The Netflix adaptation has in fact toned things down a little bit. Yep, that was a toned-down version.
Episode 5 of 'The Sandman', titled '24/7', was perhaps one of the most disturbing and controversial episodes in the show. But so was the comic issue it is based on.
The events of '24/7', like the events of '24 hours' issue of 'The Sandman' graphic novel, are based in a 24/7 diner where John Dee, a human who came in possession of Lord Morpheus' dream-mastering ruby, toys with the sanity of six other people in the diner: Bette, Judy, Garry, Kate, Marsh, and Mark.
In the show, Dee uses the ruby to make people tell the truth and follow their deepest and occasionally darkest desires. It escalates into some couples breaking up and some, on the contrary, forming instead; but then it quickly devolves into a massacre, which is stopped by Dream only after all six are dead.
Pretty much the same thing was going on in the comics… except it was way darker and more disturbing. For instance, the Netflix adaptation (thankfully) left out the part when Kate is forced to tell the story of when she got drunk and wandered into a funeral home only to have sex with a corpse there. In the comics, Dee also forced a host of a kids' TV program that was on in the diner to persuade his little viewers to slash their wrists by doing so with his own wrist on air. The show also preferred to not adapt that.
The comic issue has the characters being tortured for 24 hours straight, with every hour getting gorier and scarier. By hour 22, all six diner characters are dead after Dee forces them to commit violent things against each other or themselves. While the show did include some limb slicing and eye poking, the amount of violence has been significantly scaled down – and most of the viewers were actually thankful for Netflix's decision to do so.
"One of the reasons I wrote that issue was to say, 'Look, this narrative will not always be trustworthy,'" Gaiman told EW. "It will not always be kind, people will not always get out alive, bad things can happen. What was nice is I never had to go that dark again. The readers always knew that I had, and always knew that I was capable of it, and that things could get dark."
In the Netflix adaptation of the gory comic issue, David Thewlis portrays John Dee – a slightly altered version of Doctor Dee from the comics who entertains himself with Dream's ruby and dreams of building a "better world". Instead of immediately plunging the diner into the hellish nightmare, John uses the ruby to try and help the characters at first, but things still go really bad in the end.
'The Sandman' episode 5, however, is not the first screen adaptation of '24 hours'. In 2017, Gaiman fans produced a short film based on the comic issue – and many Netflix viewers have already argued that the fan movie did a better job at adapting the dark story than 'The Sandman'.