ARROW IN THE HEAD REVIEWS

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If I Die Before I Wake (1998)
Written by: The Arrow
Director: Brian Katkin

Starring:
Stephanie Jones/LaurieBeth
Muse Watson/Daryll
Michael McCleery/T.J.
Anthony Nicosia/Billy
PLOT-CRUNCH
Three psycho brothers (Watson, McCleery, Nicosia) break into an “average” suburban home at night while the unsuspecting family is asleep. They proceed to do a bit of drinking, killing and raping. What they don’t know is that the family’s teen daughter (Jones) is hiding in the house and she’s feeling a tad pissed about what they’re doing to her loved ones. Knives, fireplace pokers and broken glass get into the mix.
THE LOWDOWN
Get ready for a harsh time. This film starts off by establishing a “normal” family doing what they do before going to bed every night (brilliantly shot) and then BANG...it happens. Three intruders barge into the house and paint the walls red. “If I Die Before I Wake” is a throwback to those hard to sit through 70’s chillers. Think “The Hills Have Eyes”, "The Last House On The Left" or "I Spit On Your Grave". What sets this one apart from its forefathers is that A) it begins right away with hardly any character exposition before the fact and B) it’s less graphically violent.

This flick had me on the edge of my seat and occasionally had my stomach in knots. Now that’s rare for me. For most of its running time, the movie actually puts you into the lead girl’s (Jones) shoes so you feel what she feels. She does a lot of sneaking around, running around and attempts at escape, and we’re right there with her. It helps that Stephanie Jones kicks some serious acting arse. I got emotionally involved in her character and that’s mainly due to her performance and reactions. But as the flick moved forward and the bad guys developed, the tension eased up a bit. But just a bit, I felt stressed out 90 percent of the time while watching this movie.

I especially appreciated the film holding back on the more brutal events. For example, the two rape scenes are mainly suggested here instead of fully shown. Now that didn’t really change the impact that those scenes had on me, it just made them easier to digest. The sadism of what was happening hit home even harder when the killers eventually watched a home movie of the family at the beach. At that point, you really got a feel of who the people getting tortured were. After the home movie, I felt even more repulsion and an extra dose of hatred towards the villains (I hated them already though). I felt real sad for the family.

But the film isn’t perfect. It does have the occasional bad line (Watson sometimes has semi-bad ones, especially during his monologue) and the sometimes stupid “horror movie” moves (why go back in the chimney?). Also, I couldn’t help but get a feeling of déjà vu while watching this flick. Three nutty brothers invading a home. One of the brothers is kind of a good guy…”Desperate Hours”, anyone? And the conclusion of the film, although still very exciting, kind of hops in the more generic “slasher” mold with the big rooftop fight and all.

In the end, all of these things didn’t really affect the sheer power that this film had on me, especially since we could all relate to the events happening on-screen, which could happen to any one of us. Which is what makes you hate the villains even more and gets you rooting like crazy for LauraBeth (Jones) to get them. Killer: "You’re going to die, bitch!" Teen girl: "We’ll see". I almost applauded at that moment. I was like: get that fucker, baby girl! Yes, this is a manipulative movie. We can debate on its artistic merit for hours but I won't. The important thing is that it made me feel something and affected me. You can’t take that away from it. Don’t bother locking your doors, just sleep with a gun under your pillow.
GORE
Not much gore but a lot of suggested brutal violence (like rape and rape). We do get lots of slapping around, a couple of stabbings and one nasty eye gouging.
ACTING
Stephanie Jones (LaurieBeth) gives a very powerful performance. The looks of anger, sadness and vengeance she often expressed really hit me. I felt for her. Someone make this one a star already! Muse Watson’s (Daryll) character makes the hookman that he played in "I Know What You Did Last Summer" look like a pussy. He handles this violent part very well and although he sometimes bordered on the line of camp, he still scared the shite out of me. Michael McCleery (T.J.) does fine as the thug with a conscience. He worked for me. Anthony Nicosia (Billy) is the weakest actor here but the film doesn’t focus on him. CoryAnn Sennett (Mary) is too convincing as the little sister stuck in all of this. Is she scarred for life now?
T & A
None and I didn’t want any.
DIRECTING
I loved how the director cut between the family sleeping and the front door chain in the opening; great way to start it off! The flick doesn’t go overboard on style, which is good because it kind of gives the film that “reality” look; we get a lot of handheld camera. Hints of style do pop up here and there but it doesn’t distract us away from the story. Props to the director for sustaining levels of constant tension throughout the whole flick. That’s quite a feat.
SOUNDTRACK
A somber score that is at times very depressive. An opera song is also used during the home movie segment, which amplifies the sadness of it all. Yes, I did gulp…
BOTTOM LINE
The tag line on the box cover of this film says something like: "lock your doors at night". The thing is that this family DID lock their doors at night but they were STILL put through hell. The flick works because it taps into something that we can all relate to; in this crazy world...anything can happen. This movie is certainly not fun in a popcorn way but it sure is engrossing. It has a relentless pace and will keep your eyes glued to the screen. Be warned though...this is a tough film to watch. Are you up for it?
BULL'S EYE
The film was shot in Agoura Hills California.

Most movie databases say that this film was shot in 1998 (although it was released in the States in 2001) but in the end credit it says Copyright 1996. Guess this one’s been on the shelves for a couple of years.
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