DVD REVIEW – Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal

Despite its exploitive title, EDDIE: THE SLEEPWALKING CANNIBAL (2012) is an old-school horror/comedy, a 21st century variation on Roger Corman’s A BUCKET OF BLOOD (1959), with its odd mix of ghoulish fun and satiric jabs at the artistic community and the creative process.

Lars, a famous artist from Denmark (Thure Lindhardt) suffers from “painter’s block” and signs on as a teacher at a small art school in the backwoods of Canada. Lars meets Eddie (Dylan Scott Smith), a traumatized mute – a simpleton, really – who is allowed to attend classes and finger-paint because his aunt is a wealthy patron of the school. When the aunt dies, Lars is coaxed into sharing quarters with the silent, hulking but seemingly harmless Eddie, keeping an eye on him for the good of the school, which will continue to receive financial support from the aunt’s estate. This display of altruism is also Lars’ way of impressing a pretty colleague, sculpture teacher Lesley (Georgina Reilly).

Thure Lindhardt plays Lars, the struggling artist

But Eddie is still troubled, and at night, in a somnambulistic state, ventures out into the snow and ice clad only in his underwear and (seemingly impervious to hypothermia) lurches about like a zombie, ripping apart and devouring small animals. Lars witnesses the aftermath of this carnage and is inspired by the blood and guts to paint his first masterpiece in a decade. To the strains of David Burns’ symphonic score, Lars is transported into a hallucinogenic world where the addictive rush of painting is all that matters.

Dylan Scott Smith plays Eddie, the sleepwalking cannibal

While Lars develops a genuine bond of friendship with Eddie, he begins to encourage the mute’s nighttime forays when the painter’s block returns, justifying his Caligari-like control of Eddie’s nocturnal activities because the gore stimulates his creative juices. Lars is no longer tormented by the blank canvas as a result of Eddie’s strange sleepwalking behavior.  Eddie has, in a sense, become Lars’ muse.

The tension escalates when Lars has words with an obnoxious neighbor (Peter Michael Dillon) whose barking dog keeps him awake at night, and sends Eddie on a mission to eat the dachshund. But Eddie takes his habit to a new level, chowing down on the dog and its master. Oblivious to the bloodbath, Lars immediately takes paint brush to easel and produces another masterpiece. Soon, his dealer (Stephen McHattie) shows up, sensing that Lars is entering a productive new phase of unstifled creativity – and reassuring the artist that he does not judge whatever means justify this end, pointing out that Lars’ last period of prolonged productivity was sparked by a terrible car accident.

Overriding his genuine fondness for the childlike Eddie, Lars continues to send him out at night, literally guiding the brawny sleepwalking mute to fresh prey, justifying his actions because the victims are evil people (racists, drunk drivers and the like). Lars – seemingly unaware that he is sinking into a level of barbarism equally as profound as Eddie’s – attracts the suspicions of the town cop (amusingly portrayed by the dour Paul Braunstein).

Eventually, Lars becomes as addicted to the rush of painting as Eddie is to the taste of human flesh, and the blood flows ever more freely until the film’s genuinely moving denouement, in which an injured Lars paints his final masterpiece, helped by star-crossed lover Lesley.

A clever touch is that the audience never sees the works of art that justify the horrific murders and dismemberments of man and beast.

Director Boris Rodriguez – whose work I am completely unfamiliar with – balances the humor and the horror perfectly, never allowing his characters to mug for the camera. The humor is very understated, in contrast to the viciousness of Eddie’s superhuman atrocities while sleepwalking. Rodriguez also shoots his scenes in an elegant style, reminding one of the balanced compositions of Stanley Kubrick. Hand-held camerawork is kept to a minimum, restricted to Lars’ frenzied scenes of splattering paint onto the canvas. And even these scenes have a certain elegance. At last, a contemporary horror film with no “found footage” or reality television tropes!

Key to the success of this picture is the brilliant acting of lead players Lindhardt (Into the Wild) and Smith (Immortals, 300) and the welcome presence of renowned character actor McHattie (Watchmen) in a small but vital role.

EDDIE: THE SLEEPWALKING CANNIBAL is a Canada-Denmark coproduction from Mongrel Media, and easily the best film (horror or otherwise) ever made in Ottawa. EDDIE does not strike one false note. I strongly recommend you check it out.