Wednesday, March 7, 2018

A Real Spielberg Story: "Sleepwalkers" Revisited, Part 2

For the second part of our series revisiting Sleepwalkers, we're going to examine some of the press materials related to the film, from both before and after its release.  (Part 1, an examination of the film, can be found here.)
  
Let's begin here:
  
  
  
  
This special King-centric issue of Cinefantastique is a treasure trove, y'all.  It's so great that I may eventually do an entire post just about it.
  
The issue is dated February 1991, but magazine cover dates are weird, so the issue itself may have actually hit newsstands as early as December of 1990.  Either way, this hails from well over a year before Sleepwalkers was released.  It therefore might be the earliest known mention of the film.  
  
Let's see what Stephen King had to say about it, within the body of a lengthy Gary Wood article titled "Stephen King & Hollywood":
  
Not yet announced is SLEEPWALKERS, King's third original screenplay since CREEPSHOW (1982), written last spring.  Said King, the Bangor, Maine-based novelist whose name has become synonymous with horror, "I guess it's going to be bought for this huge amount of money and put into production immediately by these guys who have bankrolled a couple of Steven Seagal's films [ABOVE THE LAW and HARD TO KILL].  It's a pretty good screenplay, a real Spielberg story."
  
And that's it for the mentions of Sleepwalkers in this issue, but there's still some stuff to contemplate.  For one thing, when Wood says that the screenplay was written "last spring," that may mean the spring of 1990, but it might also mean the spring of 1989.  This makes sense; most screenplays go through a lengthy shepherding process before they are produced, if every they are.  I'd be curious to know where King was in his writing chronology when the idea for Sleepwalkers presented itself, and when he wrote the first draft.  It feels to me like it could have come from around the same time as some of the individual components of Four Past Midnight; would you be surprised to learn that this and, say, "The Library Policeman" were back-to-back efforts?  Nah, me neither; I have no idea, obviously, but it seems like a possibility.
  

Not that it matters!  I just enjoy trying to put the puzzle together in that regard when I can.
  
The other thing that drew my attention was the description of the screenplay as "a real Spielberg story."  Now, if you've seen Sleepwalkers, I'm guessing you're like me and would not describe it as being like unto something Steven Spielberg might produce.  Not even Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (a movie I quite like, thank you very much) contains incest or the oral rape of teenage virgins.  So I'm tempted to assume King is pulling Gary Wood's leg there.  Or hey, who knows?  It's possible the original version of the screenplay was a very different thing.
  
Now, let's go to a later issue of Cinefantastique:
  
  
  
  
This issue bears the cover date April 1992, which is the month of the movie's release into theatres.  The article, titled "Stephen King's Sleepwalkers," is by Gary L. Wood; no idea if it's the same as the Gary Wood from the first article I mentioned (though I assume not).  It's more or less a report about a visit to the set during filming.
  
Here are some interesting bits:
  
  • Wood says that King called the movie "a Castle Rock story in disguise."   Wood does not quote a source for this, so I assume this is a thing King said to him during the set visit.
  • Wood describes the trajectory of the film thus: "Charles sets his sights on a little treat named Tanya (Madchen Amick of TWIN PEAKS).  But Tanya refuses to be easy pickings and what follows is a cat-and-mouse game which turns the hunters into the hunted in a vicious, limb-breaking, finger-chewing, eye-gouging, suburban war of man vs. beast."  --  Okay, well, that sounds interesting, doesn't it?  I don't think the final film follows through on that promise.  I spent a decent chunk of the eighties and nineties reading movie magazines of one sort or another, and it was pretty common for articles to contain descriptions of upcoming films that didn't represent the finished work with rigorous accuracy.  I always wondered how that sort of thing came to pass, and my suspicion is that a writer like Gary L. Wood would get on the set with essentially no clue what he was there to write about, and would then take notes based on what people would say to him.  So what I'm saying is that nobody (probably) gave him a point-blank synopsis about the "hunter becoming the hunted," but that's the impression he got from hearing one or more of the filmmakers talk about it.  Perhaps that's even what they intended to make, and thought they WERE making.
  • "Garris, the director of CRITTERS 2 and PSYCHO IV, was once a publicist for Universal Pictures, and cast Krige as one of the bloody SLEEPWALKERS because he was impressed with her role in GHOST STORY (1981)." -- Interesting!  I'd love for Garris to write a book about his career prior to breaking in as a writer and director.  He worked on interesting films during that time, and even before that was a receptionist for a Star Wars-era George Lucas!  but anyways, regarding Krige, it's intriguing to note that it was her performance in Ghost Story that got her this role.  I strongly suspect it was this role that got her the role of the Borg Queen in Star Trek: First Contact!
  • Krige has some nice thoughts about the nature of the character she's playing.  "There's ultimately a kind of rage to Mary, a ferocity that people don't associate with me," she says, adding that it was "a wonderful opportunity" to play dimensions she has not been asked to play before.  "I don't watch rushes," she said, "but I watched that day."  She is referring to the scene in which Mary bites of the fingers of Captain Soames.  "I felt that I had to get some sense of whether what I was doing was ridiculous or not."  In other words, Krige was on guard against going over the top.  I mentioned in the first part of my review that I felt she had been successful in that regard, and it's nice to get some confirmation that that was a thing that concerned Krige.  She continues:
  • "What I started to do was look at it from Mary's point of view.  Basically for her, it's an issue of survival.  They're going to kill her if she doesn't get them first.  Ultimately, that was I coped with" [the bloody violence of the film].  "If she did not protect Charles and herself, they would die.  There was nothing specifically malicious or evil in her; she was what she was.  It was not her choice." -- I think this thoughtfulness comes across in the film 100%.  The stereotype you hear about actors sometimes is that they are constantly pestering writers and directors to explain things to them; some writers and directors don't seem to want to be part of that process.  But when I encounter interviews with really good actors -- and Alice Krige is certainly that, and more -- it always seems like they are an absolute font of inspiration.  Why would you not rely on their expertise?
  • Wood was evidently also on set the day the Stephen King, Tobe Hooper, and Clive Barker cameos were filmed: "King explained the roles he and Hooper were playing.  'He's a forensic specialist,' said King of Hooper.  'He's a detective.  I'm just your basic country asshole.' "
  • "King's script described the feline shape-shifting monsters as 'Hairless, sleek, horribly beautiful, an evolution that may have begun with cat, but developed in an entirely different direction.' "
  • The fully-revealed cat-people forms of Charles and Mary were not played by Krause and Krige.  The suits were instead put on "two actors who are very thin so we could build up without making these cats look like Arnold Schwarzenegger," says effects man Tony Gardner.  "the whole idea is that they're supposed to be sleek, thin, elegant, and very quick.  We tried to get the thinnest people we could find.  We utilized two actors who are really talented and have a lot of stamina, Mike MacKay and Karyn Sercelj."
  • According to Wood, the intent of the scene in which Mary uses Charles as a meat puppet is that Charles is indeed dead; Mary is controlling the body with her mind so that she can use it to drain the life essence from Tanya (and -- this is my speculation, not Wood's -- then presumably transfer it to herself).  He quotes King's script as illustration; I won't replicate that here, but will remember to do so in Part 3 of this series of posts, which will be entirely focused on the screenplay.
  • Gardner says that it is Krause playing Charles during that scene, specifying that the actor had control over the movement of the sleewalker's lips via effects rig.
  • Gardner: "I think this is probably the bloodiest film I've worked on.  If Mick edits what he shot, this is already an X.  I know it's an X."

By the way, here's something cool: a brief clip from A Current Affair Extra with Jeanne Wolf that was filmed on the day King filmed his cameo:
  
  
  
  
Moving on, let's changes magazines:
  
  
  
  
This is the April 1992 issue of Fangoria, which is, to the best of my knowledge, the only cover-story the movie landed.
  
Oh...!  And hey, here's something of interest to nobody but me.  In my previous post, I found myself wondering how and why, exactly, I skipped seeing this movie in theatres.  I still have no real recall of that, but the movie was released on April 10, 1992, which was only a few weeks before the end of my high school career.  So it may well be that I simply didn't have time, between studying for final exams and whatnot.  Anyways, what's that got to do with Fangoria?  Nuthin'.
  
This article, "Sleepwalkers Awaken," is by Bill Warren.  It's four pages (five if you count a photo page), and is pretty damn good.  It, too, seems to have been based largely on the day on which King's cameo was filmed.  And that makes sense; that means the production invited various news outlets to the set on that day, knowing that King's presence would mean instant publicity.
  
  • The sequence was filmed "in Franklin Canyon, between Beverly Hills and the San Fernando Valley.  In this surprisingly rural setting, the opening shots of the old Andy Griffith Show, with Andy and a very young Ron Howard goin' fishin', were shot."
  • Co-producer Mark Victor explains, "Our goal is to make something that is faithful to Stephen King's vision.  Anything that we can do to add to that and make it better is what the production is trying to do."  Victor and his partner Michael Grais had previously co-produced and co-scripted Poltergeist; this was their return to horror after a decade's absence, and it was King's name that made that happen.  "We said we would only" [return to horror] "if we could find something special," says Victor.  "And we thought this was special.  Not only is Stephen King marketable, but he truly is the vision behind the film."
  • Writes Warren, "The fact that this is a King script is also what led Garris to want to do the film.  'I was asked if I was interested in a Stephen King movie.  Am I stupid?  Would I say no?  Do't answer that,' he smiles.  But then the script was given to another director (music video veteran Rupert Wainwright); however, his approach didn't jibe with King's, and Columbia returned to Garris." -- Okay, let's pause there.  Wainwright was indeed a noted director of music videos, including N.W.A.'s "Straight Outta Compton" AND MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This."  Now, that's a heck of a two-fer.  He then directed the Mark Harmon / Sherilyn Fenn TV movie Dillinger, which aired in 1991 and would presumably have been what he did before being hired for Sleepwalkers.  His first actual theatrical film was Disney's Blank Check (starring Brian "Worf's son on The Next Generation" Bonsall), and after that he made two shitty horror films, Stigmata and the abysmal remake of The Fog.  
  • Warren continues, saying that Garris "had input into the rewrites, but maintains that it is 'absolutely' King's script.  'When I came in, there were some changes that I felt would be helpful.  I called Steve, and told him what I thought they were, and that I would be happy to write them in.  He said, 'no, no, let me try,' and did almost all the revising.  So it is very much his script.' "
  • Warren: "The 'Sleepwalkers' of the title aren't snoring strollers; they're monsters who walk in your sleep, a non-human tribe of shapeshifters who live among people, draining the life energy of the young and virginal." -- Monsters who walk in your sleep, he says, as if that makes any more sense than no sense at all.  It is unclear where Warren has pulled this line from; neither King nor Garris is credited with it, so I'm inclined to believe Warren came up with it on his own, and therefore not hold it against the production in any way.
  • Says Tobe Hooper of filming his cameo:" It's a lot of fun!  IT's really great, because it is important for a director to sometimes get on the other side of a camera.  It's a good experience, and it was great working with Stephen King.  I hadn't seen him since I did Salem's Lot."
  • Garris: "We have done some amazing things with the cats, who are among the best actors in the film.  I was concerned -- I'm a member of PETA [People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals] and Defenders of Wildlife myself.  I was glad that we were able to humanely get the animals to perform, and it's been great.  Everybody is falling in love with all the cats on the set."

Let's stick with Fangoria for a bit longer and check out a two-part interview King gave, spread across the June and July 1992 issues:



  

Something weird about this interview merits mention right up front: the second half of it -- and only the second half -- is included in the 1997 paperback Fangoria Masters of the Dark: Stephen King and Clive Barker.  Why the first half was left out is anybody's guess, but it's a shame.  There some great stuff in BOTH halves.
  
In fact, it's such a good interview that I was strongly tempted to just break this out into its own post, and go through the entire thing with y'all.
  
I won't do that, but we'll revisit that notion once my coverage of Gerald's Game and Dolores Claiborne begins later this year.
  
So for now, let's concentrate merely on King's thoughts on Sleepwalkers:
  
  • The interviewer, W.C. Stroby, asks King how he feels Sleepwalkers came out.  King answers, "Sleepwalkers came out real well.  One a grading scale -- if an A is 92 to 100 and a B is 84 to 91 -- I'd probably give it a B-plus.  In terms of how much of my original vision is on the screen, the problems with that are always in the same place, and people who read Fangoria know all about this.  The movie was submitted to the censors -- [MPAA president] Jack Valenti calls them the ratings board, but what they are censors -- and the picture came back NC-17, which meant it had to be resubmitted [to get an R].  So the fact remains that how much of my vision remains in the film is not in the hands of myself or my director, but in the hands of a bunch of people whom I'll never see and who probably are not fans of my stuff."
  • King on the subject of the screenplay's genesis: [It] "was based on something that my older son, Joe, was going through.  He was about 17 at the time -- around the age of Charles Brady, who is the villain of Sleepwalkers -- and he had this real crisis where he wanted to date this cute girl named Karen, who worked at the local Hoyts Cinema.  And he was experiencing all the typical things teenage boys go through when they want to ask some girl who's really neat out for a date.  So we listened to a lot of agonizing at my house about Joe's crush on this popcorn girl, and one night when we were at the movies, he was talking to her and I saw why he was attracted to her.  She was just this beautiful, vital girl who played a lot of sports and had this kind of healthy, wholesome glow about her.  And it occurred to me then that girls always get asked for dates, and that sometimes the people who ask them are potentially dangerous: but if they're charming, there's no way of differentiating the people who are OK from the people who are dangerous.  And that made me think of a guy wanting to ask the popcorn girl out for all the wrong reasons, and the story just sort of followed that burst of inspiration.  So, in a sense, my son was the prototype for the bad guy this time."
  • Sadly, King does not say whether Joe ever got that date with the mysterious Karen.
  • By the way, if Joe was indeed 17 at the time, that would place the genesis of Sleepwalkers circa 1989.
  • Stroby asks for clarification on whether the idea for Sleepwalkers presented itself as a screenplay instead of as a novel, and King verifies that that is so.  "It was never an idea for a novel," King says, "and the reason why was because it was set in a movie theatre to begin with.  The other thing was that it didn't come to me in a series of ideas, the way a lot of the books do, but in a series of images.  The business about approaching the popcorn girl came to me, and after that I started to see the scene where the main character's mother would come to the house of the girl's parents, carrying this vase of flowers, and shatter the vase across the head of  either the mother or the father.  I had no idea why at that point, but the image was extremely violent and extremely powerful for me.  That was what energized me to find the link that held those twos scenes together -- the guy meeting the popcorn girl and then the mother of the guy hurting the parents with the vase.  And both of those scenes made it into the movie."
  • King talks a bit about how an unproduced screenplay, The Shotgunners (which would have been his first original if it had been made), encountered pushback from studios when he shopped it to them in the aftermath of its intended director, Sam Peckinpah, passing away.  "But," he says, "with Sleepwalkers that wasn't a problem.  I was really sort of amazed at how much enthusiasm it generated, first at CAA, which agents my stuff, and then with some of the studios when it was making the rounds."  [The Shotgunners, by the way, would later be reworked into the novel The Regulators.  But that was still four years in the future, so this interview makes only mention of King's desire to maybe do something like that with it eventually.]
  • King kvetches at some length about his displeasure over the then-upcoming sequel to Pet Sematary, which was made against his wishes and caused him to begin insisting on only selling his books with strict no-sequel language written into the contracts.  No no-sequel clause, no movie rights.  "The only exception to that," he says, "is Sleepwalkers because it wasn't a book to begin with, and because it's built in such an open-ended fashion that -- if it were to be a success -- people could go on and make as many sequels as they wanted."
  • All of that was in part one.  Moving to part two now.  Stroby asks King if it is still a thrill to see his name on a movie screen.  "I wouldn't say it's gone," King responds, "but it isn't a thrill like it was.  It was never a real thrill anyway.  I was never under any illusions about the films.  With Sleepwalkers, it is a thrill, because I marched the whole way with this.  I even soldiered out to California to do a bit part in the film -- and I don't like to fly.  I went out again to one of the screenings and to participate in the discussions about how the film was going to be recut and all the rest of that stuff.  I've gone down the line with it.  So when it finally comes out and there's a credit that reads 'Screenplay by Stephen King,' I'm gonna be real happy."

We stay in the Fangoria family of magazines with issue #22 of Gorezone, which was published by the same folks who brought you Fango and Starlog back in the day:
  
  
  
  
Gorezone was a quarterly magazine, and the pull-from-stands date indicates that this was the summer '92 issue.  Regardless, it's got a good piece by Bill Warren, who you might remember as the author of the Fangoria article on the film.  When I saw this I was afraid it might be the same thing, or substantively similar; but no, this is its own thing, and it's got some good stuff in it:
  
  • Mädchen Amick mentions that one of the aspects of the screenplay that drew her to the film was "the relationship between the mother and son Sleepwalkers, which I thought was really interesting."  This is cool to hear, not because I find it particularly awesome that Amick was drawn to the incest subplot, but because it's uncommon to hear actors talk about being drawn to a role by something that their character is not involved in.  The stereotype is that actors will often basically just focus on their own parts; so for Amick to have been intrigued by scenes she would not be a part of is unusual, and it's refreshing to hear her mention it.
  • Amick says that in her view, Tanya is different from all of Charles' victims down through the year because "she has something very strong inside that gives her the ability to fight the Sleepwalkers.  It doesn't really say in the script that she's any different, but to me, I'm thinking that the Sleepwalkers have been doing this for hundreds of years, and there hasn't been a victim who's gotten away -- I'm the first.  So there has to be something inside of her, something really special and different, that gives her strength."  I had not point-blank considered this, but it makes sense, and thinking my way back through the movie quickly, it totally tracks.  Suddenly, Tanya seems like a much more interesting character to me.
  • The article mentions Amick having done a guest role on Star Trek: The Next Generation, which got my attention, although I did not remember what episode she was in.  Luckily, IMDb had me covered, and the episode turns out of have "The Dauphin," from the second season.  This was seemingly her first professional film credit.  I couldn't remember her role, though; I knew she wasn't the main guest of the episode, so I dug out my Blu-rays and scanned through, and it turns out she plays the Dauphin's keeper, Anya; but only in one scene, when Anya -- who, you might recall, is a shape-shifter! -- is in the guise of another teenage girl.  Check it out:


 

  • I like that episode.  I mean, I like The Next Generation in general, so that's no surprise, especially considering that I'm one of those weirdos who has a real affinity for the first couple of seasons (supposedly the bad ones).  This is from the Dr. Pulaski season, and I'm such a weirdo that I actually prefer Pulaski to Dr. Crusher.  And by a considerable margin; in fact, she may be my second-favorite Trek doctor behind only McCoy.  Or maybe third, also behind the EMH program on Voyager.  Or maybe even fourth behind Dr. Phlox, actually.  But I dig her, and I definitely prefer her to both Crusher and Bashir.  Anyways, you're not here to read about Star Trek!
  • You're probably also not here to read about Twin Peaks, but Amick has a great anecdote about David Lynch I couldn't help sharing: "When I met [Lynch]," she says, "I expected him to be much weirder, but he was really nice and had a good sense of humor.  But I didn't always understand his outlook on moviemaking, bot until I was doing one scene where he had me tilt my head back and stare at the ceiling during the scene.  'Well, David, why would she do this?' I asked.  He said, 'Just float back, very dreamily, very slowly tilt your head back.'  I said, 'David, would someone do this in real life?'  He replied, 'No.  We're making a movie.' "  Indeed they were.
  • Warren sounds downright smitten by Alice Krige: "Krige is a beautiful woman, maybe even more so in person than on screen, but is so comfortable with her beauty that she's apparently completely unaware of it.  Furthermore, she's mesmerizingly intelligent, and an interview with her quickly turns into a deeply involving discussion of the real reactions actors can have to feigned emotions and artificial events."  I can't say I blame the guy.
  • Krige on the sleepwalkers: "They're a species of their own.  They are not, as Stephen King says repeatedly in the script, a corruption of nature, but were intended by nature.  Somewhere along the line they evolved, sort of a mixture between a reptile and a cat."  It's interesting that Krige would have focused on this aspect of King's screenplay (which does indeed specify that these are natural creatures), and it almost certainly informed her performance.  One could make the argument that by virtue of their being an element of nature, the sleepwalkers should not be considered to be monsters; and if so, it helps explain why the movie seems almost to want to treat them as the heroes.  After all, they ARE the heroes of their own story.
  • Krige on the film's violence: "I really have a strong belief that you are responsible for what you put out in the world, and I have tried to avoid movies that have a great deal of violence -- but increasingly, that limits the work you can do."  She says her own reactions to some scenes surprised and disturbed her, specifically citing the moment when she fired a pistol at the police cars.  "It was pretty scary that I had such a rush of adrenaline.  The rush of excitement -- there was a flare of fire and a bang -- was pretty terrifying."  She continues, "Human beings have pretty much got everything in them.  Put them in the right place at the right time...it was fascinating to think of people who have access to Uzis and Magnums, and who presumably get even more of a rush than I did.  That could be the most overpowering part of the experience, the rush of power and excitement."

Moving on, we come to a magazine I'd never heard of until a couple of weeks ago:




The Shivers interview (from the August 1992 issue) by Simon Bacal, titled "Cat O' Nine Tails," is fairly brief, but has some good stuff nonetheless, beginning with a quote from Garris about working with King:
  
  • "Stephen was involved with the project from beginning to end," he says.  "And he would always agree to changes which I thought would improve the script.  Although I volunteered to make the changes he'd say 'Nah! let me take a stab at it.'  So, the next day there would be this wonderful scene sitting in the fax machine.  Stephen and I have become good friends through this film.  And I think that it's a valued friendship.  It was absolutely fantastic to work with the most successful man in the genre and to have his involvement throughout the project.  Usually, he just sells his work to the film studios and walks away.  But in this case, I think Stephen really appreciated being called on to write the script."
  • Bacal refers to Sleepwalkers as "lizard skinned creatures," which is obviously an error.
  • Garris: "Since he's so good at masquerading as an ordinary human being, Charles fools Tanya into thinking he's benevolent rather than malevolent.  In the beginning, Charles falls in love with 'lunch.'  Although trying hard to hold back from attacking Tanya, the beast within him must be released.  Because of his frenzied desire to feed, Charles finally 'explodes' and goes for her." -- Pause.  Okay, well, that's not precisely new information, but it's intriguing to point-blank hear Garris describe that emotional / instinctual process Charles goes through.  I can't help but wish that the conflict -- and the defeat of love by the desire to feed -- was actually dramatized more within the film.  There's a good, interesting story waiting there to be told; instead, we get goofy jokes about how his mother is going to be mad the blood from his skewered eye ruined his shirt.
  • Bacal, unlike the reporters from Cinefantastique and Fangoria, point-blank refers to the incest subplot.  Says Garris, "[Every time] I see this scene with an audience, everyone lets out an almighty 'Eeeewww' when they kiss and Charles says, 'Oh, mother.'  While I'm aware incest is an uncomfortable subject which, in reality, is nothing to take lightly, I love seeing that reaction from viewers.  We wanted the incest element to be both disturbing and shocking.  So, it was a matter of allowing the actors to become comfortable with the notion.  And from their excellent performances, you can see they weren't embarrassed by the idea." -- Agreed; neither Krige nor Krause play the scenes as if they are trying to gross anyone out; they simply play them realistically.  This is what gives them their power.
  • Garris mentions the possibility that he may be hired to direct The Stand.  "King is writing the script for the ABC network," he says.  "And he has in interesting deal in that they have to make the series and they can't rewrite him." -- Interesting!
  • Garris also mentions a script he's written for an adaptation of the Clive Barker story "The Mummy."  This is also mentioned in the Fangoria piece, and I assumed based on that that it was a remake of the Universal monster movie.  But Bacal says that despite the title, "this bears no resemblance to any Mummy that has appeared in either Universal or Hammer pictures." -- This reminds me that I need to read a bunch of Clive Barker one of these days; I enjoyed what I read in high school, but this particular story was not (so far as I remember) in any of those books.


Let's fast forward several years to King's introduction to the Mick Garris-penned short story collection A Life in the Cinema (released in 2000):
  
  
  
  
  • King mentions that by the early 1990s he'd written several films based on his own works, some pretty good, some not so good.  "I decided to take what I'd learned and write an original screenplay, and I had a bloody good time going it," he says.  This answers for me a question I hadn't realized I had: why Sleepwalkers came into being as a screenplay.  He continues, "Adapting a novel like Pet Sematary for the big screen is tough -- like swiping all the hotel towels out of your room and trying to cram them into a medium-sized attaché case.  Compared to that, writing an original screenplay -- something meant from the first to fit the movies' two-hour time frame -- was a piece of cake." One could make the argument based on this that King went into the writing of the screenplay with restriction as an active goal, whereas a story written in prose would likely be subject to no such consideration.  This may explain quite a lot about certain aspects of the film.
  •  King continues, "The result was Sleepwalkers, a horror script about a race of beings that had been living with mankind since we crept out of the caves and climbed down from the trees.  Living with us and feeding off us.  It was also a story about a boy who loves his mother, and what happens to that boy when he finally falls in love with a girl his own age.  (Well, the Sleepwalkers are actually thousands of years old, but true love turns us all into kids again, right?)"  -- Interesting to note that King capitalizes "Sleepwalkers."  I refuse to do it!  I don't capitalize "vampires" or "werewolves," so I'm not conferring proper-noun status on these critters, either!  Sorry, Uncle Steve.
  • "Columbia grabbed the project and offered me two possible directors -- let's call them A and B.  Director A had done an arty-farty gangster film, and the studio was very high on him."  -- Thank God that Fangoria divulged this director's identity as Rupert Wainwright; I'd have gone searching for arty-farty gangster pictures in an attempt to figure out who it might have been, and I would likely NEVER have stumbled across Dillinger, since it was a television movie.
  • "Director B had done a couple of horror-franchise films that were good, but they had those numbers in the titles . . . ewwww!  Probably for that reason, the studio wasn't quite so high on Director B; was nudging me, in fact, toward arty-farty Director A.  And I was allowing myself to be nudged, in spite of how much I liked Director B's [Psycho IV], which started with Norman Bates calling in to a radio talk-show, hosted by C.C.H. Pounder in a quietly ferocious performance."  -- Okay, pause; I should confess that I've never seen Garris's Psycho IV.  I intended, at one point in time, to never see any of the sequels to Psycho.  But for some reason, I caved this past October and watched Psycho II, and you know what?  I kind of dug it.  It's clearly no Psycho -- few films are -- but provided that you let go of that, it's got virtues, including Anthony Perkins' performance.  So this October, I plan to see the third and fourth films, too.
  • King continues, "Then I had a little talk with Director A, and the results were more horrifying than anything in the Sleepwalkers script.  I wanted to tell the story of a thousand-year-old Sleepwalker lad who falls in love with a sunny California girl; Director A had visions of Art."  -- I mean, how dare he want a movie to be art, right?!?
  • "To begin with he wanted a 'Planet of the Sleepwalkers' -- a kind of prequel, I guess -- which he would film in Panavision and Dolby stereo, possibly with The Norman Jackoff Orchestra on the soundtrack."  -- I feel obliged to point out that there is nothing wrong with filming in Panavision and releasing in Dolby stereo.  And I'm not really sure what "The Norman Jackoff Orchestra" is intended to represent.  Arty-farty Art, I suppose.  Look, I love me some Stephen King, and I'm already convinced by now that it's a good thing that Rupert Wainwright was replaced with Mick Garris.  But BOY can King come across as a petulantly anti-cinema reverse snob on occasion.  I wouldn't change a thing about him, mind you; but -- even though I agree that Wainwright was probably what the British might refer to as a "tosser" -- there's only so much of this sort of thing I'm inclined to put up with.
  • "He didn't dismiss my timid objections that this wasn't what my movie was about; he simply rode over them without ever looking back." -- I believe Wainwright may have had occasion to feel as if that was a mistake; but if he is the kind of director King characterizes him as being -- and his filmography (such as it is) indicates that that is likely -- then I suspect he tells a very different version of his sacking.  Anyways, I'm Team King / Garris in this conflict.
  • "I was reminded of my discussions about The Dead Zone with Michael Cimino, when Cimino was on board as director (a chore which was finally fulfilled -- and admirably -- by David Cronenberg) and I was on board as writer.  Cimino wanted to change the locale from New England to New Mexico so he could use the world's largest truck in the show.  The big truck just happened to be in New Mexico, y'see, and what the hell, they both started with New, didn't they?  What's the big deal?" -- I don't believe I have ever heard that Michael Cimino was at one point attached to direct The Dead Zone.  Fascinating!
  • "The big deal in both cases was that the director didn't want to make the story I wrote." -- Wouldn't it be nice if King could be consistent on this issue?  To be clear, I can't blame him for what he's saying here.  And yet, occasional abominations like CBS's Under the Dome and Sony's the Dark Tower get through unscathed by negative words from King; worse, he will sometimes encourage and promote them.  It feels like a word from King could stopped some of that stuff.  So where was that word?  Why reserve it for the Michael Ciminos and Rupert Wainwrights of the world, not to mention the Stanley Kubricks?
  • "I went with Director B for Sleepwalkers, and that turned out to be one of the smartest decisions of my life, because Director B was Mick Garris.  I have worked with him on almost half a dozen projects since, and consider him my best friend in the business.  There are only two honest men in Hollywood, and Mick is both of them." -- Awww...!  I bet Frank Darabont was bummed to read this, though.


The introduction continues from there, but that's pretty much all there is of note about Sleepwalkers, beyond King mentioning that he enjoyed Garris's introduction to Tanya, a scene he describes as "a long, goofy-happy travelling shot worthy of Steven Spielberg's 1941."  It's not every day you hear somebody comparing a film to 1941 as a compliment, but King is on safe ground with me there; I fucking love 1941.
  
A few other things that might be worth your time to check out:
  
  
  
  
And here's an episode of the podcast How Did This Get Made?, which is pretty funny if only for the degree to which one of the hosts CAN NOT accept that Charles and Mary are mother and son:
  

    
  
A print -- "print" (it was online) -- interview with Garris appeared at slashfilm.com in association with the HDTGM episode.
  
There's some great stuff in it:
  
  • Garris, answering the burning (though easy and self-evident to answer) question of the podcast: "yes, they were mother and son."
  • Garris: "I don't think it's the best work that Stephen and I have done, but I'm proud of that nasty little movie."
  • Garris: "On opening night I went to the Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard.  There were a thousand people, it was packed.  The song ["Sleepwalk"] is playing ... then mother and son kiss!  And a thousand people in concert together going 'Ewwww!'  Greatest moment of my moviegoing life."
  • Garris on his vision for the film: "Well, a theme I like a lot and [had tackled] once before with my 'timeless classic' Critters II, [I] love the idea of 'Norman Rockwell goes to Hell.'  To just turn expectations on their head."
  • Here's a crucial bit of info!  Garris on the subject of the introduction: "[There] were a couple of ideas I put into it that hadn't been in King's original script.  One is the introduction and title sequence from that page in the 'Book of Arcane Knowledge' (which I invented) to give it a little backstory.  And another was the scene where the Sleepwalkers are making love.  No, they're not making love.  They're fucking." -- I approve of the crudity there, Mick, but HOLY WOW, the info card at the beginning AND the stuff underneath the credit sequence were his doing and not King's?!?  That's of huge interest!  Well, to me, at least.
  • Garris: "When the movie started shooting, the original head of the studio, Frank Price, [said] 'There's never going to be a movie about a mother and son having sex while I'm the head of the studio.'  Well, he was right.  He got fired halfway through!"
  • Garris: "You know, that day that we had King come in to do his cameo with Clive Barker and Tobe Hooper was kind of an amazing day.  We're on location, I've never met King before in person, and we're having our morning breakfast going, 'King's gonna be here soon!  He can only be here for a couple of hours!' "  "And then I broke my tooth on my morning granola.  While we were all having breakfast before.  I had to get rushed down to my dentist and get an emergency crown put on.  'Faster, faster, Stephen King is coming!' "
  • Garris on the car chase scene: "The car chase was difficult.  We had hired Mickey Moore to be the Second Unit Director.  He was Spielberg's Second Unit Director on Indiana Jones and all these things so I thought there was going to be a spectacular car chase.  And then he had a heart attack and was not able to work.  So his cameraman was going to try and handle it, but it was kind of flat."
  • Garris on a surprise visitor: "But the scene at the end, where the dying son of Mary Brady is lying there bleeding, I'm directing this really ridiculous -- wonderfully ridiculous, in my twisted mine -- scene, and Steven Spielberg shows up.  He's sitting there in a chair and i'm like, 'Uh, can I get anything for you, Steven?  Do you want to talk about the film?' " -- Garris had worked on Amazing Stories for Spielberg, by the way, so that's not AS random a visit as it sounds.  Plus, Spielberg was directing for Columbia at the time (Hook) just as Garris was, so was likely nearby on the same studio.  Speaking of which...
  • "[Sleepwalkers] was also the only time I ever shot a feature film on a studio lot.  Which was a great experience.  I had done that with" [the television series] "Amazing Stories, and had an office on the Universal lot (in the Amblin building).  There's something really, really exciting about that process."
  • Garris on Alice Krige: "I had seen her in Ghost Story, and that's why I cast her.  Because she knocked me out, she's so unique.  Ahd she played it so straight in something that could easily have been played camp.  She is such a great dramatic actress.  She took it so seriously, that was great."
  • Garris on the film's success: "And it was a hit!  The movie was number one at the box office." -- I'd intended to talk about the movie's box office at some point, and this seems like a good opportunity.  The film did indeed open at #1, earning just over $10 million its first weekend (as per Box Office Mojo).  It would go on to make a bit more than $30 million, and ranked #43 for the year 1992 (right behind #42's The Lawnmower Man!).  Now, that probably doesn't sound like much of a hit, and let's be clear: it was no smash.  But for the sake of comparison, the #42 and #43 top-grossing American movies of 2017 were Alien: Covenant and Captain Underpants; for 2016, it was Boo! A Madea Halloween and Storks.  (Oh, and back to 2017: for the sake of comparison, The Dark Tower was #55, and It was #7.)  Point being, these were movies people saw.  So WAS Sleepwalkers a hit?  Absolutely!  Not a major one, but I think people typically think of it as a flop, and it absolutely was not that.
  
And, finally, here's a Q&A session from a 2015 retrospective screening of the film:
  
  
   
  
There's some good stuff in that CineFamily video.  I could have happily watched another hour of it.
  
Some info from it that I had not encountered before (or which bears repeating):
  
  • Garris basically only met King the once (the filming of the King cameo scene) during the production of Sleepwalkers, and says it was on The Stand that they became friends, due to the author being on set for about half of the filming.
  • Garris is asked whether the horror-director cameos were his idea or King's; Garris proudly confesses that it was his.  He says that they were all friends of his, and that he knew they all loved King's work; plus, he figured it would be fun for the audiences watching Sleepwalkers.  And you know, I think he's right about that.  You might not want that sort of thing to be done in the middle of, say, Gerald's Game or Get Out, but in Sleepwalkers, it's a lot of fun.
  • Asked about the humor in the film, Garris confesses that he actually toned the humor down a little bit; he says that the screenplay had even more punchlines, almost to a Freddy Krueger degree.
  • Amick says that when she read the script, she took it seriously, and thought it was really dark and sexy, but did eventually realize that it was really funny.
  • Krause recollects Garris telling him that the intended tone was that of An American Werewolf in London.
  • The moderator asks Garris if he has any insight as to why King wrote Sleepwalkers as a screenplay rather than as a novel.  Garris indicates that there are some things you write for readers, and some you don't.  "Nobody wants to read this book, you know?" he asks rhetorically.  "I would," he corrects himself; "but, then, I have no taste."  Same!  Garris goes on to explain that he feels the writing of the screenplay was "recreational" for King, and he also says that at this time King did not have the respect for screenwriting that he would later develop.  He says on writing the teleplays for The Stand "he discovered a newfound respect that a good screenplay is as good -- is as valid -- a piece of writing as writing a novel is."  Sleepwalkers "was more of a lark, I think he was really writing a movie HE wanted to see, something that had elements that would draw him to the drive-in."
  • Krause rationalized the story as being that those were creatures, and not really mother and son; that's how he got through it.  He confesses, prompted by Garris, that the presence of Alice Krige helped; "how nervous was I, at 22?" he admits.
  • Krause also confesses that being a part of a Stephen King film was a big inducement.  "I was just excited," he says.  (He seems like a genuine guy during this Q&A; he's a very affable presence, and while he's never become a big star, it's not hard to see why he's worked steadily -- he seems like he'd be very easy to work with.  That plus even a bit of talent equals long career in Hollywood, and deservedly so.)
  • 126 cats were used in the filming, but apparently extra cats would show up on occasion.  Asked how it was possible to wrangle that many cats, Garris divulges that during some of the scenes where there are a bunch of cats all in one place, they were actually wearing little harnesses that were staked into the lawn and prevented them from getting away!  "They couldn't go anywhere if they wanted to," he says, to general merriment from his peers and from the audience.
  • Amick replies to this that that approach is way better than it being done with CGI, the way it would be today (2016).  It's a great point.  I guess that if we're not already there, it will eventually be a sign of out-of-touch-old-fartdom to suggest that "real" things look better on film than CGI does; but either we're not there yet, or I've already descended into grumpy-old-fartdom and am very much out of touch.  Either way, I agree with Amick; a remake of Sleepwalkers would almost certainly have CGI cats leaping and bounding all over the damn place, and maybe that could be cool and exciting and amusing; but there's also no substitute for looking at the cats in this movie and saying to yourself, "How'd they get all those fucking cats to just run up the street like that?!?"  For me, part of the appeal of cinema is that it's often fundamentally a reflection of reality, just one that has been squished and stretched a bit.  I love great CGI when it serves a story, but it there's not a base of THIS SHIT IS REALLY HAPPENING for it to built upon, it loses flavor for me almost immediately.
  • Remember during the scene in which Charles morphs from one form to another as a response to being startled by Clovis?  There's one shot in that in which he appears to have a baby's head.  That was the two-year-old son of visual effects supervisor Jeff Oukn.  One of the moderators asks who that was supposed to be within the story (Charles as a young boy, for instance).  "Who gives a shit?" Garris replies, gleefully throwing his hands in the air and grinning broadly.  Hard not to love this guy.
  • Tony Gardner reveals that during that morph scene, all the different faces Charles wears were either real people (himself and young Master Okun) or were practical-effects heads Gardner built.  After all, there were no CGI animators available to him at the time, so the morph was a matter of blending different elements that all existed in the real world, if only as sculpted models.  By the way, check out this awesome image I accidentally got while pausing the video so I could type that:

 
That's Mädchen Amick "inside" the sleepwalker's head; Tony Gardner has his back turned to us, and on the other side of her is the CineFamily moderator, Josh somethinorother.


  • The scene in which you see Charles and Mary having sex apparently got the movie in trouble with the ratings board.  Garris says they had to submit the movie five different time before the movie could avoid an X rating, mostly thanks to the pumping buttocks of one Mr. Brian Krause.  

 
That's Krause with head hung in shame; to the sides of him are Mike MacKay and (with the long hair) Mick Garris.


  • This scene was also, you may recall, supposed to involve seeing the sleepwalkers in their true form, revealed in the mirror during the lovemaking.  One of the actors in the suits, Mike MacKay, seems to remember very fondly remember the process of watching Krause and Krige act the scene and try to match their movements along with Karyn Sercelj.  (Whose name apparently changed to Karyn Malchus at some point after this.  She would, the next year, portray one of the Tommyknockers in that miniseries!)  Speaking of Sercelj/Malchus, here's a great behind the scenes photo they used in the CineFamily video:



  • By the way, Garris says that that lovemaking scene was originally intended to be a much more intricate single-take shot, but the ratings considerations forced it to be truncated into something a bit less than its design.  The "mirror" was actually just a piece of glass that peeked into a reverse set on the other side, which is where MacKay and Sercelj were performing.
  • "Fun fact," says Amick; "I'm allergic to cats."
  • Garris alludes to Cindy Pickett having broken her arm on the set and asks if she wants to talk about that.  She gets sidetracked instead by talking about how much she wanted to do her own stunt during the scene in which Mary throws Mrs. Robertson through the plate-glass window.  She was not allowed to do so, to her evident disappointment.  As to the broken arm, that remains a mystery!
  • During the scene in which Mary hoists the unconscious Tanya onto her shoulder, the stunt double who was supposed to do the hoisting proved to be incapable of picking Mädchen Amick up.  Alice Krige said "Move over," and picked Amick up herself, to everyone's impressed delight.
  
This video was a real delight; I'm glad to have found it!
  
*****

And with that, we've reached the end of part 2 of our revisit with Sleepwalkers.  I'm sure there are other interviews and whatnot about the film out there that I didn't mention; if you know of any, shoot me links, and I will happily update this post.  I'd love to have it be sort of a catch-all repository of interesting bits of info about the film, and would be happy to add to it.
  
  



  
I'll be back in a day or two with part 3, which will take a look at King's screenplay.

6 comments:

  1. (1) You always make me want to sink some money into a serious Cinefantastique collection. (Just what I need! Both for space/ storage and for time-management...) But, I can successfully hold this impulse at bay, I think, and just flip through The Truth Inside the Lie posts for now.

    (2) Confession: I've yet to see PSYCHO IV (or any of the sequels) either. That's interesting stuff with Wainwright, though, and I agree: King could be a bit more consistent when it comes to the integrity of his work/ adaptations. Although perhaps what we're seeing here is the opinion of the younger King vs. 21st century King; maybe what we regard as inconsistent is just the evolution of his opinion. Over time, he cared less about such things. If so, though, I wish he'd care a little more.

    (3) I only skimmed through that CineFamily Reunion but how fun. It's like that BEE podcast Mick Garris did - I love listening to the guy/ think he seems like a genuinely nice dude. I wish I didn't hate so much of his work! But man. I kinda want to see and love PSYCHO IV, myself, just so I could have one to point to and say "Hey, I like that one okay I guess."

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    1. (1) Man, I feel your pain -- I keep resisting the urge to just start a collection of every issue. The only thing holding me back, really, is the fact that the first few are hard to find at any price I would be willing to pay.

      (2) I wish he'd care more, too. Like, I totally -- 100% -- get why he'd dislike Kubrick's take on "The Shining." I disagree with him, but it makes sense to me from his point of view. But where was that pickiness when "The Dark Tower" was getting butchered?

      (3) I'm sort of starting to appreciate his work a bit more; I've got a few things now than I can claim to like. More that I can't, but hey. However, when I'm doing things like researching this project and reading interviews with him, I really WANT to be a fan during that time. And so, to some degree, I kind of am. I hope he never, ever, ever reads anything I've written about him. NEVER. But even if he did, he seems like the kind of guy who'd just shrug and say, "Well, can't win 'em all!"

      Delete
    2. (3) Oh, and by the way, I revised this post a bit tonight thanks to sitting down and watching -- rewatching? -- that CineFamily video. I thought I'd watched it before a couple of years ago and remembered it being kind of pointless, but decided to check it out again while having dinner tonight. It's great! I don't think I ever watched it all; I'm pretty sure I had it confused with something else.

      Anyways, I summarized some of the more interesting bits, and even took a few good screencaps.

      Delete
  2. 1. Note to self: find any available used copy of Garris short stroy collection.

    2. I'm gonna be honest, listening to Garris just makes me wish he could have been given a chance to direct "Dreamcatcher". I'm a minority here, but there it is.

    3. I think I might have figured out what was meant by that "your sleep" line. It's from the old wives tale about cats stealing your breath while you sleep. King made use of this folklore trope in "Cat's Eye".

    The difference is, in "Sleepwalkers" we've technically met one of the other "real culprits" (the other is the Fornit from CE) behind the legend. The fact that Garris wrote that bit of background makes sense of the whole thing if you realize that King not writing that bit means it technically was written by a guy with no obvious belief in vampires.

    I don't mean to imply King does believe in them, by the way.

    4. "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (a movie I quite like, thank you very much)". I like lead-lined fridges!

    5. I think another reason for King's silence is a question of industry clout. In other words, Mark Hamill can get away, and thrive with it, in a way King probably can't.

    6. This whole post just put me in the mood, so I'm this:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4eqDSyw6mNk

    and this:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4eqDSyw6mNk

    here. Yes, Garris didn't direct, but c'mon, this 80s gold.

    ChrisC

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    1. 1. I need one of those, my own self! Someday, maybe.

      2. No...no, I can totally see that. I mean, anyways, it couldn't be worse than what actually happened. I really wish Garris had been able to keep making features; I suspect that armed with a decent budget and a good screenplay, he might have done something really good post-Sleepwalkers. Instead, he got bogged down making limited-budget King miniseries. Regardless of what one thinks of those, I think "Sleepwalkers" kind of points toward the possibility of something different.

      3. Yeah, you might be onto something there. But again, it kind of muddies the waters a bit, since the cats -- the alleged stealers of breath -- are the heroes here! Perhaps the argument is that the cats-stealing-breath legend came from sleepwalkers stealing souls via what looked like the stealing of the breath.

      By the way, interesting that you think the critter in "Cat's Eye" is a fornit! I associate that word only with "The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet." But there are similarities, for sure.

      4. I know that the "nuke the fridge" thing is alleged to be ridiculous -- and is -- but I chuckle every time I think about that shot of the enemy agents trying to drive away to safety and looking up dismayed to see the fridge just kind of sailing overhead past them. Maybe I've got bad taste, but that cracks me up.

      5. Maybe. Could be. I think it's also possible that he simply prefers to be a positive guy, and that is his default mode. But once he's talked himself into not being positive about something, the gloves kind of come off. I'll be curious to see the evolution of his opinions about the Dark Tower movie over the rest of his career. My guess: eventually, them gloves is comin' off.

      6. Glorious. I remember liking "Critters," but haven't seen it in a looooong time.

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  3. I updated this post significantly to add an article from Gorezone as well as a two-part interview with King in Fangoria. This included a fuller telling of the story about young Joe Hill being the inspiration for the movie.

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