Sleepwalkers marked the beginning of a long and fruitful working relationship and friendship between producer/writer/director Mick Garris and “King of Horror” Stephen King. Garris has adapted King seven times, including the ’90s mini-series adaptations of The Stand, and, controversially The Shining.
Despite Sleepwalkers‘ source, which was an unpublished King story transformed into a original screenplay by King and not one of his mammoth classics, it’s my favourite of all of Garris’ film or TV work as a director. It was King’s first screenplay to not have a basis in a previously published short story (Creepshow was a mixture of original stories and adaptations of previously published stories, so it technically doesn’t count.)
“Norman Rockwell Goes to Hell” is how Garris always describes the film, and the concept of a seemingly normal all-American town with a dark undercurrent is prevalent in both Garris’s and King’s work. One aspect of the film that makes Sleepwalkers such a blast is that it’s an unapologetic throwback to the 1950s monster movies that Garris and King grew up on. The premise is frankly ridiculous—but that’s the fun of it. It’s about the mother and son duo of Mary Brady (Alice Krige) and Charles (Brian Krause), who are last survivors of a race of vampiric werecat shapeshifters. They also have an incredibly incestuous relationship. Only your run-of-the-mill cat can see through their deception, and so thereal and supernatural felines have a mutual dislike for each other.
Mädchen Amick, who was hot off starring in Twin Peaks (which was its own brand of “Norman Rockwell Goes to Hell”), stars as Tanya Robertson. Tanya works down at the local movie theatre, and although she does fit the usual stereotypical of the sexually curious virgin last girl of horror movies, she has a lot more strength, and in the end isn’t just passive. She fights back, and if she doesn’t survive, it’s just out of dumb luck. Soon enough Charles is trying to woo her,but he just needs her virgin blood for his and his mother’s lifeforce, because they are starving!
The film isn’t high art by any means, and I’m sure no one would claim otherwise, but it’s a wild ride. From the start to the last very scene, the film just gets crazier by the minute. The special effects may seem crude today, as it was one of the earliest films to incorporate extensive CGI work with the morphing effects. Garris also had the foresight, however, to litter the film with nice character moments, like Tanya’s introduction into the film, a musical number while she cleans up the movie theatre she works in to The Contours’ “Do You Love Me.” The cast is also just really exceptional, from the leads to character actor favourites of mine like Ron Perlman and the greatly missed Glenn Shadix. The film is also notable for its cameos, which include Mark Hamill, John Landis, Joe Dante, Clive Barker, Tobe Hopper and, of course, King. The scene with King, Barker and Hooper was actually the first time they had all met each other in person, despite Hooper and Barker both having strong connections to King.
Despite being financially successful, Sleepwalkers was a critical dud—but I think maybe being the first major motion picture with the Stephen King tag post-Misery, one of the most acclaimed adaptations of King’s works and to date the only adaptation to win a Oscar, didn’t help matters. Critics clearly took the film way too seriously, when it was always meant to be a fun monster movie, but the film’s cult has only grown over the subsequent years. Hopefully this new Blu-Ray will indoctrinate some new fans into the cult of Sleepwalkers.
The disc includes all the extras on the Shout Factory release, which included various interviews with Garris, Amick, Krause and Krige, along with members of the special effects team, Tony Gardner and Mike Smithson. The other extras on that release included an audio commentary by Garris, Amick and Krause, plus behind-the-scenes footage, the theatrical, TV spots and a stills gallery. Eureka adds to this already pretty stacked roster of extras with a new Garris commentary moderated by film historian Lee Gambin, and a booklet with new writing on the film by Craig Ian Mann.