Plot: princess Aurora falls into a deep slumber. Can a warrior save the kingdom?
No doubt filmed in response to Casper van Dien’s Sleeping Beauty (2014) and shot on a budget that couldn’t possibly have extended beyond a few Twinkies, some Skittles, and whatever pocketchange was on hand among cast and crew; Rene Perez’ Sleeping Beauty elevates cosplaying, not of the advanced variety but rather the one on the wrong side of cheap, to an artform. The historical basis for Sleeping Beauty was the Brothers Grimm fairytale Little Briar Rose from 1812, which itself was a retelling of La Belle au bois dormant from Charles Perrault. That version of the story can be found in the Histories or Tales from Past Times, with Morals or Mother Goose Tales (Histoires ou contes du temps passé, avec des moralités or Contes de ma mère l'Oye) collection from 1697. Perrault in turn based his writings upon the earlier Italian fairytale Sun, Moon, and Talia by Giambattista Basile as written in his 1634 work, the Pentamerone. As with The Snow Queen (2013) before it his Sleeping Beauty also deviates quite a bit from the beloved fairytale from whence it came. Sleeping Beauty tries to overcompensate by having early Perez babes Jenny Allford, Gemma Donato, and Raven Lexy disrobe early and often. While it’s certainly superior to The Snow Queen (2013) that isn’t saying much at all.
In an arboreal kingdom princess Aurora (Jenny Allford) is en route to negiotiate a truce with evil witch Carbosse (Raven Lexy). A member of the Royal Guard (Haref Topete) tries to convince Aurora that she’s walking into a trap, but she presses on anyway. Having reached the witch’s castle she wanders the interiors for a while until she comes across an enchanted spindle. She’s drawn in, stings herself, and falls into a deep slumber. Once word gets back to the kingdom William (Robert Amstler), the brave Commander of the Guard, embarks on a perilous quest to vanquish Carbosse and awaken the princess. On his travel he saves displaced and desperate Elf seer Alondra (Gemma Donato, as Gemma Danoto) from an assault by a brute barbarian (Joseph Aviel). Alondra realizes that her magic is not strong enough and that they require the counsel and help of wise wizard Samrin (John J. Welsh, as John Welsh). Meanwhile Carbosse instructs her henchman Enkrail (David Reinprecht) to find a maiden (Heather Montanez) that looks like Aurora so she can lay a trap. As the fellowship travels across the kingdom they are beset by many dangers, and William faces off against the demonic Octulus (Robert S. Dixon). When they finally reach the witch’s castle, one final confrontation awaits. Will the magic of Alondra and Samrin, as well as William’s blade be enough to withstand the malefic Carbosse?
Sleeping Beauty dares answer the question that nobody asked: “what would Lord Of the Rings have been had it had bare tits?” Or what would Game Of Thrones (2011-2019) have looked like on a budget that couldn’t even cover Emilia Clarke’s wardrobe. It’s a painful example of what happens when you let ditzy California girls play Elfs, regal princesses, and evil sorceresses. There’s a point to be made that every girl wants to be a princess and Sleeping Beauty offers enough of a counterpoint that not every buxom blonde beach babe should given the keys to the kingdom. The cast consists of the usual stuntmen and models, and nobody can really act. There are different phases in Perez’ career, roughly divided into everything that came before Playing with Dolls (2015), and everything that came after. Little Red Riding Hood (2016) is an exception of sorts. While it features Alanna Forte in a non-speaking part, it looks as if it was shot before Playing with Dolls (2015), but only released after. It’s purely conjecture on our part, but Irina Levadneva is curiously absent. Levadneva was one of the early Perez muses, but she was never seen again once Rene started helming Playing with Dolls (2015), and its series of sequels, as were Gemma Donato, and Raven Lexy for that matter.
What little production value Sleeping Beauty has comes from location shooting at Castle Noz in San Joaquin Valley, and Castello di Amorosa in Napa Valley. If anything, even this early Perez knew how to frame a scene, and there are some truly idyllic landscapes from Redwood National Park, San Joaquin Valley, and Shasta County to be seen. The blue demon that imprisons Aurora in the castle sort of looks like the Jem'Hadar shock troops of the Dominion from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993–1999). As with The Snow Queen (2013) the year before Sleeping Beauty takes many liberties with the source material, and it never quite becomes the American fantastique it ought to have been. What it lacks in production value or good writing it makes up in ample amounts of exposed flesh with Allford, Donato, and Lexy each having extended nude scenes. The visual effects are somehow better than in the later Little Red Riding Hood (2016) and Sleeping Beauty is not nearly as prone to meandering atmospheric padding scenes that add nothing. Perez did better features before and after with both The Snow Queen (2013) and Sleeping Beauty being vastly superior to Little Red Riding Hood (2016). While we would have loved more Donato and Lexy in later features they, along with Irina Levadneva, were never seen again in the post-Playing with Dolls (2015) years.
Seeing Sleeping Beauty almost makes you wish Perez would do an American take on The Nude Vampire (1970), Girl Slaves of Morgana Le Fay (1971), Vampyros Lesbos (1971), Black Magic Rites (1973), Horror Rises From the Tomb (1973), Seven Women For Satan (1976), or The Living Dead Girl (1982). In fact knowing Perez and his predilections he would be ideally suited to continue the cinematic legacy of Jean Rollin, Luigi Batzella, and Renato Polselli. If his later work is anything to go by he himself seems not interested in such a thing in the slightest. No, first and foremost Rene Perez is an action-oriented director who loves classic exploitation, something which Death Kiss (2018) and Cabal (2020) would amply evince years down the line, and atmospheric Eurocult inspired ditties aren’t his forté. He could probably lens a giallo if he ever found a decent writing partner and some high-end urban locations. Arrowstorm Entertainment does the entire indie fantasy thing way better than Perez ever could. As it stands Sleeping Beauty is one of the better early Perez features but it doesn’t and can’t hold a candle to the vastly superior and better realized Playing with Dolls (2015) and most that came after. Rene Perez has grown a lot in the year since and Sleeping Beauty is an example of his earlier rougher, more unrefined style.