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‘Sleepwalkers’ (R)

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 13, 1992

Another week, another Stephen King movie disaster. Even as the dreadful "Lawnmower Man" hangs on for dear life in some theaters, along comes "Sleepwalkers," the first work King has written directly for the screen. For "Lawnmower Man," King sold his name and one of his lesser stories, but otherwise didn't involve himself in the project.

He has no such excuse here, though he uses his traditional cameo spot to claim otherwise: Playing the caretaker of a cemetery where some trouble has just occurred, King insists, "It's not my fault . . . it's not my fault."

Yes it is, Mr. King.

For one thing, "Sleepwalkers" is badly plotted and unimaginatively conceived, though not without a number of seat-squirming scenes. Seems Mary Brady (Alice Krige) and her boy Charles (Brian Krause) have a little problem; not only are they ancient and misunderstood shape-shifters, they must feed on the life forces of virtuous young women. Always on the run, they set up in small towns, feast on the locals and, not surprisingly, soon find themselves on the run again.

Charles is in charge of trolling for virgins for Mom. He woos high school heroine Tanya Robertson (Madchen Amick), who never suspects he's bringing her home for a Brady brunch until he attacks her in a cemetery on their first date. Meanwhile, Charles also makes love to his mother, a yech-provoking scene that seems entirely gratuitous.

"Sleepwalkers" starts off with a Kingly shocker: dozens of cat corpses hanging outside the Bradys' last home. It turns out that cats are sleepwalkers' natural enemies and aren't fooled one iota by their shape-shifting. Despite traps set around the Brady house, cats soon start gathering to do battle. Cat lovers will not appreciate all the nasty things done to assorted stunt cats, but King fans won't be surprised.

As for the humans, they suffer in their extremities, particularly the police -- who are typically small-town slow, even after one (Dan Martin) sees Charles go through a transformation. Here and in a few choice spots, director Mick Garris uses the "morphing" technique popularized by Michael Jackson's "Black or White" music video, and while we've come a long way from Lon Chaney's "The Wolf Man," most of "Sleepwalkers' " effects are standard horror fare, from creature suits to a Trans Am that shape-shifts into a classic Mustang.

Krause is bland as the son, and Amick is appropriately sweet-tough as Tanya. It's Krige who steals the show. Best known for her work in "Chariots of Fire" and "Ghost Story," Krige is the purr-fect embodiment of feline grace and predator tension, catty in her conversation and claw-sharp in her dealings with assorted enemies.

Besides the King cameo, horror fans will want to keep their eyes open for similar cameos by genre directors Clive Barker, Tobe Hooper, John Landis and Joe Dante (all appear after the pat cemetery scene). Other "clever" references include casting Cindy Pickett and Lyman Ward as Tanya's parents (they did the same honors for Ferris Bueller) and Ron Perlman as a clumsy police captain (he was The Beast on television).

Unfortunately, too much of "Sleepwalkers" feels like "Cujo," but that's only because it, too, is a King-size dog.

"Sleepwalkers" is rated R and contains violence and special-effects gore.

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