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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
If I Die Before I Wake (1998)

"It's Santa!"
- Mary (Coryanne Sennett)

Review By: Dan Lopez   
Published: April 26, 2001

Stars: Stephanie Jones, Muse Watson, Michael McCleery
Other Stars: Coyanne Sennett, Anthony Niciosia
Director: Brian Katkin

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: R for (Strong, brutal violence, including rape, unrelenting terror and strong language)
Run Time: 01h:17m:43s
Release Date: April 21, 2001
UPC: 012236117414
Genre: suspense thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- DC-C+ C

DVD Review

While watching If I Die Before I Wake, I was reminded of several movies. Mainly, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Man Bites Dog, and, to a lesser extent, Deliverance. The common thread of all of these films is that they were extremely controversial for their brutal, relentless portrayal of violence, while also acclaimed for their crafting and message. I suppose there's a fine line between art and cheap exploitation, and it's a line that's very, very hard to see at first, but ultimately, If I Die abandons being 'art' very early on. It's not a comment on psychology, like Henry; not a satire of the media's treatment of killers like Man Bites Dog, and it's not about the applied use of force and survival instincts, like Deliverance. It is violence and sickness for the sake of being, well, violent and sick.

If I Die opens on a quiet evening in an average, suburban home. We see everyone sleeping or settling in, but in a matter of minutes this radically changes when a group of three delinquents, led by Daryl (Muse Watson), break into the home and begin terrorizing the family. One of the daughters, LoriBeth (Stephanie Jones), manages to elude the intruders and stay hidden, while they capture and torture her family. As the three perverts do their deeds, she lurks about, creating plans for revenge and escape. The setup is simple and there's quite literally no plot to speak of, other than this basic situation.

At first, the style seems quite interesting and deliberate. The film is low-budget and photographed on a grainy, low-key stock that makes it look about 15 years older than it really is. The lack of any development and the fact that the criminals appear roughly 3 minutes into the story gives it a sense of intensity and urgency. You don't care that the intruders have no motive, because they simply fill the gap of all faceless villains. The beginning really sets up something disturbing and clever. Things changed for me, though, very quickly, when the rampant horrors that these people inflict on this family have no context with anything else.

Apparently, instances of rape and utterly senseless, random acts of violence are supposed to be entertaining. If I Die is a few steps away from being an underground 'snuff' film or rape fantasy film; that's really what it boils down to. Although one of the three intruders claims he's disturbed by what's going on, it begs the question of why they broke into the house to begin with (a point which is never explained with any clarity). The girl, LoriBeth, sits on the sidelines, avoiding the evildoers, but yet does virtually nothing to stop them or get help; a convenient excuse for the violence to continue. In fact, I was jarred into reality when, despite almost 10 minutes of advance warning that the bad guys are in the house, LoriBeth makes no attempt to call police on any of the phones she passes. At one point, she even tries using a computer, which is obviously still hooked up to a phone line, again proving her dim-wittedness.

To get back to my central point, If I Die says absolutely nothing. It's exploitaitive and cheap, and I'm always upset whenever I see something like this gleefully hit the rental shelves. Legendary and acclaimed artists like Stanley Kubrick have to deal with censorship for a few seconds of sexual activity between consenting adults (Eyes Wide Shut), but apparently the MPAA has no righteous indignation for what is perhaps one of the most senselessly violent commercial films ever made. This isn't Bruce Willis blasting baddies with a machine gun and saving the day; this is slow, deliberate depictions of suffering and torture for no discernible reason. In fact, I'm surprised they didn't add in extreme violence to animals, just for good measure. Maybe that will be the director's next film; a sequel set inside a kennel or something.

Given my love of horror films, it's hard to offend me, but there are times I see no reason for what's happening on-screen. Take my previous example, Man Bites Dog, the extreme, black comedy from France that still causes outrage to this day for it's brutal, almost 100% realistic portrayal of a serial killer who is followed by a devoted fanbase that documents his work. The trick there, though, was it's sly, humorous indictment on celebrity culture that turns people like Ted Bundy into cultural icons. It was a test of your sense of humor, really, rather than an insult. Obviously here, the filmmakers thought they'd cash in on the faddish popularity of actor Muse Watson and sort of leave it at that.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: D


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Without several sources confirming that this film came from 1998, I wouldn't believe it. It looks really old, actually, mainly due to the extremely heavy grain and noise in the image. I would assume some of this was intentional, for style, but it seems to go overboard and compromises the overall quality. There's heavy artifacts and movement just about everywhere, making this not a very good example of the DVD medium. Blacks are a little washed out, as well, and things are a little too dark.

Image Transfer Grade: C-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Surround audio is pretty much like a Mono mix, with some very minor stereo activity on occasion. The film is primarly dialogue and sound effects, all of which were recorded a bit below the usual quality you might expect. Elements are often harsh or tinny, and sometimes it's a bit hard to understand dialogue. The stand out feature is the rather good, Bernard Hermann-style soundtrack score that pops up in a few, sparse locations. (It seems I have seen a few mediocre movies lately with good musical scores.)

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Premonition, Bloody Murder, Crimson Code, Eastside
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: There are no significant features other than a gallery of trailers for other Artisan releases and the original trailer for If I Die. Overall presentation is fairly typical of Artisan releases, and nothing is really above or below average.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

My advice to those thinking of renting this would be: rent In Cold Blood instead. The films compare on a base level, but Truman Capote's story (transformed into a brilliant film) actually has depth and social commentary. If I Die should just be skipped over.


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