31 Days to Scare ~ Sleepwalkers (1992)

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The Facts:

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

Rated: R

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.

31 Days to Scare ~ DeepStar Six

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The Facts:

Synopsis: The crew of an experimental underwater nuclear base are forced to struggle for their lives when their explorations disturb a creature who threatens to destroy their base.

Stars: Taurean Blacque, Nancy Everhard, Greg Evigan, Miguel Ferrer, Nia Peeples, Matt McCoy, Cindy Pickett, Marius Weyers, Elya Baskin, Thom Bray, Ronn Carroll

Director: Sean S. Cunningham

Rated: R

Running Length: 105 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  Coming up on the near halfway mark of 31 Days to Scare, I figured it was time to bring out a bit of nostalgia by way of this underwater creature feature from 1989 that was the first release of The Big Three that year which have gone on to become an infamous trio.  Along with Leviathan and the much more well known (and respected) The Abyss, DeepStar Six wound up suffering by comparison with the later releases which came in with bigger budgets and certainly in the case of The Abyss, more technical polish.  Making the least of all three at the box office (a paltry $8 million) it developed a nice cult following when released on VHS and it’s not hard to see why. Looked at now, it’s a perfect Friday night popcorn selection that’s easy on the rump and, thanks to its appealing cast, far less onerous to spend time with than Leviathan.

It does take its sweet time to get going, though.

Let’s back up.  Developed by writer Lewis Abernathy (who, in an odd twist, wound up working with The Abyss director James Cameron, on his Titanic doc, Ghosts of the Abyss) and co-written by Geof Miller, the film wears its bones as an Alien rip off almost proudly.  A crew of an underwater nuclear base is just about finished with their project when a routine day turns into a nightmare after a cave system is discovered and a crack in the ocean floor unleashes a prehistoric creature that only has destruction on its mind.  As the tiny crew races to find a way to get to the surface before they’re either eaten, drown, or explode from the pressurized base being compromised, it comes down to a precious few to prevent the beast from escaping into the depths of the ocean where it may never be caught.

Why this massive predator doesn’t just hightail it out of there once it’s freed from its crusty cove is a question you just shouldn’t consider for the sake of your own entertainment value.  Instead, just concentrate on the fun of the 75 or so minutes where it’s causing a whole heap of problems for the crew, led by McBride (Greg Evigan) and Collins (Nancy Everhard).  Both actors are convincingly heroic in their bid for main action star and even with the not so hot success of the film it’s strange neither could parlay the work in DeepStar Six into something bigger (or better) after this.  An amusing twist to this film is that often the predator outside is no match for the troublemaker inside, and the whiny mechanic Snyder is played to perfection by the late great Miguel Ferrer.  All the crew actually interacts well with each other, from Cindy Pickett as the kindly physician onboard to Nia Peeples playing a pretty marine biologist wanting to be taken seriously…and then has a shower scene with late ‘80s hunk Matt McCoy from The Hand that Rocks the Cradle.

One could argue that the set-up takes a little longer than necessary because at some point you feel the script and actors start to list restless in the water as the action comes to a slow grind…what is director Sean S. Cunningham waiting for?  Showing the same kind of interest in getting to know the doomed before sending them off to meet their maker that he did with the original Friday the 13th, Cunningham was never a director with a knack for flair but admittedly there’s a lot to juggle with DeepStar Six from large set pieces to visual effects.  Iffy though they are, and pretty silly as it nears the conclusion, some of the practical effects of the creature wind up looking sort of nice and there are several nasty bits of gore along the way that remain memorable moments for this viewer.

I’m not going to argue the merits of DeepStar Six compared to James Cameron’s impressively epic achievement of The Abyss, which remains one of my all-time favorites (where is that dang 4K BluRay?!?!) but I will stand up for this scrappy film to any fan of Leviathan.  That movie has a larger ick factor, making the threat more of a body horror parasite at first before giving way to something bigger but DeepStar Six is a monster feature that feels like a nice nod to the B-movies back in the day.  It’s definitely going for its own thing, and one must remember this came before all of the so-called imitators – and for that it has to get some credit for not being the sixth in line but #1.