||"The first Stephen King story written expressly for the scream!" went the tagline to Sleepwalkers, a suitably ridiculous bit of punning that leaves you uncertain of how seriously to take the movie as a whole. That was a problem back in 1992 when it was released: the horror genre's eighties stylings were beginning to look a little stale, and it was clear things had to move on. The film that showed the way into where it would go was Jonathan Demme's masterful Thomas Harris adaptation The Silence of the Lambs, but that influence would not take hold completely until after this effort had been put into production.
Besides, it was a Stephen King screenplay, just after the decade that would see him as the world's bestselling author, never mind of horror fiction, but of any kind of fiction, surely it would clean up at the box office? Yet King, having kicked his addictions, went into a career decline in the nineties, it was just that he had been so enormously successful that he remained a byword for chillers and shockers anyway, having made that huge impression. But female-centric books like Gerald's Game, Dolores Claiborne and Rose Madder were not enthusing those diehard fans of his as much as his more excessive, doorstep-sized tomes of before.
Oddly, Sleepwalkers was far more akin to his eighties, cocaine-fuelled efforts than his then-recent foray into women's issues, no matter that the studio had cast Madchen Amick as the movie's protagonist, a sweet, virginal teenager who becomes the focus of a campaign of terror by a pair of mother and son, shapeshifting cat demons, like you do. King pushed the boundaries of his R rating by introducing not merely the gory setpieces his novels rejoiced in, but also having the villains lustily enjoying an incestuous relationship, illustrated by anything from a dance sequence to Santo and Johnny's classic record Sleepwalk to a full-on sex scene.
Not only that, but while these two - Brian Krause as son, Alice Krige as mother - need to suck out the life essence of Madchen to carry on surviving, much as vampires do with blood, when Krause finally got down to business the sequence was filmed like a rape, which tested the tolerance of the censors especially when he was wisecracking like Freddy Krueger throughout. That was the jarring element, one which the cast were surprised about when they came to make the movie, it was almost a comedy, and certainly featured moments that prompted laughter, often thanks to how over the top the violence or snappy (silly) lines would be.
This tonal uncertainty was part of the reason audiences regarded Sleepwalkers as unintentionally funny, and though that could be a source of enjoyment, it did not exactly assist the picture's standing either at the time or looking back on it. Yet it does have its fans, not legions of them, but its hard to categorise qualities do make it stick in the mind, if only as the movie Stephen King wrote the script for without the boost of a hefty paperback propping up its potential box office. Thus, it quickly became a cult film, which may sound odd given it was kicked off by one of the authors who defined popular reading tastes from the nineteen-seventies onwards.
But then, movies drawn from King, no matter how much involvement he had in their manufacture, often picked up the cult audience in a way that more mainstream items would go on to be taken to the hearts of more respectable citizens. However, there's no getting away from it: Sleepwalkers does feature some very strange choices, for a start, these cat demons are not afraid of dogs, as you would think would be more obvious, but they are afraid of... more cats, of the non-demonic variety (assuming you don't find moggies demonic already). Maybe King thought he had already covered pooches in Cujo, both on film and on the page?
But then, he had previously scripted an anthology horror called Cat's Eye, which had in its last tale a cat which has been accused of stealing baby's breath, though it turns out to be the hero when it scares away a goblin that is the actual culprit - both movies used the same "draining the life essence through the mouth" trick. Mick Garris was the director, brought in to replace the original director who was not as faithful to King as anybody wanted, and this was probably his best work among a lot of King adaptations, though given he helmed the appalling miniseries The Shining, maybe that's not saying much. But he kept things rattling along, added fan service cameos of his famous pals, and managed the seemingly inevitable test screening demands with some ability. Twin Peaks fans would relish seeing Amick take the lead, transforming from screaming wreck to stronger-willed young woman, and King would always provide fascination, even in some weird decisions.
[Eureka release Sleepwalkers as a Special Edition Blu-ray with these features:
Limited Edition O-Card slipcase with silver laminate finish
1080p presentation on Blu-ray
DTS-HD MA 5.1 and LPCM 2.0 audio options
English subtitles (SDH)
New Audio Commentary with director Mick Garris and film historian Lee Gambin
Audio Commentary with director Mick Garris, Mädchen Amick, and Brian Krause
"Feline Trouble" interview with director Mick Garris
"When Charles Met Tanya" conversation with actors Mädchen Amick And Brian Krause
"Mother & More" interview with actress Alice Krige
"Creatures & Cats: The FX of Stephen King's Sleepwalkers" featurette
Limited Edition collector's booklet featuring new writing by Craig Ian Mann.]