The ’80s Supernatural Horror That Traumatized A Generation Is Disappearing

By Brian Myers | Published

It’s not often that made-for-TV horror films are capable of delivering an equitable number of chills comparable to their theatrically released counterparts. Television networks, particularly in the 70s and 80s, were cautious about using violence, gore, and other shock factors that thrilled horror fans, making it an uphill battle to create a production that succeeded in generating positive reception. One such statistical outlier was the ABC release of the 1982 movie Don’t Go to Sleep, a terrifying feature that is unfortunately difficult to rediscover.

Don’t Go To Sleep

Don’t Go to Sleep follows a family of four who is trying to start over after a horrible tragedy. Phillip (Dennis Weaver) and Laura (Valerie Harper) recently suffered the death of their eldest daughter, Jennifer (Kristin Cumming). The couple moves to a new home for a fresh start, along with their son Kevin (Oliver Robbins), youngest child Mary (Robin Ignico), and Laura’s mother Bernice (Ruth Gordon).

Not long after settling in, the young Mary begins to hear the voice of her dead sister, Jennifer, calling out to her. One evening, she hears Jennifer beckoning her from under her bed, and is shocked to see Jennifer’s ghost hiding beneath her. Over the following weeks, Jennifer and Mary have many late-night conversations which seem friendly at first but soon take a sinister turn.

Focuses On Revenge

Don’t Go to Sleep sees Mary getting instructions to kill the others in the family so that her death can be avenged. Grandma Bernice is done in by a fatal heart attack after Mary places Kevin’s pet iguana in her bed. Kevin meets his maker soon after when a window on the roof opens and nudges him off while he’s attempting to retrieve a frisbee.

Possessed, Or Crazy?

Mary and Jennifer move on to their parents next, and drop a radio into the bathtub while Phillip is taking a bath. This forces Laura to seek help and it’s believed that Mary murdered her family members. She is placed in a mental institution where she tells her psychiatrist that she is Jennifer, making audiences wonder if Mary is criminally insane or if she was truly possessed by the ghost of her dead sibling in Don’t Go to Sleep.

A Slow-Burn With A Satisfying Payoff

The movie itself is a slow, but thrilling burn that takes relatable characters and puts them in the most horrific of situations. The family’s struggle to move on past the death of one of their children is believably portrayed, certainly helped by the Robbins and Ignico, both of whom played their roles perfectly.

Hard To Find But Worth The Search


The chilling dialogue between Mary and her ghostly sister, Jennifer, also delivers a low-key terror that builds with the tension in Don’t Go to Sleep. The movie shows that there are truly some gems in the made-for-TV horror entries in the past, akin to Stephen King‘s Salem’s Lot (1979) or John Newland’s Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973).

Don’t Go to Sleep is an effective made-for-TV horror outing, though its unavailability on streaming or on-demand makes it a difficult horror movie to track down.