I remember seeing Sleepwalkers as a kid when it first hit HBO, and wondering why I was watching a movie where a cat monster had sex with his mom and tried to suck the lifeforce out of his girlfriend. At the time, I wasn’t quite old enough to appreciate where writer Stephen King and director Mick Garris were going with all of this, but when I popped in Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray release, I was much more tuned in to the movie’s “creature feature meets Flowers in the Attic” vibe.
Sleepwalkers fits right in with the crazy, melodramatic movies that came out of the early ‘90s, like John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness or Tobe Hooper’s The Mangler. What Garris brings to King’s original screenplay (not based on one of his previous stories) is an ability to blend elements of the morose and silly to form a premise that features lonely, incestuous shapeshifters who feed off female virgins and have a rather severe cat allergy. The new Blu-ray release leans into this sense of wackiness, starting with cover art that practically throws some the movie’s crazier elements at you from the front of the box without ever presenting it as a joke.
New interviews with the cast and crew for this release convey the sense of commitment
the cast and crew had to keeping the premise from slipping into camp. Garris, in particular, is quite charming as he talks about his experience with the movie, which he briefly lost out on to another director. But when that person didn’t work out and Garris took over the reins, he found himself shooting on the same lot and at the same time as Francis Ford Coppola (who was shooting Bram Stoker’s Dracula) and Steven Spielberg (who was shooting Hook). This seems to have helped Garris keep some perspective, which comes through in Sleepwalkers, as he never tries to get cute with the material. He sincerely commits to King’s script, which is why it works so well.
Also in Garris’ favor was his connection to a lot of big names in the horror genre, which he discusses leveraging for Sleepwalkers in the form of some fun cameos. In fact, this movie might have the longest list of cameos this side of Sharknado, with appearances by Mark Hamill (and a glorious ‘90s mustache), Tobe Hooper, Clive Barker, Joe Dante, John Landis, and, of course, Stephen King himself. But he didn’t want these cameos to come at the expense of taking people out of the movie, so Garris just let the appearances happen without having anyone ham it up.
The bonus features also include a combined interview with stars Brian Krause and Mädchen Amick, and they really have a fun rapport together as they take the segment over and just interview one another (especially as Amick prods Krause for details about how he spent the opening night of the movie in jail). This chemistry translates in the movie, as Krause has a great “aw shucks” charm that he leverages for great effect when he needs to shift into killer mode, and Amick brings some much-needed personality to what could have been a tired virgin trope.
Alice Krige steals the show, however, both as Mary in the film, as well as in her interview. Garris describes her as the kind of fearless actress required to pull off a role like Mary Brady, who could have easily become laughable in the hands of someone who wasn’t willing to really go for it. Krige’s interview showcases a very interesting woman who fully invests herself in her roles, and she has some great stories about how the crew had to literally herd cats for the film, as well as her glee at getting to toss out a zinger to cap off the infamous “death by corn cob” scene. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, please look into it. It’s worth the price of admission to see Sleepwalkers just for this scene alone.
But vegetables are certainly not the only creative tools in a movie that gives ‘80s slashers a run for their money, in terms of the eclectic mix of methods used to kill off its characters. Pencils, cameras, bear traps, and a ton of cats are used to pretty gory effect, and the disc includes an interview with lead FX supervisor Tony Gardner that gives some great insight into the chaotic nature of his team’s process. Gardner admits that with all of the last-minute changes, they were building new effects even as production had started filming. He also gives a peak at some of the effects that weren’t used, including a pretty juicy finale where Mary and Charles melt in one another’s arms (I wish it would have made the final cut).
Overall, both Sleepwalkers and its new Scream Factory release won’t be for everyone. If you don’t like a healthy dose of weird in your horror, then you’ll probably spend most of the time wondering what the hell you’re watching, and if you’re a cat lover, I would warn you that Sleepwalkers are not, and the movie proves that pretty explicitly. But, if you’re ready for a bit of an oddity, then I’d definitely say that you should give Sleepwalkers a visit (or a revisit). And while the bonus features don’t necessarily have the grand packaging that we sometimes get from Scream Factory, the small interviews and vignettes provide some fun insights into a movie that everyone involved seemed to really enjoy making.
Movie Score: 4/5, Disc Score: 3.5/5