Sleepwalkers (Home Video Review)

Starring Brian Krause, Alice Krige, Madchen Amick, Glenn Shadix

Directed by Mick Garris

Distributed by Scream Factory

Starting a cinematic career in the sequel trenches can be a tough task. After helming his own made-for-TV creature feature, Fuzzbucket (1986), director Mick Garris was charged with delivering entries in both the Critters and Psycho franchises. Luckily, his Critters 2: The Main Course (1988) is the highpoint for that series, while Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990), despite being the weakest entry in that legendary franchise, features a stellar swan song performance by Anthony Perkins and is generally regarded as a decent movie. After this, Garris settled into the groove for which he is probably best known: directing adaptations of Stephen King’s works. His first foray into that territory was a film King wrote as a screenplay, Sleepwalkers (1992), concerning the last two surviving members of a cat-like shapeshifting species living in clearly-not-California, Indiana. Though the film is uneven, especially once the final act commences, enough of both Garris’ and King’s sensibilities are utilized to make this an interesting curio from that tepid wasteland of horror: the early ‘90s.

Cops in Bodega Bay, CA make a gruesome discovery when they come across an abandoned home littered with dead cats and containing the desiccated body of a young woman. The heinous deeds are the work of Charles (Brian Krause) and his mother, Mary (Alice Krige) – but these two aren’t your average killers; the mother-son duo are the last remnants of a nearly-extinct race of nomadic shapeshifting beasts that feed off the lifeforce of virgin girls. Their mortal enemies? Cats. Charles and Mary head east, setting up shop in an Indiana suburb where the son goes out to ensnare young ladies with his good looks and hot car while mom holes up at home, setting traps for the unending stream of nosy neighborhood cats.

Mary also needs to feed – badly. Without the life essence of a virgin, she grows weak which, in turn, makes Charles weak. The two share an uncommon bond, their relationship bouncing between parental and passionate; making love literally sustains life. Charles sets his sights on Tanya (Madchen Amick), a gorgeous high schooler he meets in a writing class taught by Mr. Fallow (the always enjoyable Glenn Shadix). Unfortunately, Mr. Fallow has it out for Charles and he uncovers proof Charles’ transcripts are fakes. Revealing this information to Charles in private company proves to be a poor decision on Mr. Fallows’ part. Later, Charles takes Tanya out for a quaint date in the local cemetery but, on his mother’s insistence, sucking face takes on a whole new meaning when Tanya learns the horrible truth about Charles’ actual interest in her.

The story starts out promisingly, with King building up a mythology behind these creatures that prompts intrigue. Viewers learn the basics of what Charles and Mary are, what they require to live, and what if anything is able to stop them. But we don’t know how old they are, how many times they’ve done this, or if they truly are the last of their kind. At one point Mary says she “can feel” others, though the line is delivered with the sort of breathless desperation suggesting she doesn’t believe her own words. I loved the use of everyday cats as a mortal enemy to these beasts; is there a correlation between the historical increase in cat population and the decrease in shapeshifters? Like the use of water in Signs (2002) something as ubiquitous and common to humans as the cat is a bane for another species.

Garris’ films have been noted by the director himself for featuring small American towns that “never really existed” – only in the fictional world of Americana – which makes him an ideal fit for King’s work considering many of the author’s stories are set in small, comfortable communities. There’s a certain coziness found in those features; it’s a currency that pays generously since I have a clear fondness for anything under that rubric. Keeping the town intimate and the characters few allows for a reasonable amount of development to occur, at least for Charles and Mary. Krause is playing a pretty boy with a secret but the character doesn’t extend much further past his cover; Mary, on the other hand, feels ancient and arcane, as though she holds endless secrets and knowledge of the world both human and sleepwalker. Krige is the film’s anchor and her performance punches in gravitas where it is needed.

Also, keep an eye out for cameos by John Landis, Joe Dante, Clive Barker, Mark Hamill, Stephen King, and Tobe Hooper.

I am also of the opinion that any film opening with Santo & Johnny’s 1959 classic “Sleep Walk” and ending with that one Enya song we all know is automatically worth giving a watch. No slouch either is composer Nicholas Pike’s score, which sounds classic and big. Sleepwalkers falls off the rails a bit once the third act hits, when it feels like the slow build of the first two acts is eschewed for something a studio executive might’ve suggested. It all feels a bit rushed. Still, the ending does have some potent moments. Oh, I would be remiss not to mention the appearance of 1992 CGI morphing techniques used here, since at the time that was some next level shit. I remember seeing the scene of Charles transforming and being impressed; it holds up well enough today. That’s about the best I can say for the film, too.

This is the second Blu-ray release for Sleepwalkers and, since this is a Sony title we’re dealing with, it appears the transfer is nearly identical. The 1.85:1 1080p image is handsomely clean, with no obvious signs of wear-and-tear. Colors are punchy and bright, especially that Calif…er, Indiana sky. Fine detail and overall definition are average, with daylight close-ups offering the most pristine picture. Film grain is active, maybe a bit blocky at times.

Audio comes in the form of an English DTS-HD Master Audio track in either 2.0 stereo or 5.1 surround sound. Dialogue is always discernible, regardless of the activity on screen. The revving of Charles’ engine produces deep, resonant sounds. The real highlight here, though, is the source music, all of which is presented with crisp fidelity. Subtitles are available in English.

An audio commentary track is included, featuring Director Mick Garris, and Stars Madchen Amick & Brian Krause.

Feline Trouble – Director Mick Garris sits down for another amiable chat, offering up loads of production details and candid behind-the-scenes bits on the challenges and triumphs of filmmaking.

When Charles Met Tanya: A Conversation with Actors Madchen Amick & Brian Krause – The two actors have a face-to-face, chatting about their feelings after signing on to the production, working with horror heavyweights, set atmosphere, and much more.

Mother and More – An Interview with actress Alice Krige – Expect to hear the standard recollections, with the actress discussing her intense preparation for her role, reaction to seeing the finished film, etc.

Creatures and Cats: The FX of Stephen King’s Sleepwalkers – Artists Tony Gardner and Mike Smithson talk about their ideas for the creature FX, what was cut, what went wrong, and what their thoughts are on what eventually wound up on screen.

Behind-the-Scenes Footage – Featuring on-set clips of the film’s climax being shot, with the set full of stunt performers, technicians, and cats.

A theatrical trailer, four TV spots, and a still gallery are also included.

Special Features:

  • NEW Audio Commentary with Director Mick Garris And Actors Mädchen Amick And Brian Krause
  • NEW Feline Trouble – An Interview with Director Mick Garris
  • NEW When Charles Met Tanya – A Conversation with Actors Mädchen Amick And Brian Krause
  • NEW Family Values – An Interview with Actress Alice Krige
  • NEW Feline Trouble: The FX Of Stephen King’s Sleepwalkers – Interviews with Special Make-up Effects Creator Tony Gardner And Prosthetics Designer Mike Smithson
  • Behind-The-Scenes Footage
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • TV Spots
  • Still Gallery
  • Optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature
Sleepwalkers (1992)
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  • Special Features:
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