Synopsis: A mother-and-son team of strange vampiric shapeshifting creatures able to stay alive only by feeding on the life-force of the innocent move to a small town to avoid discovery while searching for their next victim.
Stars: Brian Krause, Mädchen Amick, Alice Krige, Jim Haynie, Cindy Pickett, Ron Perlman, Lyman Ward, Dan Martin, Glenn Shadix
Director: Mick Garris
Running Length: 91 minutes
TMMM Score: (6.5/10)
Review: By 1992, the pickings in the Stephen King library of horrors to option into visual media properties was getting mighty slim. With most of the bestselling author’s novels getting a big (or small) screen adaptation, Hollywood had turned to his short stories to either use as chapters in anthologies or expanding them into full length features. Strangely, the writer had never put an idea to paper that was solely meant for the screen and so Sleepwalkers (or Stephen King’s Sleepwalkers as it was originally promoted) was something of a big deal when it was announced. Here was a rare commodity, a previously unknown story that fans would have no prior knowledge of going in. This could function to not let down those that had held his tomes in high regard only to be disappointed in the feature film version. On the other hand, much of what made King such a special writer in the first place was his way of getting into the mind of his characters and that was only something that could be seen on the page.
You must take this ungainly effort with a healthy dose of salt and vinegar then because at the end of the night is Sleepwalkers all that good of a Stephen King movie? No, not really. Does it work just fine as a mid-range horror film so popular in this era that delivers a few thrills here and there over the course of it’s barely 90-minute runtime? Absolutely. I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for the movie and revisit it frequently, mostly because of one performance (we’ll get to it) but also because it seems to have a sense that it’s kind of silly and decides at a certain point to lean into the camp of it all. It’s no Misery, but it’s no Maximum Overdrive either.
Opening in a hastily abandoned home in Bodega Bay (where Hitchcock’s The Birds took place) at a crime scene littered with feline carcasses that I’m sure made the folks at PETA scream bloody murder, we jump over to small town Indiana at the home of Charles Brady and his mother Mary. A good-looking high school student, Charles (Brian Krause) is the All-American boy next door on the outside but it’s all just a disguise that hides his true form: a nomadic shapeshifting werecat that feasts on virginal lifeforces. That’s bad news for classmate Tanya (Mädchen Amick), who just got asked out on a date by Charles and is about to have a devil of a time fending off his advances once he reveals what’s underneath his wholesome features and true intentions.
You see, while Charles has to make sure he’s satiated, he’s also responsible for ensuring his “mother” is also fed, and Mary (Alice Krige, She Will) is one ravenous mama. Well…maybe mama is too specific. It becomes clear quickly there’s more to this mother-son relationship than meets the eye and once Tanya proves to be significant trouble and more than Charles can handle, Mary has to step in and show her “son” how to get the job done right. The residents of the small town are unprepared for the vicious beasts and more than a few go down in bloody shreds as the longest date night of Tanya’s life rages on.
The chief reason to see (and enjoy) Sleepwalkers is Krige sinking her teeth into her role and slowly chewing it in small bites. Normally, this measured devouring would be more than any movie could tolerate but Krige possesses a special charm that makes her screen time almost giddy fun. Here’s an actress that looks like she could be doing Shakespeare biting fingers off of characters and carrying grown men over her shoulder while firing a gun. It’s a great pleasure to see her in action and you only wish King’s film had more of these trippy moments of delirium to keep up the strange sense of wonder. At least director Mick Garris (writer of Hocus Pocus) seems to understand the movie needs to sway into the mood of the what King has produced and not resist the urge to acknowledge that it is pretty goofy. I mean, the special effects range from neat-o to lame-o so the balance has to be struck somewhere in the middle for tone overall.
Despite making back it’s budget the film was seen as a disappointment when compared to King’s other, more sophisticated projects and Sleepwalkers is unfortunately often thought of in the lower rungs of his feature flicks. That’s a bummer because the cast is made up of fun genre players (Pacific Rim’s Ron Perlman, DeepStar Six’s Cindy Pickett and her then-husband Lyman Ward from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off as well as Glenn Shadix from Beetlejuice) and Amick should have been a bigger star. Krige went on to be a memorable Borg Queen in Star Trek: First Contact and continues to turn in impressive performances with great presence. If you’ve never seen it, it’s definitely one to check out if for nothing more than to further your Stephen King completism.