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‘Sleepwalkers’ Was a Fun Stephen King Film Worth Another Watch

‘Sleepwalkers’ Was a Fun Stephen King Film Worth Another Watch

Look, I’m not going to sit here and tell you Sleepwalkers is a great film. It’s not. It’s plagued by pacing issues, awkward dialogue, and some questionable performances. And despite turning a decent profit during its theatrical run, the film was a critical disaster, panned by both fans and critics.

Sleepwalkers’ legacy of infamy would continue decades after its release, becoming a midnight movie staple for college dorm rooms across the country and eventually being the subject of an episode of the hit podcast How Did This Get Made?. Any film harboring a scene during which a grown man is stabbed to death with an ear of corn by a werecat (boy, that’s a sentence I never thought I’d write) does deserve a certain level of derision, but not to the point of making it a laughingstock in the annals of horror movie history.

Sleepwalkers is a blast.

There are some interesting concepts at play that are executed quite well, which is to be expected with class act director Mick Garris (Psycho IV: the Beginning, The Stand) behind the camera and an original screenplay penned by the one and only Stephen King (most of your childhood nightmares). And let me tell you, that pedigree shines through in the finished product, just not as brightly as it should.

I’ll be the first to admit that it seems like King is not firing on all cylinders with this one, but interestingly enough, the themes and plot devices he implements in his screenplay for Sleepwalkers would be revisited in later works. If nothing else, Sleepwalkers is a dry run for a lot of forthcoming material.

The theme of a women reclaiming her own sexual agency from monstrous oppressors would be honed to high art in his novel, Gerald’s Game (which was released a month after Sleepwalkers). To be fair, there is a lot of screaming and classic “final girl” behavior from the heroine of Sleepwalkers, Tanya (played by Mädchen Amick), but she’s a fighter, not just a survivor. In fact, Tanya is such a fighter that she stabs the aforementioned oppressor (who is a literal monster) in the eye with a fucking corkscrew during the second act. While the real hero of the film, Clovis the Cat, is the one who saves Tanya in the end, it doesn’t make her any less of a strong female protagonist.

What King has always been good at is creating mythology within his dense world.

The Sleepwalkers themselves have a storied history, one filled with personal tragedy, persecution, and…um incest. Okay, that last one doesn’t really build the lore; it’s just messed up. But it’s oddly familiar for fans of King’s work. The mother/son dynamic between Charles and Mary would later be echoed in Mr. Mercedes. And King employing nomadic psychic vampires as villains would later be seen in The Shining sequel, Doctor Sleep. Clearly, these kitty people had a lasting impact on King, or, at the very least, were the groundwork for better iterations of themselves.

As for the directing, Mick Garris has always been reliable in knowing where to place the camera to get the best bang for the viewer’s buck even if most of his framing for expository scenes can often come off as bland. I’d argue that Sleepwalkers is visually his best work, but the only problem is that Garris’ style, (or maybe lack thereof), actually hinders the effectiveness of the batshit craziness that fills every scene.

This is what keep Sleepwakers from achieving greatness.

The film plays it safe. What Sleepwalkers needed was the Romero touch, and no, that isn’t a slight against Garris. Let me explain: Back in 1982, George A. Romero directed Stephen King’s first screenplay, Creepshow, which is equal parts hilarious and horrifying, even today. What made Creepshow have such a lasting impact was that Romero and King were on the exact same wavelength while making it. They knew they were creating a big, broad, campy horror film to pay homage to the EC comics they grew up reading in the ‘50s, and everyone else on the production played along.

Sleepwalkers however, doesn’t have that unique identity. It’s too prim and proper in its presentation. There are too many campy jokes, ridiculously broad acting decisions, and far too many horror icon cameos (seriously, everyone is in this thing) to pretend that the film a straight up horror movie.

Perhaps this is Stephen King diving into self-parody.

There are just as many call backs to King’s body of work as there are elements that will later repeat themselves. The nomadic monster (specifically a vampire or were-creature of some sort) is a big trope within horror as a genre, but it was featured heavily in ‘Salem’s Lot and Cycle of the Werewolf. We see King poking fun at his reoccurring small-town law enforcement characters by making them incompetent when the chips are down. King also brings in a cat as a hero, something that subverts feline characters from previous works while simultaneously pays homage to an earlier screenplay, Cat’s Eye.

One might even see a parallel between the silliness of adapting the short story “Children of the Corn” into multiple films (one was already released and the second was announced by the time Sleepwalkers showed up in theaters) to the silliness of literally killing a man with corn…

…Okay, that one might be a stretch

Despite its uneven presentation, Sleepwalkers is persistently entertaining, no matter what mindset you watch it in. Its silliness is a delight and King’s self-parody references are too frequent to be coincidental. There is plenty here to love and maybe the fact that I saw Sleepwalkers at a young age is why it left a lasting impression on me. Before I fell in love with his novels and short stories, it was King’s screenplays, specifically Sleepwalkers, along with Cat’s Eye, Pet Sematary, and Creepshow that started my journey into King’s dominion. I’m glad that most of the kitties in these works were heroic and very lovable.

Sorry, Church. You’re too scary.



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COMMENTS

40 Comments
  • Angela M Campany

    Love this movie !!

  • Creepshow

    Sleepwalkers needs to be buried in the litter box with all the other turds. It’s difficult for me to think of a movie that I loathe more than this shit-bomb.

    • Trent Owens

      really? out of every other movie you have EVER seen this is the worst? come on now with the hyperbole.

      • Creepshow

        Believe it, Trent. I’m sorry you find that so astonishing.

        • James

          If this is the worst you’ve seen you really haven’t seen many horror films.

          • Creepshow

            Jimbo, please shut your ass.

    • lonestarr357

      After a certain point, it falls out of a r*t**d tree and seems determined to hit every branch on the way down. So, yeah, the litterbox analogy is sound.

    • NixEclips

      It may be difficult for you, but I’m sure you can think of one. I believe in you.

      • Creepshow

        I’ll try to come up with something. But the disdain runs deep with this one.

        • NixEclips

          I had to pay theater price to see this. I understand.

          • Creepshow

            I gave it the old college try, and once again I came up empty. You had faith in me, and I let you down. For that I beg for your forgiveness. Of all the other shit movies out there, I’d still watch THEM instead of THIS. The roots of my hatred grow stronger by the year.

          • NixEclips

            Fair enough. Enjoy your marathon of Uwe Boll films!

          • Creepshow

            Will do.

  • Kyle Cole

    Absolutely love this movie, except for seeing a few kitties getting killed

  • Necro

    Yeah it was alright. Why were the ‘Sleepwalkers’ allergic to cats again? The one character I do like in this is Alice Krige ‘Mrs. Brady’, that’s one stone cold bitch there! “You’re right, it’s not the fucking wind.”
    Also another good thing to come out of this film personally for me is the Santo & Johnny song ‘Sleepwalk’, really like that tune. I like its use in ‘La Bamba’ as well.

    • Tim

      They don’t explain why they were allergic to cats, that don’t explain where the Sleepwalkers come from or how many more there are, they don’t explain why they are incestious. This movie explains nothing.

  • Bobby1181

    This one has always stuck with me for how batshit insane it was.

  • CalUni

    Fond memory seeing this. I think I was the right age. I think Amick was kinda perfect in this.

  • Dot

    While not exactly a vampire movie that’s exactly the reason I found so much enjoyment in it. When I first saw Sleepwalkers in like 2009 (or 2010…can’t really remember when exactly) the vampire genre was flooded with movies and shows walking away from the horror genre and putting the species more in fantasy or romance territory (some did it right like The Originals and others just bastardized the myth like Twilight). Sleepwalkers was a welcome change of pace for me (despite being older and low in quality)

  • MeeGhoulz

    Madchen Amick. Enough to at least watch. And the actress that plays the mom also plays Christabella, the cult leader on Gans Silent Hill adaptation!

  • xcalibrate ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    King rarely fires on all cylinders, well not until he’s had his alleged ‘pick me ups’. Some good material in a sea of meh but, oh boy, what a horrible man.

    Sleepwalkers is good schlock. And it’s got Alice Kriege so that is a good reason to watch. Sleepwalkers and Ghost Story.

  • Wil McMullen

    I remember seeing this one in the theaters and loved it… Lol! Watching it today its definitely a lil silly but still a fun bizarre story of incestuous bald cat people, whose arch enemy’s happen to be cute furry kittens.. Lol

    • MrX13

      Nice way of putting the movie….hahaha

  • Brian

    I liked the movie because of Madchen Amick. The scene where she is in her movie theater employee uniform dancing by herself with the walkman on enchants me. I even like it better than her full frontal nude scene in Dream Lover. She looked perfect.

    • Graham

      I came to the comments to say the exact same thing. Love Amick and love that scene.

      • Tim

        She was alright but the male villain was a complete douche A hole and I laughed when they want to feel sympathy for him when he’s dying.

    • MrX13

      That scene made me fall in love in her!

    • LastCubScout

      Mädchen Amick was gorgeous, but better than “Dream Lover”? Hell no! :-p

  • jackstark211

    This movie sucked back in 1992 and it still sucks in 2017.

  • The Night King

    Stephen King – “My novels and the altered movie versions are like apples and oranges, both are delicious but taste very different, and I’m okay with that. It is what is it.” (The making of Stand By Me documentary)

    Stephen King – “Kubrick’s Shining is just not a very good movie. The casting was all wrong and Kubrick missed the point by making Jack crazy to begin with, ect.” (Anytime he’s asked.)

    Sometimes, Stephen King is unbelievably full of shit.

  • MrX13

    This movie was awesome to begin with. It had the beautiful Madchen Amick, incest between mother and son, cat-people who were afraid of…..cats, Ron Perlman getting his fingers bitten off, a corn on the cob death, and a red 1965 Ford Mustang transforming into a blue 1977 Pontiac Firebird. Great movie!

  • PacMan Cereal

    I saw this in the theater and instantly loved the theme/song ‘Boadicea’ that played throughout. I ended up using it when I got married despite not being a fan of Enya. The movie itself is not even remotely scary, but it is a fun popcorn flick. I added it to my BluRay collection and watch it every couple of years.

  • Robert Reno

    I do like the blue Firebird

  • Will Friday2

    Madchen Amick was the draw to this movie. She was amazing in every scene…Dancing in the theater, the cemetery attack/chase scene, and the finale/fighting the mother…Incredible actress. She MADE the movie.

    • LastCubScout

      Oh, hell yeah.

  • John Allen

    Screw the haters. This is a great movie. Night Flyer is pretty good, too.

  • Sasha Kozak

    I remember renting this on vhs

  • Joshua Martyniouk

    Roasting this film is the best way to watch this movie!

  • Dan Warren (Forgottenretroworl

    This film had a lot of pussies in it.

  • Ron Quimby

    Here are the five C’s for why I think Stephen King’s Sleepwalkers doesn’t suck.
    C #1 – Creepy…I don’t care if you are an Angora-Phobic Were-Cat…It’s never okay to hump your mom.
    C #2 – Cheesy…Stephen King was obviously trying to have fun with his cheeztastic original screenplay…When Charles, the angora-phobic were-cat rips off the hand of his nosey teacher, he says…”You’re right, Mr. Fallows…People really should learn to keep their hands to themselves…Here’s yours.” Or when he is about to suck the life out of his virgin girlfriend, he says…” This doesn’t have to hurt. Just think of yourself as lunch!”
    C #3 – Cameos…Let’s start with a mustachioed Mark Hamill in the films intro…And then you’ve got the graveyard scene with King himself, talking to crime scene investigators played by Tobe Hooper and Clive Barker…Then in the crime lab, the two lab techs are played by none other than Joe Dante and John Landis.
    C #4 – Corncobs and Cop-Kabobs…Some fun, original, and gruesome practical effects in this one…The corncob stabbing has to be at the top of list…Go ahead…Try naming another film that features a death scene with a corncob as a murder weapon.
    And finally…C #5…Clovis…The real hero of this film is a cat…Yeah…You heard me…A fucking cat…Clovis was an unbelievable horror movie bad-ass…He dove into action fearlessly protecting the puny humans in this film…And Sparks, the cat-actor who played him, deserves to be standing next to Bruce Campbell, Kurt Russell, and Rowdy Roddy Piper, in the annals of horror movie bad-asses.

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