Think Night of the Living Dead, but with Adderall! Sleep. Walk. Kill. is a funny, campy horror film built on a fresh concept and worth toughing out through its slow opening. When a strange alien sound blares across the skies of Yardley, Pennsylvania, folks rise from their sleep with murder on their minds. Wives butcher husbands; children murder parents; and, presumably, the only way to stay alive is to stay awake. Though at times it feels like the cast is still finding its footing in the early minutes, there’s plenty of tension and compelling storytelling worth staying through the third act. I spoke with Director and Screenwriter Justin Miller and lead actor Bill Reick about the creation of the film and the comedically-talented cast in this independent horror debut.
Tell me about the creation of Sleep. Walk. Kill. How long has this project been in the works?
Justin Miller (JM): It was actually shot three years ago. About a year before that is when I started to write it. I’ve always been fascinated with dreams and night terrors and people talking in their sleep (like my wife sometimes does). But what really got me to write a script I could shoot was I wrote comedy for a theater in Philly and my daughter never really got to see that. But I’d watch movies when I was home and she’d refer to me as “the guy on the sofa.” (laughs) I didn’t want to be that to her! So I started writing something I could shoot. I knew I was going to have to do a lot of it and thank goodness I had a lot of help on this project with Bill (Reick) and Samantha Russell. So that really got me started on it.
That’s a good motivation! Not being the guy on the sofa. (laughs)
JM: Exactly! (laughs) I showed her hard work. It was really hard work. Everyone put in a lot of time and effort on this.
So you shot this film three years ago. Was that at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, or just before?
JM: Just before. We finished shooting about two months or so before the pandemic. We were pretty fortunate in that respect because there’s no way we could have shot in that tiny, cramped basement during the pandemic.
The basement scenes especially were very reminiscent of some of my favorite horror films. Night of the Living Dead comes to mind. Maybe Shaun of the Dead? That forced closeness always ratchets up the tension between people who are confined together. What were your biggest influences for the film?
JM: Definitely Night of the Living Dead. I try, though, when I’m writing to not specifically think of “I want to make it seem like this…” but it definitely has a strong Night of the Living Dead feel. I can see the connection also between Shaun of the Dead. The Thing. John Carpenter is definitely a big influence. I just wanted to show what happens to this family when they’re put in extreme circumstances.
Yeah! Very fun practical effects in the film, speaking of The Thing and John Carpenter. And speaking of Carpenter, is it true that you also did the score, Justin?
JM: Yes, that is true. You know, pretty much everyone on this film—actors included—did more than just one thing. (laughs) They’d be like, “Hey I’m not in this scene, hold this light.” Or “Pour blood on somebody.” Everyone worked pretty hard on this!
You have a very talented and funny cast that assembles in that basement. Those later scenes are a lot of fun. Ellen Boscov is fantastic as Edgar’s Mom—funny, annoying, frustrating—I mean that in the best of ways.
JM: Yeah, if you hate her than she did her job.
Yes! And The Legendary WID, who maybe had some of the best one-liners in the film. And of course Bill, who plays Edgar, who has to bounce off each of these characters in different ways. Tell me a little bit about assembling this cast and what it was like wrangling their comedic skills into a horror film.
JM: Samantha Russell, she’s a sketch director from Philly, she helped assemble the cast. She did an amazing job. Actually the first thing she said when she read the script was, “I thought it would be funnier.” (laughs) But I wanted to write a horror movie that had comedic elements, not specifically a comedy, though that’s what we do in sketch writing.
I had a few people audition for the dad and one of the people I was considering was Bob Quintana. I knew he was in theater productions around the area and he knocked it out of the park. And working with them was such a blast. We had such a fun time on set—sometimes a little too fun. (laughs) When it was time to get serious everyone turned it on and did an amazing job.
Bill, can you talk a little about the role of Edgar and your approach to it, and also riding that line between horror and comedy?
Bill Reick (BR): Well the character is a real slob so I didn’t really have to try to get in the role or anything. (laughs) I can be a loser. That’s not too far out of my wheelhouse.
The only real adjustment I had to make is on set is when Justin would say, “Hey thank you for that last take. It was really funny. But let’s make it serious this time. Let’s convey that somebody just died. Let’s give it the weight it deserves.” (JM laughs) Justin did a really good job of helping me tune things into what he was looking for.
It’s interesting to hear that the approach was more horror film with comedic elements because you did have a very funny cast. I imagine that almost might have been a bit of a challenge with that team to work with.
BR: Yeah it was definitely a bunch of cut-ups in there. It was going to be a funny movie whether Justin set out for it to be or not, just because of who he put in it. It was definitely great to be able to utilize that. But everyone was talented enough to be able to fine-tune their approach so that if a given scene wasn’t calling for a comedic approach, Justin was able to step in, like any great director, and say “hey, let’s dial it this way,” just so we could keep a more consistent tone.
Sure. And it seems like Edgar has quite the arc in the film.
BR: Oh my gosh, does he.
Maybe he starts off as a slob, but especially toward the end he becomes our point person and our sort of a savior. But Edgar definitely does get a little beat up in the film emotionally.
BR: Oh, and physically.
And physically. Do you have a lot of experience with physicality in your roles or with horror?
BR: Oh, definitely I have a lot of experience being physical on stage. Prior to this film—and during, and after it—I was doing a lot of sketch comedy. If there’s a chance I could get one person to laugh, I will grievously injure myself at the drop of a hat. (JM laughs) It was nice to be able to take those… skills? (laughs) and apply them to a recorded medium where I don’t have to hurt myself every time to get the laugh. They can just press play.
(laughs) Any injuries sustained on set for this one?
BR: Oh plenty! (Thinks for a moment.) Yeah, none that… Maybe… Well, I don’t think I should have gone to hospital for any of them. (JM laughs) But definitely lots of really, really solid bumps and bruises where I’d come home and my girlfriend would say, “I thought you were making a movie.”
There’s very much a lot centering around how Edgar relates to his mom and his ex-wife in the film. Which relationship was maybe most fun to work with?
BR: Ellen Boscov was just a howl to work with. We knew each other and we’d bump into one another in Philly, but as soon as we started to work on this project—she must have some crazy acting training I don’t have—because she was getting herself super in-the-zone and treating me like her son right away. She’d come up to me and give me big smooches. (laughs) She made a scrapbook, like a photo album, and she found pictures of me that I’d never given her. And that was really cool, really interesting.
I was definitely one of the least experienced people on set. Everyday was a lesson and everybody was a teacher. I was super grateful to learn by watching John Reshetar and Melanie Rosedale, same with Raquel Watson, who auditioned to be in this film. They were actors. I got to say, “Oh hey they did that. That worked well. Maybe I’ll apply that next time.”
Same with (Bob) Quintana too. I feel like I learned how to deliver dialogue by just watching him because he’s tasked with explaining the science of the story and it was quite a monologue. But he was able to handle it with the gravitas that it deserved. I learned so much from just observing everybody.
Ellen Boscov showed up with a scrapbook? Was that the scrapbook that’s in the film?
BR:(laughs) Yeah she showed up with it.
JM:Yeah it’s in the script, but she… (laughs) she showed up with a scrapbook full of memories.
That’s amazing! (laughs)
BR: It was a trip to see this other life with my face on it. (BR and JM laugh)
No spoilers, but as we approach the end of the film, we really see that relationship with Edgar’s mom… blossom. (BR laughs) How did you feel about the gore? Was it fun? Was it gross?
BR: Oh, I was there for the gore. I was showing up early for the gore. (laughs) Allison Goetz was the professional who did all of our makeup effects and blood spray… She was just really fantastic in making blood go where it needed to be.
The only parts that were gross were at the end of the day when I’d go to peel something off (laughs), when I had dried, peeled up, fake blood and it would get caught in my arm hair. That was a little nasty. But as far as everything on camera, no I’m a gore-hound. I love it.
So for the both of you, I’m curious, promotion about the film includes the line “This is a message-in-a-bottle we hope will reach like-minded misfits.” Who do you have in mind as fans for this film? Who do you hope sees this film?
JM: Anyone who dreamed of making a movie and wants to go out and do it no matter what. It didn’t matter if I hired 10 people and they all backed out, I was going to get this done. It didn’t matter the budget. I hope it just inspires people to go out and make something. Make something because they want to because it’s something they’ve always wanted to do. What do you think Bill?
BR: That piece of artsy-fartsy copy came out of me. (BR and JM laugh) I really see this movie as a flare going off from Yardley, Pennsylvania. I just hope somebody else sees this and goes “Oh yeah, I could do that.” And I think that’s what I love about a lot of horror movies, some of my favorites being Dead Alive, Evil Dead 2… There’s a quality about it that says it’s not the traditional studio system. So I think maybe that’s who we’re aiming for. People who’ve been left a little bit cold by multi-million-dollar productions and want something a little more human and a little less decided by committee.
That’s an aspiration worth reaching for. You can check out Sleep. Walk. Kill. streaming now on Vudu, Google Play, and Amazon Prime, and coming soon to Tubi and other platforms.