On The Short Film Circuit

The Sandman (1992) – Short Film Review

“Mr Sandman, bring me a dream”

More like bring me a Nightmare…

The modern perception of The Sandman legend is a creature that uses sand to bring dreams to sleeping children. Like the character from Rise of the Guardians, he is the protector of children and giver of pleasant fantasies. Yet in director Paul Berry’s dark vision of The Sandman, he is a creature to be feared indeed.

 The short opens looking over a mountain filled landscape. We come to a small house where a sewing woman and a boy, (presumably her son) sit. As the clock strikes eight, the woman gives the boy a light and sends him to bed. Clearly afraid, the boys makes his way up the dark, dank staircase to his room. In bed, the boys lies restlessly looking out at the moon. The creasant moon soon morphs with the curved nose and chin of a sinister creature. The boy rubs his eyes in disbelief and the creature disappears. He tries once again to go to sleep but the creature is now inside the house.

He creaks the stairs and makes eerie noises to frighten the boy, who pulls his covers over his eyes. Slowly his covers are pulled back by his mother who gently tucks him in. Once alone the creature steps out of the shadows to approach the bed, the boy opens his eyes and comes face to face with the horrific creature.

In shadowed silhouette, we see the creature violently steal something from the boy before returning to his home. On the moon the creature returns to his nest where three of its babies await. Only when he opens his pouch to feed them is it clear what he has stolen from the boy. We return to the boy and see him blindly join other children who have shared the same horrific fate.

Director Paul Berry worked as an animated under Henry Selick on The Nightmare Before ChristmasJames and the Giant Peach as well as Monkeybone. Here he takes the directors chair for a film that was inspired by E.T.A. Hoffmann’s version of The Sandman legend.

 Image result for the sandman short film

The films visual style has borrowed heavily from German Expressionism. Like Burton’s Vincent short, it is characterised by jagged edges and surreal proportions. Every set piece has a sharp edge that warns of foreboding dread. Shadows stretch out across the screen as if reaching for something and darkness contrasts the small sections of light used.

His two human characters, whilst the innocence of the film, also have a Gothic edge. With dark circles around their eyes and angular cheek and chins. The Sandman himself is a grotesque being. With exaggerated features on his body and a style of movement that brings to mind the child-catcher of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Balletic but mencing. With the feathered upper body of a bird and a chin/nose that mirror the creasant moon he calls his home.

The short contains no dialogue but mixes an eerie score with silence and diagetic sound. Foot steps and creaking stairs are all used to build tension and suspense.

A short film that will make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. Eerie yet beautifully imagined, its a sinister take on an established myth. Paul Berry was clearly a talented director as well as animator. Sadly, Berry past away in 2001 of a brain tumour. But the film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short and stands as a testimonial of Berry’s talent.


Happy Halloween!

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