Tagline: They feast on your fear, and it’s dinner time.
Director: Mick Garris
Writer: Stephen King
Starring: Brian Krause, Mädchen Amick, Alice Krige, Jim Haynie, Cindy Pickett, Ron Perlman, Lyman Ward, Dan Martin, Glenn Shadix, Cynthia Garris, Monty Bane, John Landis, Joe Dante, Stephen King, Clive Barker, Tobe Hooper
18 | 1hr 31min | Horror
Budget: $15,000,000 (estimated)
Back in the early ’90s the horror genre began to look decidedly second-rate.
Part of this was due to the increasing availability of CGI for low budget movie makers, its bargain basement lows becoming more widespread and accessible. Another, perhaps more telling part, was the plethora of made-for-TV Stephen King adaptions, their overabundance flooding VHS stores at a rate fast approaching that of his fiction, which was quite frankly becoming overbearingly half-arsed.
The fact of the matter is, Stephen King’s work never translated very well to celluloid. There were exceptions: Carrie, Misery and The Shawshank Redemption to name but a few, but the majority struggled to maintain their potency when given a filmic platform, his novels relying very much on slow-building tension rather than crowd-pleasing jump scares. Incidentally, King disapproved of Stanley Kubrick’s mesmerising take on The Shining, preferring instead Mick Garris’ three-part miniseries based on his own teleplay. He then went on to scoop the Best Director Oscar for his 1986 masterpiece Maximum Overdrive. I’m kidding, of course. But from all the available evidence it is only reasonable to conclude that King’s work – some of it exceptional – was better left in its original format.
The fifth of an incredible 24 Stephen King vehicles made during the ’90s alone, Sleepwalkers is one of several efforts which are not direct adaptations. Advertised as ‘The first Stephen King story written expressly for the scream’, it offers absolutely dick in terms of tension, and is by and large a quite laughable attempt at horror movie-making. In fact, the most notable aspect of this strait-to-video fare – asides from a wonderfully feline performance from Alice Krige as the self-centred and matriarchal Mary Brady – are the preposterously cutesy makeup effects. Oh, and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-them series of inane and pointless cameo’s from such horror royalty as John Landis, Joe Dante, Clive Barker and Tobe Hooper. There is even an appearance from the writer himself – but King has appeared in so many I’m amazed he’s found the time to write even a fifth of his gazillion and one mainstream publications.
Although set in the current day, like most Stephen King stories, Sleepwalkers is imbued with a rather pungent scent of the 1950’s, a time-warp which the writer seems incapable of escaping. You know the kind of environment: quiet, provincial towns with sinister residents, lazy, hick sheriffs and a supernatural menace which intends to feed on their trite social paradigm. Here the monsters are a seemingly normal mother and son. Charles is an ostensibly perfect all-American boy with a luscious blonde mane and the kind of sensitive side girls tend to put up with as long as it comes with dimples. His mother, on the other hand, is a frightful recluse who sets bear traps for the swarms of local cats who surround her household day and night. Their mysterious arrangement could have proved interesting given time to build, but when the two of them flaunt their explicitly incestuous relationship less than ten minutes in, all intrigue goes out of the window.
Regardless of his penchant for inbred depravity, Charles quickly takes a liking to a remarkably beautiful cinema porter named Tanya (Amick), who can’t believe her luck when the new kid pours his heart out regarding the supposedly mythical Sleepwalkers, an ostracised species whose centuries of pain this peach-sweet suburbanite can somehow empathise with. Of course, there is a sinister side to the boy’s surreptitious self-pity. Sleepwalkers are a dying breed, a vampire/feline species who morph into cutesy, alien-type creatures and feed on the blood of virgins. Mother sleepwalker is worried that their cover might be blown before they are given a chance to feed, and when Charles goes on a murderous rampage in broad daylight you begin to understand why. So inept is Charles at remaining incognito that not only does he reveal his true identity to the townsfolk at will, he tears the limbs off his teachers and lobotomises the local police without caution. He even tries to run down a little girl with the kind of wanton malevolence that makes Death Race 2000 look like Wacky Races.
With his cover irrevocably blown, Charles then turns into a wisecracking psycho and goes for broke, senselessly unravelling all of his not-so-patient groundwork, and the unfortunate choice of costumes and make-up see the movie descend into the kind of laughable farce that can only inspire derision.
King would lend his name to both Pet Cemetery II and Children of the Corn II before the year’s end.
Sometimes it is simply better to say No.
After fleeing her polymorphous aggressor, Tanya runs into a local deputy and begs for assistance. Moments later, our disfigured antagonist appears and shoves a pencil in the lawman’s ear, his resultant fall driving it deep into his brain.
Quoth Charles: ‘Ha ha! Cop kebab!’
Most Absurd Moment
After being attacked and told that she is lunch, Tanya watches a malevolent Charles transmute into something almost resembling a monster, before bludgeoning him with her camera. Seconds later, Tanya has a pang of conscience and tries to resuscitate his lifeless body with girlish sympathy.
Okay, kill her!
Most Absurd Dialogue
After having his eye pulled out with a corkscrew, a heavily bloodied Charles analyses the grave seriousness of his situation.
Charles: ‘Look what you’ve done to my shirt! Mom’s gonna kill me.’
I suppose it beats incest.
With the entire plot revealed before the halfway point, events become a little tedious in Stephen King’s overbearingly familiar Sleepwalkers environment, and the makeup effects laugh all potential terrors off the screen, but in spite of the movie’s reckless pacing, for pure unabashed brutality Mary Brady’s vengeful rampage is a scream, and just about worth sticking around for.