Jacques Tourneur's CAT PEOPLE was a sexy, stylish and evocative horror movie about ... well, people who metamorphose into cats. No doubt bestselling horror writer Stephen King admires the film and, whether conciously or not, chose to pay homage when he wrote SLEEPWALKERS. But like Paul
Schrader, who remade CAT PEOPLE in 1982, King is defeated by the silliness of the metaphor: monstrous transformation as an analog of lust. It takes a sure and light touch to navigate such treacherous thematic waters, and King's approach is all sledgehammer vulgarity.
Mary Brady (Alice Krige) and her son Charles (Brian Krause) seem like ideal neighbors. Attractive, intelligent and charming, they're an exotic addition to the population of tiny Travis, Indiana--just how exotic, they'd prefer no one ever know. The Bradys are "sleepwalkers," shape-shifting cat
creatures who feed on the life-force of virgins, and they may be the last of their race. The bizarre biology of sleepwalkers makes their survival a complicated matter: Charles must drain his victims and feed his mother in an incestuous ritual. The business is complicated and dangerous; they must
move constantly to escape detection. In addition, common house cats recognize them for the monsters they are. Wherever the sleepwalkers go, cats torment them, hissing and plotting feline wickedness.
Charles selects perky and virtuous Travis native Tanya Robertson (Madchen Amick) as his next quarry, and their first date--on which they go to a cemetery to take photographs, at her suggestion--takes a nightmarish turn. Stunned and horrified by Charles's transformation into a vicious creature,
Tanya fights back, mortally wounding him and escaping into the arms of the confused police. Bent on vengeance, Mary kidnaps Tanya, but the girl manages to destroy her.
STEPHEN KING'S SLEEPWALKERS is an unusually stupid and tedious film that seems aimed at viewers who have never seen a horror movie and will therefore be shocked and surprised by the idea that such apparently nice people as Mary and Charles Brady could be murderous, shape-shifting energy vampires.
That's not to say that shopworn ideas can't be made fresh and interesting, only that SLEEPWALKERS doesn't manage to do so. In fact, it hardly seems to try. The plot fairly oozes contemptuous disdain for the audience, trotting out hoary cliches tricked up with high-tech special effects as though
viewers will be so dazzled by the surface that they won't care there's nothing underneath.
Among many absurdities, one is asked to accept that though Charles and Mary are ancient, cunning hunters, the former would impulsively kill his English teacher (a bloated lecher with perverted intentions, to be sure) and taunt a local cop (even changing form in front of him) despite their need not
to draw attention to themselves, at least not until after they've fed successfully. Viewers are also asked to swallow the idea that cats can see through the sleepwalkers' human disguise, and that the sleepwalkers live in mortal terror of them. Yes, of cats. The sight of hundreds of kitties staked
out on the Brady lawn, blinking and swishing their tails, is meant to be ominous. Instead, it's ludicrous, funny enough that one might be tempted to think SLEEPWALKERS is a particularly deadpan horror parody. But it's not. In fact, the film's tone is annoyingly inconsistant. While most of the film
is played absolutely straight, the scene in which Charles tries to kill Tanya is played for an incongruous, sub-Freddy Kreuger humor that actually verges on the distasteful.
Released within weeks of THE LAWNMOWER MAN, which also prominently featured King's name in its advertising (in lieu of any other virtues that could be extolled), SLEEPWALKERS is yet another addition to the panoply of dreadful films to issue in one form or another from King's prolific pen.
SLEEPWALKERS has the distinction of being his first original screenplay, but this amounts to very little.
King and a number of other notable figures in the world of horror--including writer-director Clive Barker (HELLRAISER) and directors Tobe Hooper (THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE), Joe Dante (THE HOWLING) and John Landis (AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON)--make brief, gratuitous appearances in the film.
They're all clumped together, so one can't even rationalize watching it all the way through in order to spot the cameos. (Violence, sexual situations.)
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: R
- Review: Jacques Tourneur's CAT PEOPLE was a sexy, stylish and evocative horror movie about ... well, people who metamorphose into cats. No doubt bestselling horror writer Stephen King admires the film and, whether conciously or not, chose to pay homage when he wro… (more)