SandmanBookwalterA fairly recent (1996) outing from no-budget auteur J.R. Bookwalter, who made the zombie classic DEAD NEXT DOOR.  Those familiar with Bookwalter’s post-DND work won’t be surprised to hear that the shot-on-video SANDMAN isn’t very good…but then (and this IS a surprise), it’s not all that bad, either.

The 1988 no-budget wonder THE DEAD NEXT DOOR was J.R. Bookwalter’s filmmaking debut, and remains the high point of his career.  After performing various duties on a number of forgettable flicks, Bookwalter aspired to Roger Corman status with the 1991 formation of his own distribution company Tempe Video (which in addition to Bookwalter’s own work released Scooter McCrae’s SHATTER DEAD and many other horror themed no-budgeters), but his films, all shot on video with VERY limited budgets, just weren’t good enough to justify that ambition.

According to a mini-biography published on the IMDB, Bookwalter believes horror movies “don’t have to be different, or even have effort put into them…but just a product.”  I have my doubts about the veracity of that claim, but it would explain Bookwalter bombs like ROBOT NINJA (1990) and ZOMBIE COP (1991).  To that list I’d add (although I know they’ve been well received by some) OZONE (1993) and POLYMORPH (1996).

J.R. now makes movies for Charles Band’s Full Moon.  I haven’t seen any of them, but I don’t hold much hope that HELL ASYLUM or WITCH HOUSE 2 will be worth my time.  A shame, really, as THE SANDMAN, Bookwalter’s last pre-Full Moon directorial effort, shows that he might have been ready to make a decent film…though I stress might.

Like most—on second thought, make that all—of J.R. Bookwalter’s films, THE SANDMAN’S story is a mite derivative of another, much better horror movie, which in this case should become evident fairly quickly.

Gary is a romance novelist suffering from writer’s block; dozing off at his computer one night, he sees a pair of glowing red eyes staring through the blinds of his trailer.  That’s his first glimpse of the Sandman, an evil creature who enters the dreams of the trailer park’s inhabitants and kills them in their sleep; the Sandman, it seems, doles out good dreams in exchange for people’s souls.  Gary realizes he has to do something, and together with a nutty Vietnam vet decides to take the Sandman on…

In a “making of” featurette that plays at the end of the tape, Bookwalter and co-screenwriter Matthew Jason Walsh disavow any connection to A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET.  Sorry, but based upon the rampant plagiarism of Bookwalter’s previous features (even THE DEAD NEXT STOOR, diverting though it is, blatantly rips off George Romero’s zombie movies), I don’t buy it.

With THE SANDMAN J.R. Bookwalter chose to make a feature with NO gore, a pretty tall order for a director whose previous films nearly all relied on excessive blood and slime to maintain audience interest…and it’s not like the story here is particularly original or compelling.  The acting, for its part, ranges from hopeless to merely bad (not helped by Bookwalter’s clumsy attempts at “quirky” dialogue and characterization) and the dream sequences, hampered by the low budget, are frankly pretty sorry.

I can’t totally dismiss the film, however, as it has a number of effective elements.  The camerawork is impressive and the visuals have a glossy, professional sheen (bolstered, apparently, by the use of a “Film look” optical process).  The climax, for its part, is a memorable one, boasting some surprisingly effective special effects.  Best of all is the Sandman himself, a cloak wearing, demonic presence with large skeletal hands and glowing red eyes–a great monster, to be sure, but a so-so movie.

Vital Statistics

Tempe Video/E.I. Independent Cinema

Director/Producer/Editor: J.R. Bookwalter
Screenplay: Matthew Jason Walsh, J.R. Bookwalter
Cinematography: Ron Bonk
Cast: A.J. Richards, Rita Gutowski, Terry J. Lipko, James Viront, Barbara Katz-Norrod, Stan Fitzgerald