Sleepwalkers – #1 in the US (Apr. 10 – 12)
All-Time Domestic & Worldwide $30,524,763
Stephen King’s Sleepwalkers is a snooze on thrills, yet delights in stupidity.
There is no name in the realm of modern horror more well-known than Stephen King. Alongside contemporaries Clive Barker and Anne Rice, King is prolific for his horror tales. His works lead to brilliant film adaptations of Carrie and The Shining which King despised. With as many adaptations of his work already out and about or in production, King decided to get more involved with films.
Creepshow was a phenomenal anthology by King and director George Romero in tribute to the old EC Comics. King then wrote three adaptations of his own work with Cat’s Eye, Silver Bullet, and Pet Semetary. He wrote and directed another work of his with the “so bad, it’s good” Maximum Overdrive. Sleepwalkers would be the first screenplay of his written exclusively for the screen. It even says so on the poster.
Charles Brady (Brian Krause) is new to the town of Travis, Indiana with his mother Mary (Alice Kriege) whom he has an incestuous relationship. The two focus their sights on Tanya Robertson (Mädchen Amick) to help please Mary’s hunger to remain alive. The Bradys are shape-shifting energy vampires that feast upon young people to survive. With Charles being a charmer at school, he soon woos Tanya into his arms. As time progresses, their true form begins to be revealed. Tayna sees for herself after a date gone wrong and looks to local cops to help. Yet, the shapeshifters harbor a strange weakness and enemy: domestic and stray cats.
If you read all that and thought to yourself “Well, that sounds stupid,” you’d be correct. Sleepwalkers is a terrible story that doesn’t even scare once and is goofy as hell. The plot of energy vampires has been done before (and better) in the awesome cult film Lifeforce. Having them be shapeshifters is a neat idea, but it stumbles when the weakness is domestic cats.
I adore cats wholeheartedly and think they rule, but man, that is one stupid weakness. That’s like aliens invading a planet that is 71 percent water when it’s their weakness. As a cat lover though, I understand making them the heroes at the end of the day. It does lead to a hilarious attack scene between a police officer’s cat named Clovis that has the actor holding a puppet of a cat as it attacks. It’s violent and hilarious. I’m not for seeing dead cats on screen though, but they are not real for the most part. Some were from a taxidermist.
This movie is littered with cats with over 120 cats appearing for the film’s final sequence. Each cat was trained and taken care of with no real cats used in scenes that required horrific acts. There is one moment that is quite funny in the said finale involving one of these fake cats. A sheriff shoots Mary with a shotgun and a cat that was on her back goes soaring through the air to the ground complete with a “MEOW!” It had me roaring with laughter. Cat deaths are not funny, but the way that it was presented was out of a Looney Tunes shorts.
Like Lifeforce, Sleepwalkers also has an alluring woman as the head vampire. Alice Kriege is more well-known as the Borg Queen from Star Trek: First Contact. As Mary in this film, she nails being seductive and beyond terrifying. Kriege is a highlight of this film by going to absolute town with it. She’s having a blast as a villain and anytime she was on screen, I knew something good was in store. She handles the kills well by showing how much of a force she is to deal with. One of her most creative deaths is using her strength to lodge an ear of corn into the spine of a police officer. It’s bloodless, but the mere sight of getting killed by corn is fun to behold.
I could do without the incest. Making them lovers would have been fine. Having Charles be her husband who lures girls would be a better route. But as a son, the very seed of herself, it becomes a one-way ticket to a cold shower for the audience. That’s me. I’m the audience. The chemistry is strong with one another having that passion and care, but since it’s mother and son, it’s very uncomfortable. The song “Sleep Walk” by Santo & Johnny will be forever ruined seeing them make love during it. This seems to be the norm coming from a man who wrote a whole children’s orgy in It. This aspect of the film does make it stand out because the film does not have a great start.
It’s boring at the beginning with Charles and Tanya, but Amick as Tanya plays her with sweet naivety. Amick was a mainstay on the hit show Twin Peaks cementing her as a graduate of the David Lynch school. Amick has this adorable dance scene that is a bit out of nowhere but it captures her character to a tee as a fun-loving person.
Amick is a great final girl too. She also reminds me that I need to start Twin Peaks. Krause plays a generic white bread boy fine, but when it gets to the monster he is, this man is a cartoon character with silly quips. It turns scenes that should scare into unintentional bits of comedy. This is when the movie became a cheesy B-movie from the 50s for better or worse. There are great bits of bumbling cops, killings, and visual effects galore.
One of the best things about the film is the special effects. Special effects designer Tony Gardner did a fantastic job on the character creation and the special effects. The shapeshifter’s true form is disgusting to look at. It’s a hybrid of the human body and that of a sphynx cat. It’s very hard to look at times due to its design, but it’s stellar to see. The gore effects are sellar with blood dripping, realistic gashes, and injuries that are stunning. Poor Ron Pearlman as Officer Soames gets his arm broken by Kriege in one scene and it’s a quick brutal cut to broken bone. It will make even the bravest wince at the very sight of it all. Practical effects will always be better than CGI. Thank God for horror movies making sure that form of effect does not die.
Another good thing about this movie for horror aficionados is a who’s who of horror legends in brief cameos. King himself makes a cameo as a cemetery keeper and interacts with examiners. These examiners are director Tobe Hooper of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre fame and writer Clive Barker of Hellraiser fame. Hooper also directed Lifeforce, so this might be a tongue-in-cheek reference to that. In a later scene examining images from Tanya’s camera, there are lab technicians played by directors Joe Dante and director John Landis. Dante is known for The Howling and Gremlins series. Landis is known for An American Werewolf in London and Michael Jackson’s Thriller video. Mark Hamill appears in the film’s opening scene to explain what the shapeshifters are. I didn’t even recognize him at first, but once it’s known, it’s hard not to recognize him.
[Sidenote: It’s not a cameo but Enya’s “Boadicea” is played in the background for no real reason. It was strange as that day’s Heardle was The Fugee’s “Ready or Not” and I guessed the Enya tune first. What an odd coincidence.]
Sleepwalkers is not a film worth losing sleep over. There is a cheesy movie fun factor to it, but the bad outweighs the good. It’s plodding in the first two acts, then dismantles into a stupid spectacle throughout the last third. Alice Kriege emerges as a stand-out having fun with an otherwise terrible script. The effects and kills try to save the film, but not enough to salvage it. Yet, any movie that is pro-cat gets some points. Even after all these words, King still remains king.
Revue Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Next week, we get into back-to-back classics with a stone-cold deep cut with Bill Duke’s Deep Cover.