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Shout Factory // R // November 6, 2018
List Price: $34.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted November 21, 2018 | E-mail the Author

In 10 Words or Less

Stephen King brings oddball horror exclusively to the screen

Note: Images are included for illustration purposes only and do not reflect the disc's quality.

Reviewer's Bias*

Loves: Stephen King, Mädchen Amick
Likes: Silly horror, that Enya song
Dislikes: Cats
Hates: Creepy-close families

The Film

Mick Garris and Stephen King have teamed up several times to varying degrees of success, with the epic miniseries adaptation of The Stand being the high point of their collaborations to date. But it all started with Stephen King's Sleepwalkers in 1992. Garris, coming off of Psycho IV and Critters 2 was given the plum assignment of directing the first (and so far only) film written expressly for the screen by King. The story of a mother and son with a disturbingly close bond is trademark King, full of scares and small-town oddities--even if it doesn't take place in Maine.

Charles Brady (Brian Krause) and his mother Mary (Alice Krieg) just recently moved to Travis, Indiana. They have an odd antagonist relationship with the local feline population (setting out traps to kill them) and a very intimate relationship with each other, sharing romantic dances and sexual trysts. You see, they are actually otherworldly creatures who have taken human forms, and they need to feed on virgin souls in order to survive. Thus, Charles heads out into the world to find pure young girls to help sustain his very loving mother.

Enter Tanya. Played with midwestern, lip-biting gusto by Twin Peaks's Mädchen Amick, Tanya is the perfect girl-next-door, and Charles has his sights set on her. After getting into a few scrapes in trying to hide his true identity, including rebuffing an aggressive teacher and outrunning a sheriff and his attack cat Clovis, Charles makes his move on Tanya, setting off a wild second half of the film, full of violent assaults and insane killings. Suffice it to say, you'll never look at vegetables the same way again, and you won't believe how it all ends. Even after seeing it several times it's hard to believe what you're seeing.

Though seriously creepy--the mother and son thing is just skin crawling (the scene of them dancing and flirtatiously talking might be worse than their sex scene)--and often gory, the film has a genuine sense of humor to it, plenty of early ‘90s style (Garris' camera is very active) and an over-the-top tone that makes it a joy to watch. If you don't take it too seriously, there's a lot of fun to be had, from Charles' jokey demonic persona to Sheriff Andy's oddly ribald songs (Dan Martin simply steals the film) to ridiculous car-exploding gun shots. The film is undoubtedly self-aware about what it is, and has fun playing that feel to the hilt, with Krieg and Krause delivering campy gold and cameos from horror icons like Joe Dante, John Landis, Clive Barker and Tobe Hooper and genre heroes like Mark Hamill and Ron Perelman adding some insider amusement.

Does it make sense? Not really. There are plot holes everywhere, and again, the ending is utterly absurd. But there's enough chutzpah on display to carry the movie through its relatively short length and keep things entertaining, the digital effects are pretty impressive for the time (the creature suits less so), while the presence of Amick--who gets an all-time great introduction dancing with a stick vacuum--is more than enough to ensure viewers' interest remains high.

The Disc

Shout! Factory subset Scream Factory brings Stephen King's Sleepwalker to Blu-ray on a single disc, packed in a standard-width keepcase, which is held in a slipcover that repeats the new, detail-loaded cover art, seen on the disc's two-sided cover (with the attractive original poster on the inside.) The disc features a static menu (backed by that signature Enya tune) with options to watch the film, select scenes, check out the bonus features and adjust the set-up. Audio options include English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, while subtitles are available in English.

The Quality

As there's no mention of a new scan for this film, the 1080p, AVC-encoded, 1.85:1 transfer on this release likely is the same from the 2012 Image Blu-ray, which is a shame, though the image is in good shape. Colors are solid and well saturated, especially during daytime outside scenes, black levels are deep, and the level of fine detail is high, giving quality hair delineation and impressive fur portrayal on Clovis. The special effects, particularly the morphing, still look good decades later, while the healthy grain makes for a very cinematic presentation. Though there is some jitter, along with some minor dirt in places, you have to really focus to spot it, and digital distractions are not a concern. Could it look better with a fresh scan? Maybe. But it looks solid as it is.

Though the film's original presentation was in stereo, the new DTS-HD MA 5.1 track isn't the usual faked surround mix, as the audio is effectively parsed out to the exterior channels, with music and some atmospherics in the surrounds, and dialogue mainly in the center channel. Even in stereo Sleepwalkers has a great sound design, with discreet placement and movement between the channels, helping build tension and scares, and that carries over to the 5.1 track, while the low-end kicks in a bit of bass to offer a bit more punch to the audio. There are some very strong cues and sound effects that add to the effect of the film.

The Extras

The big extra here is an audio commentary featuring Garris, Amich and Krause. The trio has a good chemistry, even decades after working together, and provide a lot of info and behind-the-scenes stories, including changes made to the movie after the initial shoot, what it was like working with the cats, and getting down to an R rating through editing. The real key is Amick though, who is truly entertaining, making an effort to explore the logic of the sleepwalkers mythos and revealing a secret about the production that she kept from the filmmakers.

Garris returns in "Feline Trouble", a new 18:34 interview, in which he covers what it was like to make his studio debut with a screen-exclusive King story, how he almost lost out on the job, how the film was cast and the high-profile cameos by filmmakers and Mark Hamill. Among the highlights of the featurette is the explanation why Garris, a relative unknown at the time, was so prominent in the film's advertising.

Amick and Krause also get a featurette of their own, the 15:25 "How Charles Met Tanya". They discuss working with the cat suits, Krause's make-up experience on the film, Amick's perspective on gore, the big names on the set and what they think happened after the film ends. You also get to hear about Krause's unusual opening-night experience.

Though she didn't participate in the commentary, Krieg is on hand for "Mother & More" (15:49), where she talks about the opportunity for comedy that drew her to the role, what it was like to act in the makeup, working with cats, and her interactions with fans of the film.

Naturally, the effects work on the film gets some spotlight, in the 15:38 "Creatures and Cats", which includes interviews with F/X supervisor Tony Gardner and prosthetics maker Mike Smithson. They talk about getting involved with the film, working with legends, the cat actors and how fan reaction has held up over the years. You also get to see behind-the-scenes footage of the cat suits, hear about the stress of the shoot and how the designs changed over time.

If you want more of the set footage, there's 6:53 of its available to watch, this time with the natural sound. You get a peek inside the suits and at how the scenes were shot.

For those interested, there's a 3:52 automatic stills gallery, which includes international posters, effects shots, promotional images and shots of King and Garris. Also included are the film's enticing theatrical trailer (1:53) and four TV spots (1:52) for your viewing pleasure. One of the TV ads is. Simply. Ridiculous. In. How. It. Spaces. Out. Words.

The Bottom Line

Stephen King's Sleepwalkers is a somewhat goofy, often charming little horror film that doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but which manages to be entertaining throughout thanks to King's voice, a solid cast (particularly Amick) and Garris' try-anything style. The presentation from Scream Factory is in good shape (despite the lack of a new master), and there's an impressive collection of bonus features for a somewhat lower-profile film like this. It certainly holds up better than expected, and approached with the right mindset, it's a campy treat.

Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.

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*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.

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