Release Date(s)2000 (July 25, 2023)
Studio(s)Morbid Vision Films (Saturn’s Core/Vinegar Syndrome)
- Film/Program Grade: D
- Video Grade: C-
- Audio Grade: B-
- Extras Grade: A
At Dawn They Sleep is an independent horror film with gruesome special effects and well staged stunts rarely seen in low-budget movies. It provides a new spin on the vampire film, combining action, blood and gore, heavy metal, and a gang drug war.
Stephen (Brian Paulin) and Ian (Rich George) are drug dealers at war with their rival, Billy Rae Douglas (Matt Trottier). After a night of love-making with two girls they’ve brought home, they discover that the women are gone and they feel strange. It turns out the females were angels that infected them with a vampire virus. Now, Stephen and Ian are immortal. The plan: they, along with hordes of other vampires, are to kill off the human race so that the angels can take back what should rightfully have been theirs. The slaughter goes on until the demon world gets involved, adding to the supernatural conflict.
The plot is difficult to follow, as director Brian Paulin paid more attention to creating stomach-turning visual effects than to following an intelligible story line. The drug dealers cold-bloodedly dispatch rivals and the vampires prey on humans. In an elaborate warehouse shoot-out, gang members, firing two guns each, blast one another. As the bullets fly, stacks of boxes tumble, bodies are propelled against walls, and blood splatters everywhere. For a scene or two, it’s as if the filmmakers decided to take a side trip to the action flick world, forgetting that they’re making a vampire picture. And therein lies the major problem with At Dawn They Sleep. It’s a hodgepodge of a movie, with elements of several genres that don’t always blend smoothly.
A second problem is the acting. It’s uniformly terrible. Paulin cast himself in the lead, which was a mistake. He doesn’t pretend to be the next Olivier but he’s not even remotely believable. He’s like a grown-up kid playing a gang leader/vampire with a bunch of his pals. This gives the film an aura of camp that was probably not intended, and elicits roars of laughter at its ineptitude. There are no moments that genuinely frighten.
As for the effects, they are so over the top that they, too, become jokes. Clearly, the film is geared for those who love graphic visuals, since the director loads the film with them.
The fact that Paulin managed to get any kind of film done is an accomplishment. But every film should have at least some degree of credibility, with a discernible plot, actors who can act, and effects, when called for, that are not preposterously exaggerated.
On the plus side, for an independently made film, At Dawn They Sleep features some surprisingly good car stunts. In one, a car crashes into another and flips over onto its roof. In another, a car crashes into a house, actually a mock-up of an interior constructed in Paulin’s back yard. These scenes definitely pep up the overall film and raise eyebrows, but they’re rare moments and the thrills are hardly sustained. While most of the special effects pale in comparison to typical Hollywood effects, they’re impressive for filmmakers working on a shoestring budget.
Nudity is a prime ingredient of the film as vampire women writhe in bed or display themselves to attract unsuspecting males. With its combination of big-breasted women, blood and gore, and action, this may be a teenage boy’s dream. Others, however, might want to seek better-organized, better-plotted, and better-acted movies.
At Dawn They Sleep was shot digitally by Eli Connors and Brian Paulin with Sony VX-1000 (tape-based) digital video cameras and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1. Quality varies significantly from scene to scene, and often from one shot to the next. Lighting is uneven and often sequences seem to have been shot only in available light. There’s little attempt to use lighting to enhance mood. Detail varies. Many scenes appear blurry, while others are sharp. Fog-machine effects and a fan simulate vampires flying. The color palette tends toward dark, somber tones when vampires are featured at night and jump-off-the-screen reds when bloodshed, shootings, and evisceration are shown in lingering shots.
The soundtrack is English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. Optional English SDH subtitles are available. Original music by Brian Paulin and various black metal artists comprise the score, which is sometimes effective, at other times distracting. Dialogue is clear and easily understood. In a scene when Ian-turned-vampire wears vampire fangs, the camera angle changes so he can deliver his lines clearly without the fangs in place. Vampires chowing down on human flesh, bones crunching, gun shots, cars crashing into each other and into a house, and fists pummeling bodies are major sound effects.
Bonus features on the all-Region Blu-ray release from Saturn’s Core include the following:
- 2023 Audio Commentary with Brian Paulin and Rich George
- Archival 2004 Commentary with Brian Paulin and Rich George
- Outbreak of Evil: The Making of At Dawn They Sleep (34:38)
- Archival Making-Of Featurette (14:18)
- Outtakes (5:53)
- Scenes That Hurt (Blooper Reel) (2:29)
- Photo Gallery(2:16)
- Reap of Evil(82:37)
- Morbid Visions Films Trailer Vault (9:54)
- Saturn’s Core Trailers (20:06)
- At Dawn They Sleep Trailer (1:11)
Commentary #1 – Writer/director/actor Brian Paulin and producer/actor Rich George note that At Dawn They Sleep was made 25 years ago. The main location was Paulin’s parents’ house and basement. Many people contributed items they wanted to get rid of, which were destroyed in the film. A distributor saw an early film by Paulin and George with a lot of action but wanted them to make a vampire film. They never intended to make a vampire film. They felt “vampires were done to death.” But they agreed because it was a chance to make a feature. Also, at the time, Hollywood had sterilized its horror films, removing most of the graphic content, and they wanted to fill the void. The two filmmakers share memories, discussing their homemade special effects.
Commentary #2 – From 2004, Paulin and George note that they are “horror fans making films for horror fans.” At the time, the film was available in video stores and gave horror fans what they couldn’t get in other such films. It was tough getting cast and crew together, since they weren’t being paid. In one two-week period, no one showed up for filming. Paulin and George cast themselves in the leads because they knew that they could rely on themselves. At Dawn They Sleep was their tenth film. They spent $200 on blank bullets for the warehouse shoot-out scene. The guns weren’t capable of firing real bullets but they produced a flash when fired that looked good on screen.
Outbreak of Evil: The Making of At Dawn They Sleep – Brian Paulin loved horror films from an early age and made short movies on video with his friend Rich George. They were both impressed with Hong Kong movies, which were far ahead of American films in terms of staging exciting action scenes. They tried to incorporate violent action into their short films. To create a new slant on the vampire film, Paulin came up with the idea of angels creating an army of vampires to attack the human race. Background footage is shown of the rehearsing and shooting of scenes from the film. There are also scenes of the preparation of special effects and make-up application. The Blackening was the movie’s original title, but that was changed because it didn’t speak to the potential viewer. The budget was small but the car stunts add to the production value.
Archival Making-Of Featurette – The film took 15 months to complete, mostly because it was difficult to get the cast and crew to all show up at the same time. Brian Paulin and Rich George are interviewed and discuss both the difficulties and the fun of making At Dawn They Sleep. Much of what they talk about is covered more fully in the two commentaries.
Outtakes – This collection of outtakes includes blown lines, special effects being readied, actors laughing during takes, miscues, and actors’ mental blocks on dialogue.
Scenes That Hurt (Blooper Reel) – These outtakes illustrate some of the pain that goes along with fight scenes and stunts. An on-screen title notes, “But what the hell, it was fun!”
Photo Gallery – Still photos of behind-the-scenes activities from At Dawn They Sleep are shown in slideshow format. Eerie music accompanies the photo presentation.
Reap of Evil – This was Morbid Visions Films’ first feature-length film. It includes options for playing with the original audio or with commentary by Brian Paulin and Rich George.
Morbid Visions Films Trailer Vault – Presented one after another, the trailers include Fetus, Blood Pigs, Cryptic Plasm, Morbid Tales, and Septic.
Saturn’s Core Trailers – Presented in a continuous stream, trailers include Sixteen Tongues, Ravage, Sinistre, Red Spirit Lake, We Await, The Good Book, No Resistance, Red Cockroaches, and Burglar from Hell.
At Dawn They Sleep is a collection of grisly images intended to shock mixed with a half-hearted plot that unsuccessfully combines a drug war with vampires targeting the human race. It gets high marks for the filmmakers’ unbridled enthusiasm. Perhaps with a bigger budget and better actors, director Brian Paulin could have made a more coherent picture. In its present form, it’s a rudderless excursion into fanboy moviemaking.
- Dennis Seuling