Inspired by the Santo & Johnny song “Sleep Walk,” (the Sleepwalkers dance to a record of it in the movie), Stephen King’s Sleepwalkers is the first screenplay he wrote for the screen instead of adapting one of his books or short stories. Directed by Mick Garris, in the film Charles Brady (Brian Krause) is new to Travis, Indiana when he meets Tanya Robertson (Twin Peaks‘ Mädchen Amick) and invites her to go gravestone rubbing with him. That’s not a euphemism, but it is a lie. Charles needs Tanya’s soul to feed. At first, the film portrays him as having reservations, but when he turns, it’s like a switch goes off. The deaths are fast and many (especially if you take Tanya’s last line seriously). The film doesn’t make light of these losses (the victims aren’t strangers), and Tanya’s trauma is taken seriously, too, but it’s also a funny movie (Charles loves punchlines) and manages to be all of these things without losing face.
sleep’walk’er n. Nomadic shape-shifting creatures with human and feline origins. Vulnerable to the deadly scratch of the cat, the sleepwalker feeds upon the life-force of virginal human females. Possible source of the vampire legend.
We’re given this definition at the start of Sleepwalkers, and it’s absolutely bonkers, yet because the rules are established early (and Amick has Garris confirm in the commentary that it’s not a real definition, but when you’re watching all that matters is it’s from a dictionary, so it must be true), it gives viewers a chance to dispel any initial skepticism for the concept. “Deadly scratch of the cat” does sound a bit heavy handed, and, after Sleepwalkers, Garris co-wrote Hocus Pocus with Neil Cuthbert and the ‘virgins in peril’ angle should sound familiar from that.
When you encounter these aspects in the film, though, you’re not questioning them, as you might if you were encountering them for the first time, but seeing the definition confirmed. The first time we meet Charles’ mother, Mary (Alice Krige) she’s staring out the window at the cats in her front yard [Fun fact: the exterior of the Brady home is the house from The Waltons]. More and more cats show up as the film goes on (I guess they’re able to suss out their prey) and instead of wondering whether she’s afraid of them, we know she is, and why.
A lot of information is inferable, but the definition is the only time we’re given explicit answers. If that seems like a gamble – assuming viewers will be paying close attention at the beginning – Sleepwalkers deserves credit for seeing the choice through and reaping its rewards. No, Sleepwalkers doesn’t repeat itself, just to be on the safe side, but it also doesn’t need to produce a Sleepwalker expert or show Tanya in research mode. The plot doesn’t stop to give Tanya time to understand what she’s up against, but it doesn’t need to slow down, either, and that pace, when you think of everything that happens, is remarkable, especially in how it preserves the tone through all the violence. You’re there with Amick, as Tanya, as she starts to put things together and realizes humans aren’t going to defeat the Sleepwalkers. It’s up to Clovis the cat.
Clovis and his owner, Deputy Sheriff Andy Simpson (Dan Martin), are the most lovable characters, and there are a few cameos (more than I realized before the commentary) by famous authors, and a famous actor. Enya’s “Boadicea” plays at different points and gets under your skin, it’s so strong and haunting.
Shout! has stocked their Blu-ray to the brim with bonus features. There are new interviews with the main cast, interviews with the special effects team (Sleepwalkers was one of the first movies to use morphing, for when the Sleepwalkers transition into their true forms). The crown jewel is the commentary with Garris, Amick, and Krause. Besides the behind the scenes stories and technical details they provide (like that the opening sequence was filmed later to expand on the Sleepwalkers’ history), you can tell that these are three people who enjoy each other’s company. They talk through the closing credits and Amick asks Garris questions, to iron out some of the plot points. It all comes together to cultivate an even greater fondness for the film they made together. Don’t hesitate to get your paws on this one.
Stephen King’s Sleepwalkers is available on Blu-Ray now from Shout! Factory.