AVAILABLE ON DVD
RUNNING TIME: 91 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Mary Brady and her son Charles are the last two of the Sleepwalkers. They lead a nomadic life, moving from place to place as bodies always pile up wherever they go. When they arrive in a small town, Charles selects local girl Tanya to be their next prey, and plans to bring her back to their house. She is attracted to the handsome stranger and agrees to go on a date to a graveyard with him, but meanwhile his odd behaviour attracts attention from a cop and a teacher, while the local cats, who are mortal enemies of the Sleepwalkers, are starting to gather in the garden….
Although they are rather less plentiful now, there was a time where you couldn’t move for films based on material from Steven King, and the sheer mass of cinema and TV taken from his stories is quite amazing. Of course there have quite a few great movies resulting such as The Shining, Carrie and Misery, but then there’s also stuff like The Langoliers, Thinner and Graveyard Shift. Sleepwalkers most definitely falls into the ‘bad’ category. It was written expressly for the screen by King, but really the great man must have been drunk most of the time, as it’s a mess and quite random some of the time. The film sets things up with text right at the start of the screen:
“Sleepwalker n. Nomadic shape-shifting creatures with human and feline origins. Vulnerable to the deadly scratch of a cat. The sleepwalker feeds upon the life-force of virginal human females. Probable source of the vampire legend. -“Chilcoathe encyclopedia of arcane knowledge 1st edition 1884.”
That’s your exposition done and dusted, and we never find out, for instance, why cats are so deadly to the Sleepwalkers, and why they are called Sleepwalkers anyway? During the film there are a few occasions where they make themselves invisible, but there are quite a few instances where they don’t bother and yet it would have helped them considerably. Mary is able to get a record to play just by pointing her arm at it, but that power is never used again. And Charles somehow has a car which can turn into another car. Most of the story concerning the Sleepwalkers is taken seriously, but Charles does come out with things like, when blood spatters on him, “Just look at this shirt, my mother’s gonna kill me!”, while almost everyone else acts like total idiots. Cindy Pickett and Lyman Ward as Tanya’s parents, who were also the parents from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, seem to have a strange kind of double act, and there’s a hilarious cop character called Andy Simpson [played by Dan Martin, who seems to be like a poor man’s Danny Glover] with a rather heroic cat called Clovis. Although perhaps not especially funny on the page , his “what the fuck?” kind of reactions and things like his playing with Clovis saying “catch the bad guy, catch the bad guy” crease me up. Much of this stuff is probably more funny in a ‘bad’ way then in a simply ‘funny’ kind of way, but funny the film definitely is, unintentionally or not. And it deserves some credit for making almost all of its characters interesting in some way.
Sleepwalkers feels like a short story padded out with things like car chases and random killings, and is a little dull during the first third, but entertainment-wise it certainly picks up. The pace becomes extremely fast and there’s tons of gore, from ripped off hands to pencils in the ear to, um, death by a cob of corn! Some of the transformation effects look like stuff from a TV movie though it’s interesting to see early primitive CG effects, while other special effects are quite good, such as the monster Mary changes into at the end. With exploding cars and tons of deaths, the climax is almost quite exciting but remains quite laughable when tons of cats go into action. They seem to have chosen the cutest looking cats ever [though that didn’t stop the filmmakers from harnessing them to the ground so they would stay still for some scenes] and when they jump on their victim they become unconvincing dummies being thrown around. One thing that I was surprised to see when I saw at the pictures was the incestuous relationship between Mary and Charles. In an early scene they dance and he carries her upstairs, then in a later scene we do actually briefly see them having sex!
Madchen Amick is a likeable heroine but she is overshadowed by Alice Krige as Mary. Krige has an odd ability to be scary and sexy at the same time [check out Ghost Story] and is quite hypnotic in the role. The interesting cast has small appearances by Ron Perlman and Mark Hamill, plus cameos from King, John Landis, Joe Dante, Clive Barker and Tobe Hooper. I don’t know what all these folk saw in the film, but maybe they just approached it as a lark, which is the best way to approach Sleepwalkers. Director Mick Garris later became almost a specialist in TV King adaptations which closely followed the books, but there is a crazy sense of fun in this movie which is hard to dismiss. It’s basically rubbish, but fun rubbish, and fun rubbish is sometimes just the ticket. This was one of Stephanie Meyer’s favourite movies and does seem to have influenced Twilight in several ways, but five minutes of this film is more entertaining than all three of those cinematic bore fests put together.