Directed by Mick Garris
Distributed by Image Entertainment
Sleepwalkers is a real oddity in director Mick Garris’ career. Not because of the subject matter, but because it’s actually a pretty solid movie. Sure, it has plenty of problems: clunky action, jarring tonal shifts and a bland leading man for starters. But what it lacks it makes up for with a genuinely twisted premise (thanks, Stephen King!) and a terrific performance from resident villainess Alice Krige. Over the span of two and a half decades, this remains the brightest spot on Garris’ resume. A curious effort that never quite gels but always entertains.
And I just love the premise: cat monsters. A mother and son (Krige and Krause) relocate to the all-American town of Travis, Indiana. It’s rather quickly revealed that they’re ancient supernatural beings in disguise, and their motivation doesn’t extend much beyond feeding on the blood of humans. When the super cute Mädchen Amick catches the eye of Krause, things get complicated.
Sleepwakers is something of a schizophrenic experience, and it’s hard to tell whether or not this was the intention of King’s script (doubtful) or studio tinkering (more likely). The first half of the film is really strong. It presents intriguing villains, a fantastically uncomfortable incest subplot (which it doesn’t shy away from showing - a full twenty years before becoming a seeming staple on every HBO series), a likable heroine and another look at small town life through the eyes of Stephen King. And it’s really good stuff. It gets under the skin (dat incest) and creeps you out, but it isn’t afraid to delve into amusing character asides as well. In fact, my favorite scene in the entire film is probably Amick’s little dance number in the movie theater lobby. Innocent fun, and it’s where this movie thrives.
Around the halfway mark things take a turn. Instead of seeing the story through as it was originally presented, Sleepwalkers switches gears into an FX-laden creature feature – tongue planted firmly in cheek. Like a lot of early 90s offerings, our villains are suddenly spouting one-liners that might even make Dr. Giggles wince. That it works at all is a testament to Krige’s excellent performance – she’s having a lot of fun without going too over-the-top. And it’s weakened by Garris’ inability to capture the carnage with the kind of energy it needs to be really fun. Let alone the fact that the first half of the film is still the more successful of the two, and I can’t help but wonder how this film was originally supposed to play out.
For everything that doesn’t work, this is still an easily digestible experience. The innocent small town atmosphere gives the film a nice feel, the creatures are nifty creations and any movie with cat heroes is a winner in my book. On top of that, horror geeks have got to smile at the cameos by Stephen King, Clive Barker, Tobe Hooper, John Landis and Joe Dante. Really persistent horror geeks will also smile at the brief presence of Friday the 13th Part 2’s Stu Charno as well. Plus, Mark Hammill and Ron Perlman are always welcome presences. This isn’t a great film by any stretch, but it remains a harmless little time killer.
When I saw that Image was releasing Sleepwalkers to Blu-ray, I balked. Having been badly burned by two of their releases last year (The Hills Have Eyes and Hellraiser II for curious parties), I wasn’t expecting much. But hell if I wasn’t completely surprised by their high definition presentation here. Sure, Sleepwalkers isn’t reference material, but for a twenty-year-old film, this looks pretty damn great. Colors are strong and vibrant. Skin tones are natural and finely textured. Backgrounds are alive with details. Blacks are deep and grain remains intact. In fact, I couldn’t find any fault with Image’s Sleepwalkers disc. If you’re even a marginal fan of this sucker, this is a worthy Blu-ray offering (and the price is right). It looks true to its source, and that’s how you’ve got to judge these things.
The DTS 2.0 track is pretty solid. It’s a very vibrant listen, offering the kind of fidelity that would’ve accompanied this flick if you were seeing it theatrically on opening night. Don’t be discouraged by the lack of surround sound; this is a clean and crisp track that gets the job done and does it well.
The only extra offered here is the theatrical trailer. It’s a shame because I would’ve killed for a Stephen King commentary track in which the author explained differences between his script (and unpublished short story) and the finished film. As it stands, however, you really couldn’t ask for a better technical presentation from Image. Sleepwalkers is pretty fun late night weekend fare, and fans of the film aren’t going to want to pass this up.
3 out of 5
0 out of 5