MARCH 13, 2013
Except for the TV miniseries Storm of the Century, Sleepwalkers is the only original screenplay that Stephen King has ever had produced. There's apparently an unpublished short story that it's based on, but over 20 years later that still hasn't surfaced - though I don't doubt it's true because the biggest problem with the movie is that it lacks a middle act. There's 45 minutes of setup and then an overlong climax, basically - like a short story, it lacks any major complications or strong character development, and I'm guessing an editor with a fresh pair of eyes would have this thing clocked in at 65 minutes or so tops.
That's not to say it's a bad movie; it's actually pretty enjoyable considering it's a Mick Garris film (his 2nd and final major theatrical release) and also from the 90s, easily the worst decade of horror (or at least tied with the 40s). I actually saw it back when it came out on VHS after its successful theatrical run (30 million; the equivalent of about 60m today and good enough to be the year's 2nd highest grossing horror film after Bram Stoker's Dracula*), but all I remembered was a bit where Brian Krause was being stared down by a cat and pleaded "Stop looking at me.... stop looking at me you FUCKING CAT!" I didn't even remember the incest subplot! Krause and his mom (Alice Krige) go at it quite a bit in that first half, leading to the weirdest "bring home your new girlfriend to meet mom" scene in history since mom's pretty jealous. Considering that the biggest problem with most 90s horror is that it's safe and bland, I'm actually kind of impressed that they don't even skirt away from it - Krause and Krige go at it quite a bit.
The problem is, Krause never really does much with Amick, his girlfriend. It feels like there should be a period where he almost seems to forget about his mom and actually want a real relationship with her, with Krige having to interfere and get him back on her side, but that never happens. Krause tries to devour her lifeforce (or whatever) on what is basically their first real date, and from that point on the movie is just an endless sequence of Amick trying to get away from the two of them. There are a ton of things that never quite make sense, like how he is able to make his car morph from a convertible to a Trans Am, or why they burn up when cats touch them, or why there are so many mountains in Indiana all of a sudden... I can't help but wonder if these things were ever fleshed out in a longer version of the movie, or if King's script had to be modified so that the production could afford all the morphing FX that every goddamn movie post-T2 seemed to have.
But I'll tell you one thing I loved about the movie (besides Madchen dancing around the Aero theatre and generally just looking wonderful): the cats are the heroes! Our feline pals tend to get a bum rap in movies, so it's awesome to see that they're pretty much the only real heroes in the movie - Amick doesn't do much, and this has to be the least competent police force ever seen in a horror flick - even Ron Perlman is damn near worthless. But the cats, man - they gather around and annoy the two villains, lead the most competent cop to them, and attack when things get hairy. One is named Clovis, who is a sort of partner to a cop with a grudge against Krause, and it's damned heartbreaking when the cop dies and Clovis meows and sits on his chest. But Amick seems to adopt him at the end, so it's all good.
Speaking of that cop - he's like the most Stephen King-y guy of all time, saying folksy/odd things, singing to himself, etc. I can easily imagine reading his dialogue in a book mixed in with long passages about things that don't matter in the slightest (plus song lyrics that are inserted at random between paragraphs), and it's actually one of the few King touches in the whole thing. In addition to the Midwest setting, the supporting cast is largely wasted, which is a far cry from his usual MO which is to have these giant ensembles - even in stories with a clear main character (such as Dead Zone) he finds a way to make a lot of colorful and memorable folks on the side. It seems to be leaning that way by the end, when Amick's parents' roles are bulked up and the cops start appearing more (Perlman doesn't even appear until the hour mark, I think), but it's a bit too late since the battle is in full swing by then. It's ironic; it's supposedly an original screenplay and yet it feels more gutted than most of his giant books that got turned into movies - even Needful Things still gave us a lot of memorable residents of the town.
But it didn't have so many amazing cameos! In addition to King himself, Clive Barker, Tobe Hooper, Joe Dante, and John Landis all pop up, making this a sort of Masters of Horror prequel. They're all blink and miss types, but it's still fun to see them all looking so young (Barker in particular) - a shame that they probably didn't have a behind the scenes crew working as those were probably pretty fun days on the set. Mark Hamill appears in the film's opener (which features several dead cats - mortifying!) and Friday the 13th Part 2's awesome Stu Charno also pops up for a bit, though I don't know if that counts as a cameo or if it's just a bit role (ditto for Rusty Schwimmer, who would appear the following year in Jason Goes To Hell). Garris also throws in a few other in-jokes; someone mentions Castle Rock, and Amick's parents are the same two actors who played the Buellers, for some reason. Actually as it goes on it becomes more of a comedy than anything; Krige kills a cop with an ear of corn! And again - they burn up when cats touch them, so the climax involves a bunch of cats flying around and hitting Krige until she catches on fire. Such a weird movie.
But weird = personality, which is what so many others of the period lack, so I'll give it a pass, despite its lacking story and almost complete lack of tension. I had fun watching it, Garris puts a little more life into the proceedings than he usually does, and the creature FX (by Tony Gardner) hold up nicely. It also puts Santo & Jonny's "Sleepwalk" to good use, though from now until the day I die I'll always think of La Bamba when I hear it (it's the song that plays on the radio as everyone hears about Ritchie's death). I just wish I could say "the book was better" - is it too late for King to write a novelization?
What say you?
*Unless you count Alien 3 and Lawnmower Man, both of which are more sci-fi to me. Still, it topped Candyman, Hellraiser III, Pet Sematary 2, Dr Giggles...