The best adaptations of Stephen King's many novels (The Shining, The Shawshank Redemption, Dolores Claiborne) evoke the same pathos and potency of their source materials, even when straying far from their thematic essence. Though hardly of the same caliber, those more conventional and compliant filmic presentations of King's material (The Dead Zone, Stand By Me, The Dark Half) are also worth watching. Then there are the intolerable dregs: Apt Pupil, Pet Sematary, Cujo, Christine, The Mist and so many others. Sleepwalkers is a peer of these wretched last, and in this instance, King's as much to blame as anyone else for it.
Why they're called sleepwalkers, I haven't a hint. They don't seem to sleep, much less sleepwalk. They do walk, if that means anything. Long-lived, enormously strong and possessing powers which include shape-shifting, telekinesis and invisibility, they feed orally from the life force of female human virgins. Although these parasites shrug off everything from stabbings to gunshot wounds, the bite or scratch of a feline is deadly to them. Consequently, their endless nomadism is necessitated by house cats, who seem instinctively obliged to hunt them.
Stalked by domestic Felis and seeking a new victim, a mother and son (Alice Krige, Brian Krause) of the declining aforementioned species settle down briefly in rural Indiana. Their menu's most promising entrée is a pretty high school senior (Mädchen Amick, fresh from her Lynchian fame). Initially, Krause's life-sucker fawns over Amick's ingénue, but whether he has any romantic affection for her is a confused, ultimately irrelevant point; he's already engaged in a passionate long-term relationship with mommy dearest.
There's nothing more conducive to either humor or discomfort than the convergence of bad acting and asinine dialogue. Sleepwalkers is packed with both, and isn't even remotely as unintentionally funny as it needs to be to justify itself. While both Krause and Amick are perfectly photogenic, the former is embarrassingly stiff and the latter can only exhibit so much personality in such a superficial role. Recently deceased character actor Glenn Shadix (of Beetlejuice and Heathers fame) is mildly amusing as a domineering teacher, but he's hardly given an opportunity to make the best of his fitting part before he's killed off. Likewise, Ferris Bueller's Day Off parents Lyman Ward and Cindy Pickett (who were actually married until shortly after this film's release) play Amick's father and mother - another great opportunity for much-needed comic relief that's left unexplored. Cameos abound: Ron Perlman and a mustachioed, uncredited Mark Hamill appear as bewildered police officers in separate scenes (Perlman is oddly listed in the main cast; perhaps he was featured more prominently in deleted footage); Clive Barker and Tobe Hooper can be seen briefly as a pair of forensic technicians; John Landis and Joe Dante have a few moments of screen time portraying puzzled photo lab technicians. Of course, King himself is present for an excruciating minute or two, stalking about and delivering lines in a maladroit monotone as a cemetery caretaker. With so much talent to be seen momentarily, one might assume that King would have scribed something fun for somebody to say. In fact, this picture's only real asset is Krige, whose moody performance stands out tall over anything else here. It's just as well that the Boer actress was assigned the script's best action and single clever line, because she's phenomenal - alternately alluring, desperate, brutal - as the perverse matriarch. In fact, the only real entertainment of the movie occurs when Krige's monstrous mother goes on a rampage to maul parents, police officers and felines alike - a silly, satisfying sequence which almost makes the first seventy-five minutes worth enduring.
At best, Mick Garris's direction and Nicholas Pike's score are merely sufficient. Flat and over-lit, the cinematography is horrid. The CG special effects are amateurish and shoddy. What's worse, the soundtrack is infested with Boadicea - one of so many dreary, pretentious, mindlessly repetitive Enya songs.
There's a germ of a good tale here, but it's wasted in a mire of poorly defined characters, sloppy plotting and a hopelessly underdeveloped storyline. King himself adapted this feature's awful screenplay from a novel which remains wisely unpublished, and this alone should indefinitely excuse him from screenwriting and film critique. It's not as though King hasn't any capacity for high camp; he adapted his novella Cycle of the Werewolf into the goofily enjoyable Silver Bullet, and he wrote and directed Maximum Overdrive, which was at least as diverting as it was disposable. On the other hand, the celebrated author is honestly convinced that his hokey, overwrought mini-series of The Shining is superior to Kubrick's classic simply because it conveys his story's moral core. Maybe SK ought to engage only his most trivial ideas for the dominant medium.
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About the reviewer
Robert Buchanan (rbuchanan)
I'm a bibliophile, ailurophile, inveterate aggregator, dedicated middlebrow and anastrophizing syntax addict. My personality type is that of superlative INTJ.
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