THE NIGHTMARE explores sleep paralysis, a common phenomena experienced at least once by almost one in third of the UK’s population (according to A Gorkana Surveys poll, on behalf of Altitude Film Distribution, among 1,000 UK adults). Sleep paralysis is where a person is asleep but wide awake and alert with the inability to move their body, speak or react. These particular experiences can often be made worse due to vivid hallucinations and nightmarish visions.
In Rodney Ascher’s documentary, eight subjects share their experience of sleep paralysis. Whilst seven of the subjects interviewed are American, one of the subjects is from the UK and after watching the screening of The Nightmare at Grimmfest 2015, I had the great fortune of chatting to him.
Steve Paynter, from Greater Manchester, said he’s experienced sleep paralysis all his life, as far back as he can remember, and the creepy silhouette Shadow People that enter his room have always been a part of that experience. In the documentary, he mentions how he had an out of body experience and ended up in a physical altercation with te shadow people. If they attack him, he says he can feel them as though they are real like you or I. To him, they’re real enough whether they’re actually a physical presence or a vision created by his mind.
Steve has sleep paralysis so often that it’s become normal for him and he refuses to be scared of it and tries to ride it out as best as possible and get on with his life. Every 2 or 3 days he experiences sleep paralysis and it can last from 5 minutes to 30 mins and sometimes longer. Occasionally he’s able to wake himself up by gradually moving his feet whilst other times he’s unable to awaken until the experience is over. As a child, his family put his sleep paralysis experience down to nightmares and his younger brother had great fun teasing him whilst he endured it, as Steve laid there paralysed, unable to move, forced to watch his brother playfully torment him as siblings do. Even nowadays his friend has a bit of banter with him about the paralysis, wishing him wicked nightmares. Having a Northern sense of humour, Steve takes it on the chin and too shares a dark sense of humour that allows him to accept what he has to endure so frequently. What would be scary for him is for the sleep paralysis to not occur every few days and he knows not to overthink it else it could change the frequency or pattern that it occurs.
Joined by his friend at Manchester’s horror, cult and sci-fi film festival Grimmfest 2015, who too has experienced sleep paralysis but just the once, Steve informs me his father has also experienced it and from the little he has spoke about, thinks their experience was quite similar though he adds that his father has never properly divulged about his experience and never will, possibly dismissing it as nonsense. Other than that, Steve knows no-one else who has experienced the phenomena, especially not as frequently as him, though he is grateful not to be visited by the Hag Witch which some sufferers have recorded to have witnessed during the night.
Steve got involved with The Nightmare film after publishing his story to a website that was looking for people’s experiences of the Shadow Men and, after seeing his account, was contacted by director Rodney Ascher and the whole thing blew up from there, with the film going to Sundance film festival and then with him being invited to Grimmfest 2015 to speak about the film and his own experiences. Steve informed me that director Rodney also suffers from sleep paralysis and so understood what they were all going through.
After having experienced sleep paralysis during the night, Steve admits he feels drained in the morning though he makes no fuss of it and life goes on as normal. To Steve, this is normality and he’s never known any different. That’s not to say he doesn’t dream. When he’s not experiencing sleep paralysis, he dreams like you and I and enjoys lucid dreams where he can control the dream and sometimes experiences astral projection where he can see his own body lying in bed. He states that seeing his own body is still weird but it’s just another part of his night-time experience, one which may seem alien to most people. Where as we may not know if we are going to dream one night, Steve knows when he is going to have paralysis. If he feels an electric shock as he drifts to sleep, he’s sure to experience sleep paralysis that night.
Having never experienced anything like sleep paralysis, I commend Steve for braving it and riding it through to the end each and every time. He doesn’t let the fear get to him and nor does he allow it to consume his life. He wishes he didn’t have it but knows its something he just has to deal with and get on with his life.
Nothing in Steve’s day-to-day activities seems to trigger the sleep paralysis. Some reckon its the food he eats, like the old ‘cheese before bedtime’ though Steve states that nothing about his daily life has any impact on whether it’ll happen or not… “they” decide when it’s going to happen and he has no choice but to lie back and watch.
THE NIGHTMARE is released on DVD in the UK on 26th October 2015.