Before both Frank Darabont and Mike Flanagan showed up on the scene, luxuriously named Mick Garris was the mac daddy when it came to adaptations based from the works of the insanely prolific author, Stephen King. These days Garris is better known for being horror’s top PR guy, boasting a podcast with impressive guests, but back in the day he was banging out versions of King’s work on TV such as The Stand, The Shining, Desperation and Bag Of Bones; but his sole movie contribution is Sleepwalkers.
Highly sold on hook that it was the “first Stephen King’s story written expressly for the scream” -technically true, although Creepshow might have a word to say about that – the film was released during the second age of movies based on big Steve’s works that took place at the beginning of the 90’s (the first age being virtually the entire 80’s) and did decent business despite the fact that people must have been getting sick of seeing his name on a movie poster by then.
Suspiciously close mother and son duo Mary and Charles Brady have just moved to an achingly all-American town in Indiana, but these two newcomers have an eyebrow raising secret – and it’s not that they don’t recycle… You see, Mary and Charles are in fact Sleepwalkers, a nomadic race of cat-faced shapeshifters who can only feed by having the male drain the lifeforce out of young virgins and then passes it onto the female by… well, basically Charles bones his mum to keep her fed (jesus, Steve…). Armed with an array of random powers the movie thinks they should have at any given time (invisibility, mild telekinesis, a car that change shape), Charles has targeted Tanya, the unbearably sweet girl from his english class who’s been making goo-goo eyes at him since he arrived. While the inhuman Chuck makes his moves onto his proposed future meal, Mary stays at home, growing ever more intense due to both her gnawing hunger and the arrival of an ever growing number of their natural enemies, cats. In suprisingly fast order, the Brady’s faked identities start breaking down and so Charles has to step up his seduction/feeding of Tayna so his mum can get her breeding feeding on (that’s my term and I immediately regret coining it). However, Tanya has way more fight in her than Charles expected and, thanks to an assist by Clovis – a cat owned by a cop Brady nastily murders – escapes, leaving her Animorphic attacker badly wounded and near death. This triggers Mary to go into high-octane, supernatural Karen mode who, in a last ditch attempt so save herself and her mortally wounded son, launches an all out attack on the town’s sleepy sheriff’s department in order to drag Tanya back for that dinner date the Sleepwalker’s desperately needed. But will this vicious version of a literal cat lady get what she needs or will Tanya, with help from the local moggy militia, manage sever this supernaturally strong mother/son bond once and for all?
Loaded with stylish flair and a plot bottom-heavy with incident, Sleepwalkers ultimately ends up feeling emptier than a fat cat’s food bowl, but that’s not to say that it isn’t entertaining. King hurls everything but the kitchen sink at his screenplay, seemingly thinking that incestuous cat beasties is simply a good start when packing his story with outlandish gore and strange character quirks; be it Glen Shadix’s unnecessarily sexual predator teacher or Alice Krige bizarrely stabbing a man to death with an ear or corn. He undoubtedly had as much fun writing it as Mick Garris seems to have had making as both men lean fully into the more ridiculous aspects of the script without a single care in the world for little, boring things like plot holes. For example; how exactly have Charles and his mother managed to stay hidden for so long when he chooses to engage in high speed chases with the police just for shits and giggles, or how exactly do a couple of ancient cat-vampires manage to be so good at finding choice real estate all over America when they seemingly move on after feeding on only one girl per town? I’m not even gonna waste time on Charles’ shape shifting car…
And yet, despite essentially being a film about a naive girl being the target of sexual assault – which the film actually chooses to acknowledge here and there – the filmmakers seem content for their movie to have as much substance as a dog’s fart as long as it’s moving at a good pace and kept stocked with groan worthy puns to go with it’s enthusiastic body count: “People really should keep their hands to themselves, here’s yours!” smirks Charles as he casually rips the hand off his touchy-feely teacher. Although animal lovers be warned… you may be unprepared for the sheer level of pussy related carnage on hand here.
To keep things even more off-beat, King seems genuinely uncertain (or simply uninterested) as to exactly who his main character should be; obviously Twin Peaks’ Mädchen Amick’s Tanya, sporting a smile that out-gleams the sun, is surely the top contender but doesn’t actually have much personality except having to alternate between being exceedingly sweet and fighting for her life. That leaves us, a little confusingly, with Brian Krause’s villainous (and fairly rapey) Charles, who bags the main bulk of screen time until he’s bloodily sent for an early shower in the second act in favour of Mary’s final reel rampage. Virtually everyone else in the film barely has ten minutes to make an impact before King and Garris gleefully have them dispatched in hugely exaggerated deaths involving bear-traps, pencils and some nasty compound fractures.
The result of this admittedly leaves the film feeling a little aimless, but it also means that it’s fairly unpredictable as this juggernaut of random concepts that King has smooshed into his script is actually a lot of undemanding fun. Another bonus is Garris’ insistence of filling scenes with an amusing smorgasbord of Stan Lee-style genre cameos for fright fans to spot, which include such horror heavyweights such as Clive Barker, Joe Dante, John Landis, Tobe Hooper, and of course King himself, which only adds to the oddly enjoyable, yet vapid nature of the film.
The cast are endearingly up for anything, Brian Krause is suitably charismatic… until he isn’t (if you get what I mean), Alice Krige gives another one of her textbook performances that centres on her being very flinty and weird and everyone else seems super-jazzed that they’re getting horribly maimed in a Stephen King movie but this is hardly an essential entry in the author’s back catalogue.
Fun in the way roller coasters are fun, Sleepwalkers is a diverting and fun Saturday night that doesn’t stick around for Sunday morning and despite it’s obsession with feline based fear simply isn’t the cat’s pyjamas…