip and Laura (played by Dennis Weaver of “Duel” fame and Valerie Harper of the once popular sitcom “Rhoda“) move with their remaining children, Kevin (Oliver Robbins from Poltergeist) and Mary (Robin Ignico) following a new job opportunity for Phillip. They will also be joined in their new home (which happens to be 13666 – double evil!) by Laura’s mother, Bernice (Ruth Gordon from Rosemary’s Baby and Harold and Maude). Bernice happens to keep framed photos of Jennifer, proudly displayed on her dresser, much to the dismay of Kevin, as this is apparently not allowed for some reason.
Mary seems to be adjusting well to the move. Well, maybe not “so great” as she has fiery flashbacks to the accident that killed her sister, and hearing Jennifer’s voice calling to her… FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE!
Since this is a made-for-TV movie, we tend to get to the action quicker than a theatrically released film. This works for Don’t Go To Sleep because we want to get to the spooky time sooner than later. As the first night kicks off, we have Mary in bed, surrounded by porcelain dolls which just scream “DIE, DIE, DIE!” with their soulless eyes. She’s restless and still hearing Jennifer call to her. Meanwhile, Phillip and Laura decide it’s time to get sexy and break in their bed in this new bedroom. Unfortunately for them, their first class flight to Sexville is cut short because Mary’s bed has burst into flames! To be fair, it was the 1980’s. What wasn’t flammable back then?
Bernice accuses Mary (a child, mind you) of smoking in bed, which for some reason her father seems to feel the need to ask her about… and no, he wasn’t joking. It turns out that the lamp next to her bed had an exposed wire. So, it looks like she’ll be sharing a room with the less than pleased Kevin for a while.
At night, Mary continues to be haunted by this ghostly voice of her sister. She awakens Kevin with screams about making the ghost go away. This forces him to go get their parents, but when the three enter his bedroom, Mary is fast asleep and Phillip and Mary chastise him. Of course, this means Kevin will get his revenge by playing a prank on Mary. No one gets this kid in trouble and goes without paying for it!
The prank involves Kevin recording his own heavy breathing and stomping around on foliage, which he plays that night while they’re in their bunk bed. Mary has a panic attack and runs to her parents, but Phillip is quickly over it and tells her she’s imagining things and to stop being such a child (which she is). Laura’s concern for Mary becomes focused on Bernice’s dresser full of Jennifer’s photos. Laura feels that this is what is causing Mary to be so terrified at night, and maybe Bernice needs to ease up on the dead granddaughter shrine. Following this heartfelt conversation, we reach another night at 13666. This time Mary discovers that Jennifer has been living under her bed this whole time, but man, why won’t anyone believe her?
Mary is busy the next day playing by herself in a field, where she’s making crowns made of yellow flowers. It’s here where Jennifer shows up, looking like an extra from a “Little House on the Prairie” episode. While this happens, Laura and Phillip discuss taking Mary to a psychiatrist, but Phillip is worried that his new employer will think Mary is a lunatic and that he won’t be able to handle the pressure of his new job. So, they let it go because, as we all know, that’s how we solve problems. We forget about them because, what could possibly go wrong?
Unbeknownst to them, Jennifer’s ghost tells Mary that she won’t ever leave her sister’s side again, but she needs her help. All Mary has to do is keep her existence a secret because if she says anything, they’ll tear the sisters apart and that can’t happen. Oh, also? Kevin has got to go and not in a “go off to visit relatives” way. No, Kevin has got to die because Jennifer thinks he’s a snitch, and in this movie, snitches don’t get stitches… they get murdered.
Phillip begins to turn more to his afternoon martinis to go with his newspaper. Bernice begins to wander around and generally get on his nerves. Sometimes, a guy just wants to relax after work by getting blitzed on booze while the news talks about a child that vanished without a trace. We soon find out that this drinking hobby of Phillip’s may have been what caused the accident that killed Jennifer. He was getting handed drink after drink by Bernice at a party and decided to drive the family home. Of course, Bernice denies responsibility, which becomes a death sentence as far as Jennifer is concerned.
That night, Mary and Jennifer conspire on how best to handle Bernice while also getting Kevin in trouble. The answer? They’ll let his pet iguana, Ed, loose in Bernice’s room. She awakens to Ed hanging out under her sheets and she has a heart attack. This isn’t what kills her. What kills her is being taken outside on a stretcher by the EMTs. This ends up being the one that kills her. I don’t know. It doesn’t make sense, but just go with it.
The next day, Kevin plays detective when he discovers that Ed’s cage was tampered with. His first suspect? Mary… but Mary is giving zero fucks! Mainly because she hates iguanas, thinks “Ed” is a stupid name for one, and she has better things to do than listen to Kevin act like he’s on to her. With Kevin’s time being limited because he’s still on the “Jennifer Revenge Tour 1982” schedule. Mary visits a psychiatrist, Doctor Cole, but she isn’t nervous because (of course) Jennifer will tell her everything she needs to say so she will come off sounding sane.
One day, Kevin and Mary are playing with a frisbee. He is teaching her on the proper way to throw it, but she ends up tossing it onto the roof of the house. Kevin boldly climbs up onto the roof to retrieve it, but this was a fatal mistake. An unseen force pushes a double window open and Kevin falls to his death. There’s a weird moment here where a funeral home employee can’t figure out how to lower the coffin into the ground. I don’t know if it was played for comedy in 1982, but I was more concerned with where the family is coming up with the cash for all these funerals.
Phillip is pretty broken down by this point. He’s mourning his son and now drinking martinis as though it’s formula for immortality. Laura is barely holding it together herself because she’s just as hurt about Kevin’s death. Ed the iguana offers no sympathy because he’s an accessory to murder and, also, an iguana. Mary wants to stop the killing, but Jennifer informs her that her parents are selling the house and tossing her in a mental asylum forever.
Dr. Cole suggests therapy for Phillip and Laura, as well as continued therapy for Mary, but Phillip is concerned about the cost and decides that they’ll just figure things out without psychiatric help. That night, Phillip takes a bath with bottomless martinis while listening to a baseball game on the radio. Mary enters the bathroom to use a hair dryer following a shower, and the two discuss why Mary hates pepperoni on pizza (since that’s what’s for dinner.) The radio is soon knocked into the tub, and the lights, along with Phillip, are now dead.
As Laura investigates, Mary cuts slices from the pizza that Laura has brought home. Mary gets a little too “slice happy” with the cutter and soon begins to use it, tracing a greasy path up the stairs where Laura is searching. Somehow, this pizza cutter is so strong, it can cut a phone line. Laura discovers Phillip’s body in the tub and a chase ensues with a wild-haired Mary holding a pizza cutter like Michael Myers would hold a kitchen knife. Laura escapes the house and drives to the local hospital, leaving Mary behind to be picked up by the staff from the mental institution.
We next see Mary in a straightjacket in a padded room being interviewed by a new psychiatrist, Dr. Robin Samuel. It’s revealed that on the night that Jennifer died, Mary and Kevin had played a prank on her by tying her shoes together while she slept in the car next to them. They did this because they both felt their parents loved her the most. Phillip, being inebriated, strikes a van and crashes. Everyone manages to escape the car except for Jennifer, due to her shoes being tied together. The car explodes and kills her instantly.
With Mary locked away, Laura is in the house where all these deaths have happened, and trying to sleep. She awakens to a sound coming from the foot of her bed. To her surprise (and possibly, horror), it’s Jennifer. She smiles brightly and says hello to her mother as the credits hit. Could there be a better tragic ending than that for not just a movie, but a TELEVISION movie? Laura’s husband, mother, and two children are dead. All except Jennifer are victims of Mary. So, while I doubt Laura would visit much on Christmas or on Mary’s birthday, this woman is now plagued by the ghost of her eldest daughter, Jennifer. Let’s hear it for tragic endings!