Tuesday, August 1, 2017

In short: The Stay Awake (1988)

Somewhere in “Europe”. A group of Catholic school girls and their teacher are locked into their school for a stay awake – a night of movies, potato chip munching and aerobics, apparently.

Alas, for reasons the film never bothers to disclose, the demonic spirit of obviously Gacey inspired dead American serial killer William John Brown (Lindsay Reardon), calling himself the Angel of Darkness whenever an opportunity arises, has chosen this night and school for his Angel of Darkness-y business, namely murder, and some sort of plan possibly concerning the conception of the anti-christ and suggested rape via tentacle tongue. Though I might be misreading Brown’s plan or position in the hierarchy of evil. What I’m sure of is that the girls’ teacher will turn out to be rather more spunky than the undead serial killer might have imagined.

John Bernard’s The Stay Awake belongs to the small number of South African horror movies, and shares with the handful of other genre entries I’ve seen from the country a really confusing script (also by Bernard), a low budget, and an interesting concept of pacing. The script is vague when it probably should be precise (see: what’s the supernatural menace up to, and why does he do it in “Europe”, and to these girls?), rambles in a way that suggests a first draft, uses zero characterisation and can’t even make use of the film’s more interesting ideas in a vaguely effective manner.

On the other hand, when you’re used to wading through the less savoury or just obscure little by-ways of horror cinema, little things like a terrible script and a film that moves like molasses won’t stop you from finding something to appreciate about an epic like The Stay Awake. Consequently, while I found myself rather bored for most of the running time, I also somewhat admired the film’s from time to time semi-effective lighting and the standard disembodied monster camera as given to us by Saint Raimi; and while it certainly added to the general tedium, the incredible length of some of these sequences that suggest a monster not hurling towards some evil deed so much as one that has gotten lost in the school’s hallways is more than just a bit hilarious, now that I think about it.

The demon suit our killer sometimes wears is pretty funny too, as is the tongue tentacle and the general awkward way most of the horror sequences are staged, full of characters that tend to position themselves in the frame in often completely absurd ways so that Bernard can get his shocks in. There’s also rampant Catholicism, cheesy teen dialogue, an excellently primitive synth score, rubbery gore and quite a bit of general nonsense trying to break up the general tedium. If that starts to sound as if I (sort of) recommend The Stay Awake, you’re probably the kind of viewer who might get something out of it.

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