The 20 year anniversary Blu-ray DVD release of Stephen King's Sleepwalkers comes with no whistles and no bells — it doesn't even bell the cat. Although it's just a de riguer release, I have to say: I enjoyed revisiting this lesser-known, more unusual than your usual horror story. I haven't seen it in many years, and for the most part it still holds up.
And by "holding up" I mean: even though it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, isn't scary, has super-cheesy CGI, and doesn't pay off, Sleepwalkers is surprisingly entertaining. I really can't explain how this phenomena occurs, but I can recap what little storyline there is: an ancient race of shape-shifting cat-people has pretty much petered out to two lone descendants, a mother (Mary, played by Alice Krige) and her teenage son (Charles, played by Brian Krause). They are part cat, but they hate cats. They are part human, but they kill humans (especially the chaste, for no apparent reason other than to have cast pretty and pleasant Twin Peaks star Madchen Amick in the role of Tanya). They don't sleep-walk, but they do incestuously sleep together. Charles drives a fast sports car, which can also shape-shift and become invisible. Mary is starving and she wants her dutiful son to get the one and only virgin-in-town's holy essence to feed her, but he holds off until one day he suddenly (again: no explanation) turns evil and goes after Tanya with unstoppable deadly intent. Why Mary can't feed herself, we never know.
The actors, and the characters they play, are wholly watchable and absolutely interesting. They're what makes the otherwise senseless story worth following, plus there is something kind of appealing about the whole monsters-in-a-small town thing which King, and Garris as his oft-collaborator, just seem to excel at. (For a later, and much better, supernatural story team-up of the two, check out Riding The Bullet). The cinematography is cool, the locations are awesome (L.A. natives will recognize a historic revival theater, Santa Monica's The Aero, in one goofy yet pivotal scene), and the town tabbies are adorable (especially Clovis, our small savior). The cameos are fun: Mark Hamill, Ron Perlman, and horror directors who can't act (King himself is joined by Tobe "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" Hooper, Joe "Gremlins" Dante, and Clive "Hellraiser" Barker). The character actors, especially Glenn Shadix as a sadistic teacher, and Dan Martin as the easygoing but determined cop, are the best.
I think Sleepwalkers is actually a pretty good movie until a certain turning point in which the watcher's already touchy trust is betrayed. I would also have liked to have seen more of Krige and less of Amick. Less would have been more in the special effects department. If they had to go with so little in plot, then they should have made more of the dark, comedic elements.
But overall, I find Sleepwalkers does just fine in the mindless entertainment department. I give it a mild paws-up, but I don't understand why they 20 year anniversary edition was just shoved out cold, with nothing but the original trailer as bonus material. Still, if the price is right, pick it up — it's a good pairing for the B-side of a double feature with Pet Sematary or Cujo.
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson
Stephen King, Tobe Hooper, and Clive Barker cameos in Sleepwalkers: