You can’t keep a good Outposter down, especially when his name is Wrenage and he keeps watching older movies and having an incredible urge to tell you all about them. The one-man Retro Review machine returns once again.

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Sleepwalkers

After reviewing Graveyard Shift, reviewing Sleepwalkers seemed a natural next step. Both are Stephen King flicks from the early 90s. Graveyard Shift took itself a bit too seriously. Sleepwalkers didn’t take itself serious enough. Despite Sleepwalkers imperfections, it might be Mick Garris’s finest hour. If Garris ever gave a TED talk on it, I couldn’t help but run up on stage and try to cut his hair.

“He looks like a lesbian Great Dane!” I’d shriek as security bent me into new and interesting shapes. “Let him go,” the head of security would say. “He’s right…”

Sleepwalkers is about a pair of werecats who eat fluorescent light. It was the first screenplay King wrote as an original story. I imagine King wrote it in three hours, typing 100 words a minute and snorting 100 grams of cocaine a minute. Not literally 100 grams a minute, that would be silly; rather 360,000 grams at the top of each hour, which averages out to 100 grams a minute.

Sleepwalkers

At the end of the day, Sleepwalkers is a 1950s horror movie given a 1990s aesthetic. It is second-tier all the way, but the world needs second-tier movies, too. They give Hollywood folk starting out a chance to cut their teeth, while giving audiences something to go with popcorn, soda and liquorice on a hot summers day. Watching Sleepwalkers makes me feel like I’m a kid at a matinee.

The flick has a midwestern-fairy-tale feel. It should have started with a title card that read “Once upon a time in Indiana…”

The movie’s music helps create this mood. Tunes from Enya and Santo & Johnny over a Rockwellian setting give it an almost-Amblin vibe. Problems exist, however. Let’s dig into Sleepwalkers. Spoilers abound.

Catting Around

Sleepwalkers is from Columbia Pictures, who recently brought us Morbius, in much the same way one might bring someone herpes. Credits run over statues, hieroglyphics and pictures of anthropomorphic cats. One has voluptuous breasts and is nursing a human baby. Has anyone checked if Sleepwalkers is a cult classic among Furries?

Supposedly, these backstory tidbits were Garris’s contribution to the film. Good idea or not? The opening credits of The Boogens did something similar and setup the movie’s universe without giving too much away. The opening credits of Sleepwalkers give too much away. The audience should discover the concept of werecats within the story.

 

Sleepwalkers has a number of cameos in it. The first one is by Mark Hamill before he took it upon himself to eat every In & Out Burger in the world. He’s gone from lightsaber to cellulitesaber.

“Use the fork, Luke!”

Hamill plays a cop investigating a murder. The scene of the crime is a bit mysterious, as there are dead cats hanging everywhere in pinata fashion. You literally can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a dead cat! Garris is firing on all cylinders in this opening. He makes use of a little-known camera trick called a Dutch Angle. Only the elites incorporate this technique… and kids who aren’t coordinated enough to hold a camera level.

sleepwalkers

The desiccated corpse of a teenage girl is discovered, and the corpse perfectly sets the tone of the movie. The corpse sports dental braces on its skeletal grin.

Cat People

From there, we get introduced to the top-billed actor in this little ditty called Brian Krause. Krause is mainly known for his time on Charmed, but he has worked steadily in the slush market of TV and movies. He’s perfectly serviceable in Sleepwalkers as a supernatural predator of indeterminate age playing a high school student. His grin is equal parts charming and feral.

Krause’s character drives a blue 1970s Trans-Am. It can turn invisible. Was this inspired by Wonder Woman and her invisible jet or cocaine? You be the judge.

Krause has a mother played by Borg Queen Alice Krige. Krige is great at bringing eloquence to cheese, and she does so in Sleepwalkers, as well. You will believe she truly hates cats and is cranky from fluorescent-light starvation.

It should be noted that, despite being mother and son, Krause and Krige take their relationship a bit further than that. Making incest overt was another Garris decision. He should have kept it more subtle. An amount of tragedy is part of Krause and Krige’s existence. They are, quite possibly, the last of their kind. That tragedy could have been mined to make the audience more emotionally involved in the film. Instead, the audience is left with little other recourse than to go “ewwwwww…”

Next, we are introduced to the Final Girl, played by Madchen Amick. She works in a movie theatre and runs the carpet sweeper while doing a Tom Cruise Risky Business routine to Do You Love Me (Now That I Can Dance) instead of Old Time Rock & Roll.

sleepwalkers

Amick is a lovely lass, and when it comes to lip biting, she makes Kirsten Stewart look like an amateur. The lip bite is Amick’s go-to move in this film. I’m surprised she didn’t develop a callous. Maybe she did, but they removed it in post with a budding technology called See-Gee-Eye.

Sleepwalkers is quaint in its attempt to weave See-Gee-Eye special effects into its storyline. It is like the producers said:

“If we want to hit Terminator 2 numbers, we need to use these new-fangled computer effects. Somebody get me an Apple IIc Plus!”

More on that later…

Meanwhile, Amick’s parents are played by Ferris Bueller’s parents Lyman Ward and Cindy Pickett. They got married in real life after Ferris Bueller’s Day Off… and then they got divorced after Sleepwalkers. This is not surprising. I doubt even Ward and June Cleaver could have survived the fame, fortune and glory a movie like Sleepwalkers would bring to their marriage. It would be an endless parade of groupies of all 47 genders, drugs and the power to murder anyone and get away with it.

Another familiar face turns up in the form of Beetlejuice actor Glenn Shadix. Shadix plays Krause’s teacher, and Krause commits the unpardonable sin of making Shadix look silly in front of the other students. Krause does this by pointing out that a box has six sides, not four.

Oh, Krause, you rascally scamp! You sure know how to subvert authority!

Shadix cannot let this stand. He confronts Krause on the side of the road, and Krause goes all Sleepwalker on him. You know, I’m not entirely sure why these werecats are called Sleepwalkers. Do cats often sleepwalk? Do sleepwalkers eat fluorescent light? I’m not seeing any connection among these concepts. Is there something I am missing, or is this cocaine again? You be the judge.

At this point, the law becomes involved, and the movie goes Smokey and the Bandit on us as police dude, played by Dan Martin, chases Krause’s Trans-Am around. Martin is Mr. Congenial in this film. He has a good time singing The Rodeo Song and playing with his cat, Clovis, who rides along in the police car. During the chase, we also are treated to See-Gee-Eye!

Martin pulls up beside Krause, and when Krause sees Clovis (because Sleepwalkers and cats are mortal enemies, according to the lore of cocaine), Krause morphs from his normal self, into a little boy, then a werecat, and possibly back again. I can’t remember the exact sequence. I’m not Rain Man.

The effect does not look good, yet it is kind of glorious in its wide-eyed enthusiasm. The filmmakers realized their dream! They got See-Gee-Eye in their moobie! I imagine Garris, the producers and the special effects guys all high-fiving each other after previewing the footage and individually lying awake that night with a satisfied smile on their face and whispering to themselves:

“You did it, you magnificent bastard. You actually did it!”

Also, we are treated to a rocking guitar soundtrack during this car chase. In my mind’s eye, I envision John Sykes actually standing on the shoulder of the road and making his guitar roughly wail while his feathered blond hair blows in the wind, and the cars whiz past.

The only problem with that is that the millions upon millions of teenage girls who saw this movie would have gotten spontaneously pregnant, and we would have even more millennials to deal with.

Catnip-It-In-The-Bud

The movie continues to meander along in jalopy fashion. Krause plans to take Amick to a cemetery for a date and victimize her. Before they go, they stop at Krause’s house, so Amick can meet Krige. A gigantic plot hole rears its ugly head. The plan of Krause and Krige is to victimize Amick, and here they have her, all alone, in their big old house, to do exactly that.

Instead, they do nothing. The movie should have ended right there with Amick’s demise, and Krause and Krige moving on to greener pastures, positively satiated with fluorescent light.

Fortunately for us, the movie doesn’t end there because the cemetery is where Garris directs the heck out of this flick. He uses a Michael Bay move from a time when Michael Bay only read Playboy and did not yet have a golden ticket to the Playboy Mansion. Garris does that thing where the camera dollies in a circle around a character. Next, Garris spins the camera as Krause and Amick roll on the ground.

Sleepwalkers

Despite these examples of auteur directing, the movie starts to fall off the beam at this point. Krause suddenly becomes Freddy Kruger at his most quippy, and we are treated to groaner line after groaner line as he toys with Amick like a…well, like a cat with a mouse.

“I don’t think you’re getting into the spirit of things! Why don’t you think of yourself as…lunch!”

“Peek-a-baby!”

“I lied…it does have to hurt!”

“Just look at this shirt. My mother’s going to kill me!”

“Now, Tanya, when exactly did I lose your trust?”

“Cop-ka-bob!”

It’s like the movie suddenly lost all confidence in itself and admitted to the audience that it thinks everything it is doing is stupid. Don’t do that, movie. No matter what, you got to strut!

sleepwalkers

The whole cemetery ordeal ends with some cat wrasslin, which slightly redeems it, and then we are treated to more cameos. King himself shows up, along with Tobe Hooper and Clive Barker. Eventually John Landis and Joe Dante make appearances in the film, and Ron Pearlman pops in, as well. Pearlman was perhaps a metafiction addition, as he played a werecat-looking monster in the Beauty and the Beast TV show with Linda Hamilton.

As we go into the climax of the movie, Krause is dying from his cat wrasslin’ and Krige is doing all of the heavy lifting. Earlier, Krause delivered goofy lines with over-the-top gusto. Krige is a bonafide actress, however. When she delivers similarly goofy lines, she somehow has the ability to give them a degree of class that makes them believable.

“That’s not the bleeping wind,” a cop says to his partner.

“You’re right,” Kriege says after bashing their heads together. “That wasn’t the bleeping wind.”

And it actually works.

Later on, Kriege stabs a cop with a corn cob and says:

“No vegetables. No dessert. Those are the rules.”

Again, she makes it sound completely reasonable even though it is utterly unreasonable. The guy actually did eat his vegetables. He literally ate the corn off the cob that he got stabbed with. And there is no dessert even in sight. Nevertheless, since Krige is selling the line, I’m buying it.

By this point, Sleepwalkers delves into making one’s self dim, throwing moms through windows, picket-fence impalement, finger biting and cat herding. Herding cats is a euphemism for performing a difficult task, and Garris literally herds cats in this film. He has a group of felines loping through the streets and staking out houses. I wonder how they did that? I like to think when they had the group of cats all sitting nicely outside a house, that they actually put stakes through their feet to pin them to the ground.

But that’s just me…

We are even treated to a sublime moment where a cat jumps on Krige’s back, and she gets shot in her gut with a shotgun blast, which tears through her and blows the cat off her back as it lets out a yelping “Meow!” That’s quality entertainment.

We should also touch upon the full-body werecat costumes. You know how the Creature From The Black Lagoon is a perfect monster costume? The Sleepwalker costumes are sort of the opposite of that. They went with a hairless-cat-sometimes-dry-sometimes-coated-with-KY-Jelly motif.

Sleepwalkers

It might have been neater to go with a leopard-spot design or simply stick with the partially-transformed makeup effects used earlier in the movie. As it stands, the full werecat costumes don’t translate well to the screen. They look clumsy and half-finished, like my lovemaking.

Add all of this up, and Sleepwalkers qualifies as a guilty pleasure for me. What can I say? It low-key charms me. It’s not good, yet I find myself giving it a spin every now and again. Somehow, Garris got a bit of fairy dust into it that enables me to go with its flow, and King banged out a story that is gloriously goofy and formulaic yet contains some unique bits. It doesn’t carry any weight of self-importance, and that, in itself, is refreshing.

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