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Sandman, The (1992)

Courtesy of Batty Berry MacKinnon

Main image of Sandman, The (1992)
35mm, 10 min, colour, puppet animation
DirectorPaul Berry
Production CompanyBatty Berry Mackinnon Productions
ProducersColin Batty
 Paul Berry
 Ian Mackinnon
From the story byE.T.A. Hoffman
AnimatorPaul Berry

A young child and his mother face a visit from the terrifying sandman.

Show full synopsis

The Sandman is a highly stylised puppet-animation, a beautifully crafted, but ultimately horrible interpretation of an old European folktale. A bare synopsis doesn't begin to do justice to the sophistication - and brutality - of this film. The sandman, traditionally the character that sprinkles dust into childrens' eyes to send them to sleep, is, here, a menacing creature that brings horror to children, inspired by E.T.A. Hoffmann's novella 'The Sandman'.

While The Sandman abounds with psychoanalytical theories (sleep equals denial of life, so unconsciousness is an invitation to death), it is its rich film language that gives the rather simple storyline depth and a truly nightmarish edge. Using the hallmarks of Expressionist cinema, director Paul Berry creates a darkly atmospheric film that evokes and preys on our childhood fears and nightmares.

The film's design draws on Expressionist classics like The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, Germany, 1919) and Nosferatu (Nosferatu: Eine Symphonie des Grauens, Germany, 1922), while the use of music, sound and camera is clearly inspired by Hitchcock's Psycho (US, 1960) and Vertigo (US, 1958). Reflecting such influences, the film's look is dark and menacing: gothic architecture and minimal sets decorate a landscape of blacks, greys and browns. The music and eerie sound effects add to the sinister atmosphere. The sandman himself is a mass of blues and yellows, with a twisted face and fierce, beaklike nose.

Even though the look of The Sandman is often compared to that of A Nightmare Before Christmas (US, 1993), it appeared a year earlier, and was made before Berry met that film's director, Henry Selick. The film was originally conceived by Ian MacKinnon (producer) and Colin Batty (puppets and sets). Berry joined the project when the puppets were already in progress and began storyboarding the film. The film took three years to make, and was self-funded by the filmmakers and done cheaply with a tiny crew in their spare time. The Sandman was nominated for an Oscar in 1992, and won the Best Short Film award at Annecy in 1993.

Caren Willig

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Video Clips
Complete film (9:13)
Production stills