Monday, March 5, 2018

Here Comes Johnny With His Pecker In His Hand: "Sleepwalkers" Revisited, Part 1

Before we begin, I've got to cop to something: yes, in fact, I do know that he doesn't actually sing "here comes Johnny."  He sings "there come Johnny."  I am indeed aware, so just in case you thought I got that wrong, know that I did it on purpose because I prefer the way my version sounds; plus, as we will discuss later, the lyrics to the actual song do in fact say "here comes Johnny."
  
If you have no bloody clue what I'm on about, well, saddle up, pardner; you're in for a heck of a barn dance.
  
Today, we shall ponder Sleepwalkers.  Oh yes we will; that's a threat AND a promise.
  
  
  
  
The sharp-eyed among you will have noticed that the title of this post bears a "Part 1" designation.  You have correctly assumed that this means a(t least a) Part 2 will follow.  If you are wondering how and why that can be, let me lay out an agenda for this FOUR-PART series.  Yes, you read that correctly; four flippin' posts on Sleepwalkers, consisting of:
  
  • Part 1: an appraisal of the movie itself
  • Part 2: a look at some of the press about the movie, mainly consisting of magazine articles
  • Part 3: a review of the screenplay (never published but obtainable nevertheless)
  • Part 4: a review of the soundtrack CD

The goal is to give this movie a fair shake.  It's been derided by lots of people, myself included, and I cannot deny that it's fun to go into ultra-snark mode with a film like this one.  That's not much of a challenge, though; and better snarksters (by far) than I have already done that work.

So I'm going to go another route and take the movie as seriously as I can possibly take it, and we'll just see what comes of the effort.  I'm sure that there's going to be some snark along the way, of course; I can't help being me, and me is prone to pointing and laughing at things from time to time.
  
The question, then, is this: did I enjoy the movie more on this viewing than I had previously?
  
The answer is: you know ... yeah!  I did.  I think there's a lot to like here; some serious problems, too, but plenty to enjoy.
  
With that revealed, what is there to say about Sleepwalkers that doesn't involve collapsing into gales of oh-aren't-we-above-all-of-this style laughter?

We'll begin with the central conceit of the movie: the sleepwalkers themselves, an entirely new type of monster created by Stephen King expressly for this film.  They'll probably never appear in another film, either, not merely because of copyright issues, but also because it's a little difficult to summarize exactly what the fuck a sleepwalker is.

Heck, even Stephen King wasn't quite able to get the job done:




This here review purports to be a deep dive, so let's slow down, and take this info card one bit at a time.

  • The very name "sleepwalker" raises questions that the movie never answers.  I mean, there's a definition for the word on screen before anything else apart from the studio logo, and STILL there's no hint of why these beings are called "sleepwalkers."  So, what can we intuit?  I suppose we could ask ourselves what sleepwalkers are in the real world.  They are people who perform physical actions of one type of another while in a state of deep sleep.  Does that shine any light on what the sleepwalkers of this movie are?  None, so far as I can tell.
  • Pretty much the only thing on the Wikipedia page for sleepwalking that dinged any bells for me at all was a mention of Sigmund Freud hypothesizing that it stemmed from (of course) sexual desire, and was being expressed in the form of subconsciously attempting to try to return to the place where one slept as a child.  Unless he means the womb, I don't think that's what is going on here ... although the incestuous aspects of King's sleepwalkers could theoretically be said to be a sort of Oedipal fantasy in which the son has proved victorious.
  • Oh, one more thing on the Wikipedia page: in Act V Scene 1 of Macbeth, Lady Macbeth is observed sleepwalking, which is thought by the doctor to be the result of Macbeth himself being absent, off at war.  If I reallllllllllllllly wanted to go into Room 237 territory, I'd speculate that this idea connects Mary with Lady Macbeth, meaning that there must be a Macbeth offscreen.  Makes sense; the movie implies that Charles's father was a human, long since dead, but if he in fact is another being, one who we know to be able to make himself dim (as the sleepwalkers can also do)?  I refer, of course, to Randall Flagg.  But do I think that's what King intended?  Fuck no!  It's a stretch to even call this idea a stretch, quite frankly.
  • Whatever the explanation, the sleepwalkers call themselves sleepwalkers.  Was the appellation given to them?  No way to know.  But they are obviously okay with it, so it must say something about themselves that they've accepted or which is a thing they wish to express.
  • Bottom line: there's no making sense of it as far as I can tell.  This makes it a bit of a failure.  It's an evocative title for a movie, and if you were merely presented with the title and the name "Stephen King" as its author, you'd probably expect something a bit more developed.  In Insomnia, for instance, he titled a novel after a common sleep-related condition and then used the concept of the condition to tell a story in which a man with insomnia begins experiencing a higher sense of the world around him.  And while we're here, wouldn't you say that one of King's talents is for titling?  Certainly with his novels, I think this is true; they tend to be simple, but evocative in a way that permits one to recall them later on.  What's Christine about?  A haunted car nicknamed Christine.  What's Under the Dome about?  People trapped under an enormous dome.  Et cetera.  Theoretically, the title Sleepwalkers is great; it's just ... what the fuck does it mean in relation to the actual story?  For me, the question remains unanswered.  I suspect the real answer is simply that King liked the title, and felt no need to have it make sense beyond that.
  • "Nomadic" -- This makes me think of Doctor Sleep.  I would not be at all surprised if parts of Doctor Sleep came from the same place in King's brain where Sleepwalkers came from.  I'm arguing no connection between the two on a story level, you understand; just saying that maybe King liked the sleepwalkers and some of the ideas related to them, and recycled some of that years later for Doctor Sleep.
  • "shape-shifting creatures" -- You don't see a huge amount of shape-shifting in the movie; or, at least, not a wide range of shapes are shifted into by these creatures.  There are stages to them: human, feline proto-humans, somewhat human werecats, and almost fully alien werecats.  You never see one of them shape-shift into, like, a table or anything.  They are not Odo from Deep Space Nine
  • "with human and feline origins." -- We will take a closer look at this in a bit, when we examine the imagery used during the opening title sequence. 
  • "Vulnerable to the deadly scratch of the cat." -- The what now?  I've owned ... let me see ... depending on which ones I count, I've owned something like nine cats during the course of my life.  I probably got scratched by most of them, and not once did I die from it.  Not once!  These were housecats, of course.  Big cats like tigers and panthers and whatnot could certainly kill me with a scratch; but big cats could kill a LOT of things with a scratch or two, so there's nothing peculiar about sleepwalkers in that regard.  Therefore, I assume this info card is referring not to big cats, but to the same type of housecats I've owned.  That being the case, does it make any sense for sleepwalkers to be vulnerable to cat scratches?  I don't really need it to; it's fine, because shape-shifting werecats ARE NOT REAL.  I hope.  It's just a story, so I can buy into it.  This particular story does not sell me on this particular plot detail, though; I won't deny it.  And yet ... I have to ask myself if it is any less "believable" than silver harming werewolves or garlic repelling vampires.  Not really, I guess.
  • "the sleepwalker feeds upon the life-force of virginal human females." -- Sure, why not?  Virginity has been used in rites both real and fictional for who knows how long, so I can buy this.  Here, it's seemingly both a literal thing and a metaphorical one.  Charles is searching for a "pure" and "nice" girl to feed upon, and I guess the implication there is that it is the only type of soul that can give nourishment to sleepwalkers.  Could virginal males work as well?  Presumably not; it makes no logical sense to me why that would be the case, but so be it.  Could Charles go and drain the soul out of non-"pure" women?  Would that be like the equivalent of eating spoiled food in that one can do it but might suffer consequences after?  Could Charles, for example, just go to a Def Leppard concert and mouth-rape a bunch of skanks and have that be sufficient?  I'm guessing not, but these are things I wonder.
  • "Probable source of the vampire legend." -- Now, this is interesting!  But since we know that vampires -- classic, traditional vampires -- exist within the broader Stephen King universe, this brings up a question: does Sleepwalkers take place within that universe?  How one answers that questions impinges upon how one feels about this idea that "vampires" may merely be a legend that resulted from distortions and misrepresentations of sleepwalkers.  If one accepts that idea, then I think the conclusion has to be that this movie does NOT take place within the rest of the Stephen King universe.  Not on the same level of the Tower, at least.  We'll come back to that idea.
  • "Chillicoathe Encyclopaedia of Arcane Knowledge" -- There is no such thing, which I'm guessing comes as no surprise to you.  This is King just goofing about, creating his own arcane-lore tome like other authors before him had done (the Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred H.P. Lovecraft being the best-known example).  I have zero guesses as to why he titled it this.  There are several towns in America -- in Ohio, Texas, and Missouri, for example -- named "Chillicothe" (minus the "a").  It's possible that the Ohio connection means something, given that the Bradys claim to be from that state.  It's also possible -- and I'm basing this on the presence of Micmac legendry in Pet Sematary -- that King intends some connection here to the Chillicothe band of the Shawnee Indians.  It's not clear.  King must have had something in mind here, but I'll be durned if I know what.  And that's at least consistent with much of the rest of the lore surrounding the sleepwalkers; it's less an idea than it is an idea of an idea.  It's frustrating, but do I really need it to be anything more than it is?  Probably not.  So why do I feel as if I do?
  • "1st Edition, 1884" -- Why specify the edition?  Is it just to lend a bit more mock authenticity to the way it sounds?  Probably.  But if you really wanted to, you could speculate that the entry about sleepwalkers was, for some reason, removed from subsequent editions of the book.  Could that be due to the vast conspiracy involving sleepwalkers infiltrating the highest levels of human governments?  Eh ... yeah, probably not.

This info card reminds me similar ones at the beginning and end of Maximum Overdrive.  Those are even more nonsensical than this one, but both movies kind of feel as if they are the product of somebody who doesn't feel as if movies need to make sense.  Perhaps that's even a fair assessment; movies are often held to be a lowest-common-denominator art form.  And take it from a guy who works at a theatre, a sizable portion of the target audience for a flick like Sleepwalkers wouldn't even show up until five or ten minutes in, rendering the title card moot in their case.

It's just that I wonder what might happen if King ever took movies seriously.  He's managed to do it on television (Storm of the Century) to excellent results; but his antipathy toward movies is seemingly a constant.  For him, it seems that books are the true art form; movies can only ever be -- pun intended -- a dim reflection of them.  And so you get a movie about sleepwalkers, in which the very idea of what a sleepwalker is remains vague and ill-defined.

Which is probably not optimal, but it's also not a complete deal-breaker.  I mean, fuck, man, it's a movie about cat people stalking a virgin; what more do you need to know than that?  Clearly, it's possible to ask questions and want deeper answers, but do you NEED them?  Not really.  
  
And I think it's important to remember both sides of this equation as we proceed.  Sure, this movie could have been more than what it is; but it was never obligated to be, and it's really only useful to ask if it is successful in the things it set out to do.  On that score, I think Sleepwalkers is a big old mixed bag.  A MIXED bag, mind you; that means that some of it fails, but it also means that some of it succeeds.  If I were tasked with assessing which way the scales were tipped, I'd have to say it is weighted more heavily toward failure.  But I don't think the imbalance is all that severe; not as severe as the movie's reputation suggests, at least.  
  
Speaking of that reputation, I myself have been hard on it over the years; but if I'm being honest with myself, I'd never really paid it any significant attention until sitting down to do this series of posts.  I don't really have that deep a personal history with the film, not in comparison to most other King movies.  I was already a devoted King fan by the time the movie came out; it was one of the first King movies to get released into theatres after my fandom began.  The first was Graveyard Shift, which I missed (and was perhaps not even aware of); the second and third were Misery and The Lawnmower Man, both of which I went to see.  
  
The fourth was Sleepwalkers, and I did not go see it.  I did not even consider going to see it; it did not interest me.  Looking back, this amazes me; stupefies me, even.  I can't make sense of it.  Whatever the case, skip it I did, and I didn't see it until I bought the DVD, which (if Amazon is not lying to me) was not until early 2001.  Unthinkable!  Nearly a decade managed to slip by before I saw that movie.  These days, I'd feel obliged to hand in my King-fandom card if I were to go even a year before seeing it.
  
By that point (2001), I already felt mostly negatively toward the work of director Mick Garris thanks to his version of The Shining.  I'd enjoyed his adaptation of The Stand fairly well, but the remake of The Shining failed for me on almost every level, and it was Garris that I blamed for that.  So when I finally saw Sleepwalkers, I more or less had already written it off before even popping the disc in.  In watching it, I saw nothing to change my mind; so what had been pre-judged remained judged, and I think I rewatched the movie only twice more in the years that followed.  Maybe even just once.
  
It was a classic case of letting my own opinion about something become entrenched for no particularly good reason.  I've ranked all of King's movies several times, and it's kind of interesting -- if only to me -- to look back at the non-evolution of my thinking about Sleepwalkers within those posts.  The first time, in 2012, I put the movie at #49 out of 71.  I had virtually nothing to actually say about it, so I settled for "damn does this movie suck.  I mean, it's just friggin' awful."  I proceeded to admit that it would have been much lower on the list if not for "The Rodeo Song" (we'll get there) and the fact that it was an original-by-King screenplay.
  
For the revised 2013 post, the movie ranked #63 out of 83 (the list of what I include varies from ranking to ranking).  I added nothing new to my text; I just copied and pasted the previous year's comments.
  
In 2014, it was #69 out of 106, behind such turds as The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer and Mercy.
  
The most recent version -- the 2016 list -- has 96 entries, and Sleepwalkers came in at #45.  That's a pretty big leap!  No idea how or why that happened, but it did, and yet I still had more or less nothing new to say about the movie.  When I update those rankings each time, I first do the rankings, without checking the previous rankings.  Once the rankings are done, I'll consult the previous version's text and if I don't feel like I have anything to add or update, I'll just copy and paste it over.  
  
I mention all that so as to mention this: in the seven years since beginning this blog, my thinking about Sleepwalkers has changed very little.  That thinking was vague at best; the rankings were pure prejudice of barely-held memory.  I remembered that the movie got super cheesy at certain points, and then let my anti-Garris bias do the rest of my thinking for me.
  
Now, I don't want to make it seem as if I'm about to start trying to redeem the movie and claim it as a misunderstood masterpiece or anything like that.  As I said earlier, I want to give the movie a fair shake.  I don't think you could fairly say this is anything better than a guilty pleasure.  But by gum, I do believe that's what it's turning into for me during the course of this reassessment!  I enjoyed watching the movie for this project.  I watched it three times and enjoyed it all three!  Yes, I do feel a little guilty about it.  I watched the Oscars last night -- I've not seen The Shape of Water, or Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri, or Get Out, or Baby Driver, or Lady Bird, or Phantom Thread, or Call Me By Your Name, or Mudbound, or I, Tonya.  I am ostensibly a movie lover, one who has seen the Oscars every year going back to at least 1991, and saw parts of it for who knows how many years prior to that.  I once skipped an exam in college because it took place during the Oscars; sure did.

And yet, I missed all those movies this year, and many others besides.
  
But I made time this week to watch Sleepwalkers three times.
  
Yeah.  A little guilty.
  
But pleasurably guilty.
  
Sorry.  We got bogged down there for a bit, didn't we?  Well, that's what this blog is; a bog about Stephen King, mostly.  No contest, your honor.
  
Let's move on, and in the spirit of doing so, I now present to you a screencap of what might be the most effective jump-scare in the entire movie:
  
  
  
  
In case you can't tell, that's a set of clawmarks that rip through the screen, accompanied by a sound effect.  It's not scary; but neither is anything else in the entire movie, and this did at least startle me a tiny amount.
  
From here, we proceed -- and I promise this is not about to turn into a plot summary (I am just following my notes and am going to bounce from one topic that interests me to another) -- to a brief prologue in Bodega Bay, California.  Right there, we get a needless evocation of The Birds, just from the setting.  Why do that?  I've seen The Birds, and you, Sleepwalkers, are no The Birds.  Then Mark Hamill shows up for an extended cameo, and that's fine by me; Mark Hamill has to fill his time somehow, and he does fine here.
  
What I want to talk about is the jump scare that comes during this scene.  It goes like this: the two police officers go into the former Brody home to investigate.  There are a bunch of dead cats strung up outside, so presumably they know that animal cruelty has happened, at the very least.  As they are looking around, they hear a sound coming from behind a closed door; it sure does sound a lot like a scared and angry cat, but there is no indication that the officers know that.  Well, if you've ever seen a horror film in your life, the odds are good that you know what's going to happen: a cat inside that room is going to come jumping out, screeching and/or hissing, and startle the officers.
  
Sure enough, that's exactly what happens.  It's about as scary as a dog fart.  But then Garris delivers a second alleged jump-scare; the cat-jump was just a fake-out, and the REAL jump is when there's an inexplicable sound of a woman screaming, followed by a desiccated corpse falling out onto the floor.  This is about as scary as a dog farting in your lap.  Neither jump works, not even a little bit.  Whatever skills Mick Garris may have in his toolbox, crafting jump scares ain't among 'em, or at least wasn't in 1992.
  
Part of the blame needs to go to King, however.  He's created no suspense in this scene, and without suspense it's hard to have a good jump scare.  Garris's direction fails to elevate the material, but the material itself is lacking.  Combine the two, and what you've got is a scene that just doesn't work.
  
We'll move now to the opening credits, and have a look at some of the imagery presented therein:
  
  
I presume this is an actual Egyptian relic; it looks like it, though on a movie, that means nothing.  Either way, the following hieroglyphics verify that we're at least supposed to think it's Egyptian.  If so, I think the reasonable assumption based on that is to assume that the sleepwalkers first began their association with humans in ancient Egypt.

Are these hieroglyphics real, or is this something the production designers cooked up?

I'm not necessarily seeing anything that makes me think there's anything here to explain the secret history of the sleepwalkers.  After all, the Egyptians more or less did worship and revere housecats, and had at least two catlike goddesses, Bastet and Mafdet.

It's entirely possible that's who these two figures are.

Here, the goddess is favoring a human with a flower.  This is a thing Mary does with Tanya later (and had already done with that desiccated corpse Mark Hamill found), so it's possible that the film's argument is that this figure IS a sleepwalker, perhaps even "Mary" herself.  Impossible to say for sure.

My assumption is that this is original artwork produced for the movie.  (I cropped and straightened it and did a Google Images search that turned up nothing; that's no proof, but it's the closest I can get.)  It's obviously depicting a cat-headed woman breast-feeding what appears to be a human child.  Can we take this as being literally Mary and Charles?  I'm also curious as to whether the image on the right has any significance; if it does, it's lost on me.

This is a cropped and reversed version of Fernand Khnopff's 1896 painting Caresses.  Nope, I'd never know that if not for being able to search images on Google.  In that article I linked to, John Coulthart says that the work suggests to him both Oedipus and the Sphinx.  Sleepwalkers is, I guess, suggesting that the painting was based on sleepwalkers.  Or is it possible the implication is that sleepwalkers can literally take on the form of big cats?

The text here is kind of interesting, though not in such a fashion as to really reveal anything.  I always wonder who it is who writes stuff like that on a movie.  Not King, I'd imagine, though you certainly can't rule it out.  If I were slightly less lazy or slightly more devoted, I'd do my best to transcribe it all.  Sadly, it's right in the sweet spot where that shit is NOT going to happen.

Kitty!  Now, this is just a normal housecat, right?

So what's up with this?  Unless I am missing something, what we've got here is a photo of a woman, a drawing of a cat, and then a blending of the two.  I can't find any evidence of any of this being an instance of real-world art, so let's assume the images were created for the movie.  Does this imply that sleepwalkers can turn into what appear to be normal housecats?  It must be saying something of that nature, right?  Or is it more of a metaphor?
  
Again, the movie is just so incredibly vague on all of this.  I can't help getting bogged down in it from time to time, and I think it's because in moments like this, the movie is encouraging me to think about the apparently-lengthy history of sleepwalker society.  Beyond the fact that it exists, though, there's just not much to work with.  I think that one thing the movie is missing is for there to be a sleepwalker hunter on their trail, preferably an old white British -- or possibly Romanian -- dude in a tweed jacket who could explain who and what sleepwalkers are to the good guys (but really to the audience).  Maybe he'd have shown up in the sequel!
  
Speaking of the movie's opening credits, the three lead actors are billed in this order: Brian Krause, Mädchen Amick, and Alice Krige.  The pecking order of movie credits is often problematic, so it's never a great idea to read too much into them.  Seeing this, though, made me stop and think consciously about something that had itched at me during my rewatches: who is the main character of Sleepwalkers?

Going by the credits, you'd conclude Charles.  Going by the resolution, you'd conclude Tanya.  But Tanya doesn't have much of an arc here, does she?  She begins the story as a "nice" girl, flirts with losing that "niceness," is nearly killed, and survives to stop being nice another day.  I guess that's enough to qualify her as a protagonist and main character, but am I wrong in feeling as if the movie never quite puts her into that position?

It feels as if the movie really belongs to the sleepwalkers themselves.  The most interesting arc by far is the one Charles doesn't quiiiiiiite manage to have: he's a sleepwalker who falls in love with the "nice" girl he's supposed to feed upon.  Will he follow through on his nature and kill Tanya so as to feed himself and his mother, or will a different sort of nature take hold?  About halfway into the movie, all possibility of this being the central conflict of the movie vanishes, but it's there early on.  Once Clovis attacks Charles, however, the movie becomes something else.  It almost feels as if -- and I hope this isn't a tasteless thing to say -- Brian Krause died partway through filming, and so King and Garris reworked the entire story on the fly so as to permit for his unavailability.  We know that's not the case, but it does kind of feel like a version of something like that happened.

We can once again look toward Doctor Sleep for a clue as to how this whole thing might have been handled.  That novel's True Knot are a group of villains not dissimilar to this movie's sleepwalkers: they are sort of ragged and desperate, and exist in far fewer numbers than they once did.  But the True Knot and its leader, Rose the Hat, are very much backgrounded as characters; Dan Torrance is unmistakably the lead of the novel, with Abra Stone a strong co-lead.  In no way does it feel as if King was disinterested in his villains -- I think he enjoyed writing them quite a bit -- but they are clearly there to support and motivate Dan and Abra.

I think what's missing from Sleepwalkers is one of two things.  One, it needed for Tanya to be just as palpably the main character of the film as Dan is in Doctor Sleep.  Or, two, it needed for the sleepwalkers themselves to remain the focus of the movie throughout.  God help me, I'm about to briefly turn into that guy who is fool enough to think he could rewrite his favorite author: what if the movie had involved Charles and Mary getting away with it?  They suck ol' Tanya dry and move on to another town, how'd that be?  The love story here is between Charles and Mary, not Charles and Tanya.

I think that story might have had some bite to it.  As is, it's just kind of rote.  It feels like King's heart wasn't quite in it, and never fully came together.

But this is not to say that there aren't moments with bite.  I'd forgotten just how gloriously icky the incest plotline is.

Now, let's be clear: I do NOT advocate incest, even if your mother is as mind-bendingly hot as Alice Krige is in this movie.    I would not want anyone misinterpreting me in that way.  That said, the scenes -- especially the first one -- between Krige and Krause have real heat.  You FEEL that love; it's icky, but you FEEL it, and because you feel it, you empathize with it.  Or, at any rate, I do.  I hope that doesn't make me sick.  But, after all, I know they're actors, and Krige doesn't really quite look old enough to be Krause's mother (a mere fifteen years separated them, so technically she could have been, I guess).  She's more reminiscent of a hot aunt, or maybe a babysitter who realizes you're growing up rapidly

STOP

Ahem.  Uh, where was I?

Right, Alice Krige.




She's great in this movie.  She radiates (I almost said "drips," but ew) sex here.  I mean, she does in most of her roles, really; but she especially does here.  It's similar to her Ghost Story role, though, in the sense of her performance being strong enough to suggest a truly alien quality.  In Ghost Story, you are attracted to her but feel that something is very, very wrong with her; which it is, so well-spotted.  Lest you think she's simply replicated that approach for Sleepwalkers, I'd say that this is a completely different type of performance; there are similarities and the impact is similar, but the emphasis is different.  She was projecting a sort of malicious vacancy in Ghost Story; in Sleepwalkers she is exuding an animalistic intensity.

But -- and this is important -- she NEVER goes over the top with it.  A lesser actor would have, but Krige is giving the role every bit of her seriousness, every bit of her craft.  Even when King puts lines of dialogue in her mouth toward the end that Aphrodite would be unable to sell, she keeps it restrained.  She's utterly marvelous.

That came as no surprise to me; I'm no expert on her career, but I've enjoyed her every time I've seen her in anything, and even when I first saw Sleepwalkers I recognized her quality despite not liking the movie at all.

You know what DID surprise me this time around?  How good Brian Krause is.  Not, perhaps, in the cemetery scene; although, again, he's given lines that nobody could sell.  But elsewhere, he's really quite good in a low-key way that (to me) suggests that he had strong chemistry with both Krige and Amick.




You can really get a sense through much of the movie of how Charles truly IS his mother's son.  He's absorbed that same alien intensity and radiates it back; this is a sentient animal looking out through human eyes.  Having never seen Krause in much of anything else (though he's worked steadily ever since this movie, including a long run on the television series Charmed), I don't know if this is skilled acting on his party, or skilled direction on Garris's part, or sheer chemistry with his female co-stars.  Maybe some of all of that.  But he's really good in the movie, and I had never noticed that before.





I particularly feel the attraction between Krause and Amick.  Or perhaps I should say Charles and Tanya, although I kind of mean both.  If informed that these two ran off to a storage closet between takes once or twice a day, I'd be none too surprised; you just kind of feel it.  There are little moments when it feels as if the two of them have forgotten they're being filmed and are just sort of grinning at each other and flirting; like when they get out of the car to go into Homeland Cemetery, and Amick/Tanya does this weird welcome-to-where-we-were-going thing, which Krause/Charles then plays along with and returns.

It's not just that moment, either; it's more or less the entirety of their interaction throughout the movie.  Little of it feels improvised in the way that moment does, but it very much feels like a thing where there was a scripted attraction on the page that the actors took and ran with, quite possibly as a result of their own real-life attraction.  I'm not sure it matters if they actually did feel such an attraction as actors; it's kind of insulting for me to insinuate such a thing.  But it FEELS like it was present, which means that this was a very effective on-screen couple.  That's what matters.

I'd argue that this aspect both helps AND harms the movie, however.  You absolutely do feel the murderous animalism coming from Charles, especially during the moments when he's on his own, staring at her photo or watching her father drive her away from work.  But I think their -- meaning that of the characters -- attraction plays like a genuine thing and not like a case of a cat playing claws-in with a mouse before going in for the kill.  Though the performances are strong, I think they undermine the movie itself, which needed and would have benefited from a clear trajectory.  If the movie was played in a manner that allowed you to feel both Tanya's attraction AND Charles's playful evil in the same moment, I think you'd have something on your hands that ascended into an entirely new level.  I haven't read King's screenplay yet, so I can't say whether it's present there or not.  But I don't think it got into the movie as strongly as it could have.

That said, let's not let that take away from the fact that watching the Krause/Krige scenes and the Krause/Amick scenes -- and, for that matter, the Krause/Amick/Krige scene -- is a good experience in and of itself.  Those performances crackle, and that's its own reward.

Moving on, let's talk a bit about the movie's setting.




As far as I can tell, this is a fictional town; makes sense, given that King often sets his work in fictional locales.

What's weird is that it's not set in Maine.  Actually, scratch that (pun intended); what's weird is that despite the fact that Sleepwalkers ISN'T set in Maine, Travis is apparently located in Castle County.  Castle Rock itself is even mentioned.

Now, what on Earth is this all about?

For the average -- or casual -- King fan, I think it would be maddening.  "How could he forget Castle Rock is in Maine?!?" they might well protest.  Fair question!  The obvious answer is that he didn't.  I mean, come on.  Really?  King FORGET that?  Don't be silly.

If he didn't forget it, then it can mean only that he did this purposefully, either as a weird I-don't-care style goof or as a signal to look at this movie's setting in a specific way.  I lean toward the latter; he's acknowledging that his work takes place in a shared universe, but he's hinting that the scope of that universe is broader than you might suspect.

In other words, Sleepwalkers is an argument that there are many level of the Tower, and on one of them Castle Rock came into being not in Maine, but in Indiana.  So don't (necessarily) look for Sheriff Pangborn to show up, or for issues of Inside View to be on newsstands, or for (though this didn't exist yet) machines vending cans of Nozz-a-La soda ... but don't assume there are NO connections, either.

For example, remember earlier when we were discussing the possibility that Randall Flagg could be Charles's father, just due to the ability to go dim?  Well, I was not serious about that.  However, that doesn't mean that the sleepwalkers couldn't have their origins in the same "outside" from which Flagg came.  That's a recurring motif in King's work, to say the least.

And I take the "Castle County, Indiana" thing as a clue to think of it that way.

Okay, so let's talk about Tanya Robertson a bit.




Her bid dancing scene doesn't really screencap all that well, but it's pretty groovy in motion.  It's a nice introduction to -- and encapsulation of -- who Tanya is: she's a young woman who enjoys being alive.  I admire the fact that King and Garris felt no urge to make Tanya a demure loser; that would be the route a lot of filmmakers went, so as to make it more "believable" that Tanya would still be a virgin (which the movie never actually verifies, though I do take it that way).

Nope, not here.  Maybe it reads that way on the page; for all I know, it does.  We'll find out a couple of posts from now.  If so, then the casting of Mädchen Amick changed that aspect completely.  As played by Amick, Tanya is ridiculously beautiful, which is sometimes a bit of a sin in movies like this.  That's especially true if you get the feeling that the character knows how beautiful she is; and I do get that sense about Tanya, but I also get the sense that she doesn't place any great stock in it.  She's free of vanity about it, as far as I can tell, which is a thing one does not often encounter on film; we tend to expect extraordinarily beautiful people to either be unaware of their attractiveness or to be aware of it and very egotistical about it.

So for all my complaints earlier about how Tanya is somewhat free of a character arc, I think you've got to give the character and the performance by Amick credit: it's unusual in a refreshing and welcome manner.  One of the interesting things about the movie is the fact that Charles doesn't really have to do much in the way of pursuing Tanya; in fact, she is at least as aggressive throughout the initial stages of their flirtation as he is.  It's entirely possible that this is why Charles' feelings for her seem to be different; we get no direct evidence of that, except via Mary's reaction to whatever she's sensing from her son.

Here again, then, is evidence of a more complex and interesting story lurking beneath the surface.  King didn't get there; or Garris didn't seal the deal, maybe.  But the seeds are present nevertheless.

And I'm going to return once again to Doctor Sleep for comparison.  One of the criticisms I've heard of that novel is that Abra Stone, the girl with the shine to whom Dan plays mentor, is presented by King as being too powerful.  The True Knot are ultimately incapable of standing up to her, and as a result, so goes the criticism, there is no suspense.  It's valid, depending on whether you see that as the point of the novel.  I don't; I think the point of the novel is that when that power is genuinely tapped into, evil forces more or less crumble beneath it.  I think the point is that while Abra is going to have to stay vigilant against the darker aspects within herself, like Dan before her, she's got all the tools she needs for success.

I'm wondering now if it would be possible to adjust the way I see Sleepwalkers along a similar path.  Could it be that, either as the result of intentional storytelling choices on the part of King and/or Garris or as the result of Amick's performance, the point of the movie is that a young woman as self-confident and essentially strong as Tanya wouldn't go through some of what the typical scream-queen character goes through?

It's a nice thought, but as soon as I've had it, I find myself rejecting it.  Tanya is a bit too inactive during the film's final act.  You kind of want it to be HER who defeats these creatures, if anyone is going to.  Instead, she has to rely on Clovis The Attack Cat to save her, not once but twice.  If I were of a mind to do so, I'd probably see what happens to her in and after the Homeland sequence as a moral judgment upon her decision to get intimate with Charles.  It's possible to see this as the movie saying, "Well, Tanya, this is what nice girls get when they decide not to be nice anymore!"

I don't actually think that that is the movie's intention, but I think I'd be making a mistake not to mention it.

And speaking of Clovis, let's go ahead and get into that.




Don't you want there to somehow be a movie where Clovis and The General (from Cat's Eye) team up to defeat Evil Church from Pet Sematary?  Haha, no, me neither, aheh ... I was just kidding.

Clovis really is pretty awesome, though.  I immediately want to know everything that has ever happened between him and Deputy Simpson.  If King announced he was writing an 800-page novel on that subject, I'd throw a party.

There's not actually much to say about Clovis, though, is there?  He's just an awesome cat, of whom I managed to get some exceptional screencaps:


DRIVE FASTER, HUMAN

NOT THAT FAST, HUMAN


THE ENEMY IS LOSING US, HUMAN, YOU SHOULD...

...YOUR PRESENCE OUTSIDE THE CAR HAS NOT GONE UNNOTICED, HUMAN WITH CAMERA


Clovis says none of those things, or anything else.  Except in my mind, of course.

The pinnacle of the Clovis / Simpson partnership -- and possibly of the movie overall -- comes during a moment when the two of them are driving down the road and Simpson is singing.

I may as well just put it here for all to see:





I mean, if that isn't a gift-wrapped basket of WTF, I don't know what is.  And there's a sequel a few minutes later...!





Now, for years I assumed that this was just some malarkey that actor Dan Martin made up while filming.  And if it WAS that, I'd be prepared to say it was the greatest improvisation in the history of cinema.

My research a few years ago, however, clued me in: that's a real song.  It was performed originally by Showdown on their 1980 album Welcome to the Rodeo.  I don't know anything about them, or their frontman, Garry Lee; or about Gaye Delorme, who wrote the song.

But here it is, and it's pretty damn great:





On the one hand,it kind of bums me out that this wasn't a bizarro invention that originated with Sleepwalkers.  On the other hand, it just makes me like Deputy Simpson all the more to know that he's evidently a fan of early-eighties underground country music.  Whatever knocks Sleepwalkers has against it, its existence is justified by this song being in it.

As other, better reviewers than me have noted, Sleepwalkers turns on a dime as soon as Charles attacks Tanya.  What has up to that point been a somewhat silly but essentially serious film now becomes a horror comedy.  This would happen a few years later with the Rodriguez / Tarantino film From Dusk Til Dawn, and it had probably happened in other films before Sleepwalkers that I'm just not aware of.

I say that so as to be able to say this: I'm sure there are people who can and would defend that as a tonal choice for a horror film.  I refer less to the comedic aspect than I do to the change from one tone to another.  I can say without a doubt that it gave me a sort of whiplash the first time I watched the movie, and the second.

This time, I minded it less.  Perhaps that's due to acceptance of the fact that it's there.  Or maybe there is some aspect of the tonal shift that actually works, and I've simply been unable to explicate it for myself.  Or maybe I'm grasping at straws and it's bullshit, but I've grown weirdly reluctant to call it out for that.

Some of it definitely does not work.  Charles turns into a one-liner-hollering buffoon, and he may as well be some other character entirely from the moment he begins trying to feed upon Tanya.




This isn't as inconsistent as it might seem, though.  I'd argue that it's inconsistent within the movie itself, but a case could be made that it fits right in with the overall body of King's work.  King, bless his heart, just looooooves to have his villains say ridiculous things.  I'm thinking of scenes in The Stand, and in It, and in The Dark Tower.  The worst offender might be in "Big Driver," when a rapist dances around singing a Rolling Stones song.  The most effective example might be Andre Linoge singing "I'm a Little Teapot" in Storm of the Century.

This is its own topic, and while I'd be interested in either reading or writing an eploration of this aspect of King's style, it's outside my purview here.  I did want to mention it, though, if only to help keep this scene (and the remainder of the movie) in its proper context.  It IS a tonal shift, but it's one that is arguably in keeping with certain aspects of King's depiction of evil.

I'm not sure there is any redemption for the moment in which Mary stabs a policeman to death with a corncob, though.  "No vegetables, no desert," she says, but does she not know that the officer has eaten, like, three ears of corn already.  He's earned dessert.  It's also pretty dire when Charles stabs Simpson in the ear canal and proclaims, "Cop-kebab!"  Just ... no.  Nope nope nope, uh-uh.

There's still some fun to be had as the movie winds down, though.  Ron Perlman shows up as Captain of the state police; Mary telekinetically makes her gravely-wounded son dance with Tanya (not sure it's Brian Krause in the makeup, but whoever it is does a great job of looking like a meat-puppet); and there are some fun cameos, including one from this guy:


Stephen King, of course, pictured here with Tobe Hooper, director of The Mangler.




And here's Clive Barker, looking appropriately bemused.

King is actually pretty great in this brief little scene.  Hand to God, I think this might be his best on-screen performance.  He's very funny in precisely the correct unctuous manner.  And watch him work that toothpick like a champ!  I guarantee you, King has met a guy exactly like this one, and here does an awesome job of evoking him for posterity.

*****

So what else is there to say about Sleepwalkers?  I've got to be honest, guys; I've kind of fallen for this movie during the course of writing about it.

This is the second time this has happened to me with a Mick Garris movie.  I've also got a genuine love for his version of The Stand ever since giving it a fair-shake approach a few years back.  I still have problems with The Stand in its television guise, and I've still got problems with Sleepwalkers, too.  But here's the bottom line: I would now have to say I'm a fan of both.

Excellent!  I love enjoying things!  I'm not sure I have ever sat down to watch a movie or read a book or whatever and thought, "Boy, I sure do hope I will hate this!"  I'm convinced that some people actually do go into their "fandom" with thoughts like that in mind, and if you don't believe me just Google the phrase "hate-watch."

I've got no use for that sort of thing.  The closest I've ever come to it is in writing for this blog; probably when I reviewed Creepshow 3, you could say I was indulging in a proper hate-watching.

I was sort of afraid that that was what tackling Sleepwalkers for my blog was going to turn out to be.  But instead, here I am, professing a new appreciation for it.  With major caveats, of course ... but that's okay.  One need not feel a movie is perfect in order to enjoy it.  One need not even feel a movie is good in order to enjoy it.

As to whether I think this is a good movie or not, I'd have to say it's a split decision.  Sorry, guys, but too much of it is interesting and entertaining for me to write it off.  At the same time, it's got too many problems for me to wholly endorse it.

It's a lot of fun, though.  The performances are good (and occasionally great), and the incest storyline pushes boundaries into uncomfortable areas in a way that truly does horrify; and if only for those aspects, I think the movie is worth a look.

I do have some remaining observations, so let's gallop through those before we call Part 1 quits:

I'll begin by saying that a lot of things about this scene perplex me:




The lady is presumably a neighbor, or at any rate somebody who knows "Martha and Kyle Brodie."  She steps forward moments after this and declares that she hopes nothing has happened to the Brodies, who "seemed so close."

It's a really false-seeming moment.  It'd be easy to blame the actress for that, but she's alright.  It just really seems like the kind of thing that wouldn't happen in real life.  And it probably does happen in real life all the damn time, but what happens in real life doesn't always read as realistic on film, you know?  Weird, but true.

Anyways, that's not what really concerns me here.  What really concerns me here is the fact that the house -- outside which these people are all standing in this moment -- is festooned with cat corpses.  And it's hard for me to reconcile this lady's seemingly genuine concern for the Brodies with the fact that there are dead, gutted cats hanging all over the fucking place.  I'm not a neighborly fellow, which makes me a poor example, but even so I believe quite firmly that if one of my neighbors had a mess of slaughtered kitties hanging outside, I'd (A) notice and (B) take sort of action and (C) not be sad for them to have disappeared.

So I had a tough time squaring this.

But an explanation presented itself as I was harvesting my screencaps!  Later in the film, Charles very briefly mentions Mary having to expend her energy on making things dim, including the car and "the traps."  A-ha!  The answer, then, must be that Mary was making all the dead cats dim for the benefit of any neighbors and/or random lookie-loos.  In their absence, things have reverted to their actual state, and it is almost certainly this that prompted the call to Officer Skywalker and his partner in the first place.

Next up, I took a screencap in honor of that one guy in Room 237 who thinks he sees a gigantic erection in one scene:




Works at least as well as it works in Room 237, which is not very well.

Let's shift to bulletpoints:

  • At the movie theatre, Charles asks for a popcorn and a medium Mr. Pibb.  Is this the only known instance of Mr. Pibb being mentioned in a movie?  Tanya ends up giving Charles his snacks for free, and as a movie-theatre manager, I cannot and do not endorse this except as occasional customer-service needs dictate.
  • Charles claims to be from Paradise Falls, Ohio.  I don't immediately know where I read this, but that is a fictional town in the works of novelist Don Robertson (of whom King was a fan).  And it appears to be a fictional town within the movie itself, given the fact that Mr. Fallowes busts Charles for it.  I wonder why Charles would use this particular fictional town?  Is he a Don Robertson fan, too?
  • What motivates Charles to write the short story about sleepwalkers/himself?  Is this something he'd written before and has dusted off?  Did he do it because he thought it would impress Tanya or because he found himself in need of genuine self-expression?  Little of both, maybe?  Here again you kind of wish for a more serious version of this story.
  • I swear to God, Brian Krause is not saying "Mr. Fallowes" most of the time when he calls the teacher by name, he's saying "Mr. Phallus."
  • Speaking of Mr. Phallus Fallowes, I think the late Glenn Shadix does pretty well in the role.  It's a fairly terrible role, to be honest.  Lord, I hate to think of Sidney Lassick (who plays a vaguely similar role in Carrie) in the part.  No, Shadix does just fine, and we should thank him for that.
  • "Money is not the only medium of exchange," Fallowes says to Charles right before the sleepwalker rips his hand off.  What's that mean?!?  Is a sexual-blackmail subplot narrowly averted in that moment?
  • Hey, I figured it out!  (Something that had been in the back of my mind and refused to come forward.)  Brian Krause looks a bit like a Hemsworth!
  • Some of the effects are actually pretty good for 1992.  The morphing-faces thing is better here than it would be for Garris in The Stand two years later, and the shots of the car going dim remain effective today. 
  • Noted nice-girl Tanya Robertson is observed sneaking a bottle of wine into her picnic basket, presumably so she can get Charles drunk as a prelude to having her way with him.  She's awesome.  Moments later:
  • Tanya's mother says something that makes her roll her eyes, and Tanya replies that she'll take some didies along with her.  Now, what's cool about this is that Amick plays the moment with zero contempt, so that you never feel that she actually resents her mother.  That, again, is a subversion of the way movies like this generally play out.  Even better: her father responds to that by saying, "Nobody loves a smartass, Tanya."  His back is to her, though, and as he says it he gets this big smile on his face, making it clear to us that in fact, yes, there's at least one guy who really does love a smartass.  It's adorable.
  • I did not realize this -- though in the back of my brain I must have known it -- until IMDb clued me in, but Tanya's parents are played by Cindy Pickett and Lyman Ward, who in 1986 played the title character's parents in Ferris Bueller's Day Off.  According to Wikipedia, they fell in love on the set of that movie and got married in real life!  But then, after Sleepwalkers, they got divorced.  Bummer!
  • When Charles, having been attacked by Clovis, drives home, he comes tearing into the driveway at a significant speed.  What's notable about this is that in the same shot, you can see what my eye counts as about twenty cats, just hanging out in the lawn.  How on Earth did the production guarantee that none of these cats would be spooked by the car and the scene result in about fourteen of them stupidly diving right under its speeding wheels?
  • After Mary attacks Tanya and knocks her out, you see a shot of Krige literally dragging Amick by the hair across the lawn.  Brutal!  
  • I didn't mention the fact that the sleepwalkers' true forms are revealed in mirrors.  The movie doesn't make much out of this, either, although it did occasion this spectacular screencap:



And finally, one more brief video: check out this moment when a squirrel almost dies a hard death:




Lastly, just a collection of screencaps of cats looking bored while sitting around on lawns:










And with that, there is really only way to end this post:




Gold.  Sheer gold. 

But we've only begun our exploration of Sleepwalkers!  I'll be back in a day or two with a look at some of the press surrounding the movie.  Some interesting stuff there!

See you then!

20 comments:

  1. (1) Chillicothe, Ohio was always fun for me to drive through on the way to Hocking Hills/ southeastern OH from Dayton, OH, when I lived out that way. I always loved the sound of that name, and the rural scenery - while mundane and unremarkable to my Ohio friends - struck me as very pastoral and lovely.

    (2) "both movies kind of feel as if they are the product of somebody who doesn't feel as if movies need to make sense." I think you've hit the nail on the head here. King just has a very low bar to clear with that stuff. I think thsi explains much about his take on so many movies or aspects of filmmaking. Or even things like his reaction to people's eye-roll at the initials "JC" in "The Green Mile" in ON WRITING, which as I recall was something like "Come on, guys! It's not supposed to be brain surgery!" And while I understand that point - and agree - it's like he's processing it wrong: no one's saying it needs to be more complex, just be clearer/ less banal. (Not that I mind the initials, nor the movie inscriptions he gives, just yeah, sometimes what he sees as other peope being nitpicky is more about him not being nitpicky enough. Perhaps.)

    (2.5) I don't really care too strongly in either direction! And am likely wrong. But yeah, I think you're right about how he doesn't think movies need to make much sense/ shrugs off such things.

    (3) That said, when you say this "I mean, fuck, man, it's a movie about cat people stalking a virgin; what more do you need to know than that? Clearly, it's possible to ask questions and want deeper answers, but do you NEED them? Not really. " I agree. And maybe I agree with King, here, too - there are films you ask questions of, and there are films you don't. Maybe SLEEPWALKERS is definitely one of the ones we don't.

    (4) Honestly, skipping the Oscars to watch SLEEPWALKERS 3 times just means you haven't lost your goddamn mind/ are a well-adjusted adult. As odd as that criteria may be! But that's the madness of the world we live in.

    (5) Mick G with his love of jump-scares which aren't scary and dead-center-of-frame close-up of cheesy make-ups: I will never, ever understand how these things could delight ANYONE but specifically a movie/ horror-movie fan/ director.

    (6) After the level of analysis you have given SLEEPWALKERS I hope you're going to go a little easier on RETURN TO SALEM'S LOT one of these days!

    (7) I kinda hate stuff like "Castle County, IN" and the vague questions it raises. None of which are very interesting to me. If this is what King is thinking he's doing with this stuff, it's a bad clue. No point in being this sloppy/ opaque.

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    1. (1) Was there any indication as to their being experts on arcane knowledge? (Also, spoiler alert for Part 2 -- I found an interview with Mick Garris in which he says he came up with and wrote that fake definition, and also cooked up the imagery in the credits.)

      (2/2.5/3) Agreed. It's a fine line, I guess, but I don't think he's been on the right side of it as often as he could.

      (4) Well, I didn't actually skip the Oscars themselves; I just didn't see the vast majority of the Oscar-nominated movies, which is ostensibly the reason to watch the Oscars in the first place. And I wanted to see them all! I've hit some sort of a weird patch in my movie-watching life.

      (5) It's so bad that it's kind of suspicious, and even weirdly endearing at times.

      (6) Might do; might do.

      (7) Yeah, I hear you. I imagine me trying to explain this aspect of the movie to anyone not deeply familiar with King and watching their eyes glaze over with mistrust of both me and Stephen King himself. I couldn't blame them. And yet, that's the only way I can make sense out of this particular decision.

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  2. (8) I guess I'm one of these people you describe re: Abra Stone/ True KNot. But I don't think it's about the point of the novel and just more about inconsistency: King is inconsistent with how he "powers" either party. If his excuse is indeed "this is about staying vigilant and having the tools of success," then... well, I guess I don't think much of this rationalization at all: if THAT's what the book is about, I think he missed the mark badly by handling it the way he did, and I'd have to read it again from that POV to truly detail why. I could be wrong. But I honestly don't think so when it comes to DOCTOR SLEEP: he's slop

    (9) "Don't you want there to somehow be a movie where Clovis and The General (from Cat's Eye) team up to defeat Evil Church from Pet Sematary? " Not just a movie but a whole series.

    (10) God that pic where Clovis looks into the camera is awesome.

    (11) "I'm not sure there is any redemption for the moment in which Mary stabs a policeman to death with a corncob, though. "No vegetables, no desert," she says, but does she not know that the officer has eaten, like, three ears of corn already. He's earned dessert. It's also pretty dire when Charles stabs Simpson in the ear canal and proclaims, "Cop-kebab!" Just ... no. Nope nope nope, uh-uh." Nice.

    (12) I think I scrambled the cameos in this movie with some other movie's - I always think it's JOhn Landis and Sam Raimi in that scene (in memory). Oops.

    (13) I didn't realize SLEEPWALKERS led to the divorce (or the timing of it I guess) of Mr. and Mrs. Bueller! What a bummer.

    (14) Love that Monty Python and look forward to the next parts (you madman).

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    1. That first point on DOCTOR SLEEP was truncated - damn Notepad; I couldn't scroll over and cut-and-paste it without the whole screen moving and then I couldn't see what I was cutting before pasting. Ah well. I'll have to read that again, long and short, and see how it strikes me now. I think he dropped the ball, considerably, with that one, though there are some fine moments for sure in there.

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    2. (8) I'm pretty sure I'm solidly in the minority in liking "Doctor Sleep." Ah, well, 's fine by me!

      (10) Sure is. Screencapping these movies is a slooooooooow process, but it's always worth it because it almost always turns up something like that.

      (12) Landis and Joe Dante turn up as lab techs in one scene, so you're probably thinking of that. I neglected to screencap those moments, for some reason.

      (14) Thanks! The second one is going up any second now, and the third is already underway.

      Delete
  3. I was genuinely enjoying Sleepwalkers up until the graveyard scene. The movie felt pretty original with the whole mom/son/girl love triangle and solid acting including Amick in her Twin Peaks prime. The movie was taking its time and I was really curious what would happen. I did not predict that the movie would become one long action scene but that's pretty much what happened and I completely lost interest. It was like they ran out of time and decided to just finish the movie as quickly and unsatisfactorily as possible.

    I also really enjoyed Doctor Sleep with my only complaint being something about the way The Shining book and mini-series didn't seem to connect correctly with the sequel. I don't remember my exact complaint but I know I felt like it didn't work for some reason. I read and watched those all in one stretch but it's been a few years now. Once the story got going, though, I had a great time with it.

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    1. If you remember what it was, let me know! I didn't have any of those concerns, but I also had not read "The Shining" in a while.

      I think your experience with "Sleepwalkers" is probably pretty common. It was definitely mine for a long time.

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  4. I don't remember specifically but I'm pretty sure it had to do with the coda that was added to the end of the mini-series that didn't seem to fit with the new book but I could be wrong. I have a vague memory of something about AA being a problem as well. Maybe something King said in the commentary versus what happens in Dr. Sleep. I really want to read the special edition of The Shining so I'm sure I'll read that and Dr. Sleep together soon but I'm not sure if I'll spend the time to watch the mini-series and the commentary again as that was alot of time dedicated to something pretty mediocre. Kind of like your week with Sleepwalkers...

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    1. Oh, okay; yeah, that rings some bells. I think I remember noticing that and being glad, since I'm not a fan of that miniseries at all (and am particularly not a fan of the ending). But who knows! Every time I give a Garris project a reappraisal, I seem to end up digging it. Maybe that will happen whenever I get around to doing that with that miniseries.

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  5. I really loved some of the behind the scenes bits that you grabbed in your other posts as well. There was a time when it seemed like every movie was getting these great special editions and all of these tidbits could have been in there. Although the name of director A I'm sure would have remained a mystery.

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    1. Yeah, I really enjoyed that stuff. Movie press used to be more wide-open back in the day; you'd occasionally get info like that divulging of it having been Wainwright.

      Of course, today, you often hear about that sort of thing as a major news story. "Director Fired From New Stephen King Movie!" headlines would sweep the internet. "Director Of Psycho IV Hired As Replacement!", followed by pronouncements of doom from the enthusiast press.

      These things do sort of form themselves into eras, though, I guess. The era of sweeping special-edition DVDs with all kinds of awesome behind-the-scenes info seems mostly to be a thing of the past, but horror as a genre is faring much better, with companies like Scream Factory still turning out good special editions regularly.

      I'm kinda hoping for one of those for "Sleepwalkers" now!

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  6. Get the bad guy! Get the bad guy!
    I was truly watching this when I checked your site and saw this post, I haven't read a single word, I just thought that was crazy. Not Machin Amick is crazy hot in this movie crazy but you get the idea.
    I can't believe you wrote 4 posts on it haha. can't wait to read!
    -mikeC

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  7. 1. Re: Castle County, In. A third possibility is that King always meant for the film to be set in his New England CR. The reason for the change might be down to Executive Meddling.

    The way this would work is that the Execs are concerned that Castle Rock was too much of an insider reference that would fly over the heads of majority audiences, who they believed never read all that much. Case in point, "Stand By Me" place CR in Oregon, instead of Maine.

    I don't say that's what happened. It's just another possibility.

    2. Related to above. "Needful Things" came out in 1991. This film was released the year after, in 1992. From that standpoint, It would have made sense if we were seeing the town in an interim period. It's just after Gaunt's rampage, Pangborn has left, the state authorities are having to temporarily take control of town business while everyone gets back on their feet. Who knows. Just another thought.

    3. "Tanya is ridiculously beautiful, which is sometimes a bit of a sin in movies like this. That's especially true if you get the feeling that the character knows how beautiful she is; and I do get that sense about Tanya, but I also get the sense that she doesn't place any great stock in it. She's free of vanity about it, as far as I can tell, which is a thing one does not often encounter on film; we tend to expect extraordinarily beautiful people to either be unaware of their attractiveness or to be aware of it and very egotistical about it."

    That's an interesting perspective. I'd never thought of it like that. I'd seen arrogant characters that we're suppose to hate on screen before, like in "Heathers", however, is it possible that a characters like represent a third option, i.e. a beautiful woman who's recognition of herself doesn'r come off as a negative?

    To give an example, you mentioned how Jeri Ryan represents a type of girl who knows how they look, and chooses to embrace and celebrate that fact. The irony is, I've never heard a bad word about her, and instead everyone mentions how polite she is in real life.

    I can't say I'm well versed on gender perception, however this third option is at least something to go on, hopefully.

    4. "Sleepwalkers" is a film where the audience is treated to a non-human perspective. It's occurred to me that its trope that hasn't been used much on either screen or page. It's something I'd like to see contemporary writers try more of, as it might make for an interesting change of pace.

    The deal with King, in that regard is, I think I remember someone saying that King isn't interested in the monster in the closet, he's always more interested in the family who owns the house where the monster's closet is located", or something to that effect.

    5. Nice to see the film grow on you.

    ChrisC.

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    1. 1. That's almost certainly the conclusion I would normally come to. I'd think, "What else could possibly explain it?" But the screenplay itself specifies the Indiana setting. It's very strange and I just cannot make sense of it.

      2. I'd really love to know when the various drafts of the movie were written in relation to "Needful Things" the novel. It definitely feels like the sort of thing that could at one point have been considered as a potential further-adventures-of-Alan-Pangborn thing.

      3. I doubt I'd qualify as any expert on gender perception, either, but it definitely feels to me like there is sometimes an expectation that incredibly beautiful women should somehow be at least a little unsympathetic.

      Every interview I've ever seen with Jeri Ryan, she seems both very nice and very smart. Plus (obviously) knockout-level gorgeous. Any two of those put together is irresistible; all three, whoo-whee!

      4. Good point! This might help to explain some of the off-balance nature of the movie/screenplay; it feels as if King maybe wanted to have the story be all about the monsters but couldn't quite manage to go fully in that direction.

      5. For sure! I've enjoyed this.

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  8. I also have a...complicated relationship to this movie. Since seeing it the day it came out on video at age 13, I knew it wasn't *good*. But I've always been fascinated by it, and your close examination helped me understand that fascination better.

    Very awesome that you did this!

    Just finished all four parts, here are some thoughts:

    Holy shit - as much as I've revisited and thought about this movie for the last 25 years, it NEVER occurred to be to question why they're called Sleepwalkers! My mind is blown. Why are they called that??

    As far as who's the main character, it's a solid criticism. I remember reading that interview you posted about the genesis of the script years ago, with King saying he wanted to write a movie about "the girl at the popcorn counter in a small town." I can understand the sort of classic drive-in premise formulating in his head, but he doesn't follow through. Maybe we should have opened with Tanya and stayed with her the whole time, putting the Brodies more on the fringe of the main action? Focusing so much on them knocks Tanya's arc totally out of balance.

    I agree that Alice Krige is great - in this movie and in general. A "truly alien quality" - you nailed it. And so gorgeous.

    All your referencing of the movie taking place on another level of the Tower makes me wonder: maybe Sleepwalkers are Can-toi?

    A friend of mine recently pointed out Tanya's dance was similar to a goofy dance Malcolm McLaren does while dressed in a theater employee vest in THE GREAT ROCK 'N ROLL SWINDLE. Although Steve's more of a Ramones man, but a possible influence for Garris?

    "Is a sexual-blackmail subplot narrowly averted in that moment?" Absolutely! I always read it that way. It may be that King wanted to gross-up Fallows so we still have a little sympathy for Charles at that point, even though he turns into a monster and eats him.

    I wish he'd chased Fallows into a cornfield! That would have been much more King-esque.

    Amazing how King mentioned "John Hughes house" in the screenplay, is that why Garris hired Ferris Bueller's folks?

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    1. I'd argue that Charles's big "turn" at the cemetery is a "Jack Nicholson as possessed Jack Torrance" kind of flip, the way he playfully shouts "Amy!" 100 times reminds me of Jack's ascent up the stairs: "Wendy! Darling!"

      Also like THE SHINING, in the same scene a heroic black man dies horribly after showing up to help (interesting since that was specifically the Kubrick take not King's).

      Have you seen Dario Argento's PHENOMENA? Biggest takeaway from my most recent viewing of SLEEPWALKERS: the two movies have the exact same ending! The heroine manages to kill the horribly deformed monster. The monster's mother goes crazy with vengeance and attacks the heroine, dispatching a would-be male savior in the process. Then an animal, whose master was killed in the middle of the film, returns and gets his own revenge by taking care of the mother. The heroine holds the critter in her arms, a fire burning in the background, as the movie fades out...it's almost beat-for-beat! Check out the ending of PHENOMENA, you can't not see it!

      If you felt like giving another Mick Garris a second/third/fourth chance, I'd say check out RIDING THE BULLET again. I know you can't stand the casting choice of David Arquette, but I just saw it for the first time recently and was pleasantly surprised. It may well be I was expecting the worst and ended up giving it credit for not being the absolute worst, but my initial reaction was very positive. I'm convinced it's the best thing Garris has ever directed (and he even adapted the story himself).

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    2. (He shouts "Tanya!" not "Amy!" I was thinking of Madchen Amick's character from the excellent Tobe Hooper film I'M DANGEROUS TONIGHT. I think about that movie a lot.)

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    3. "I also have a...complicated relationship to this movie." -- Don't you love that sort of thing? I think anybody who watches movies is bound to have a few of these, and frankly, I'm delighted to be able to add "Sleepwalkers" to my list.


      "it NEVER occurred to be to question why they're called Sleepwalkers! My mind is blown. Why are they called that??" -- If you ever figure it out, please do share it with me, because I have no earthly idea.

      "maybe Sleepwalkers are Can-toi?" -- I'm inclined to think not. Can-toi have to wear false human faces, whereas sleepwalkers can shape-shift so as to physically resemble humans. But that doesn't mean can-toi couldn't be related to them in some way; sort of like a less evolved version?

      "Although Steve's more of a Ramones man, but a possible influence for Garris?" -- It's entirely possible. I'd never even heard of that movie, but I'm sure Garris (and probably King) would have been at least passingly familiar with it.

      "is that why Garris hired Ferris Bueller's folks?" -- Either him or a casting director could well have gotten that idea from the screenplay, yeah, absolutely. Good call! I wouldn't be at all surprised.

      "I'd argue that Charles's big "turn" at the cemetery is a "Jack Nicholson as possessed Jack Torrance" kind of flip" -- I'd say Nicholson goes through a bit more of an evolution before getting there. I'd be interested in what a version of "Sleepwalkers" might be like where Charles was constantly kind of showing his true interests to the audience while Tanya wasn't looking. You could come at the screenplay in a different way and get a very different movie.

      "Have you seen Dario Argento's PHENOMENA?" -- Would you believe I've never seen anything by Argento? Sad but true.

      "If you felt like giving another Mick Garris a second/third/fourth chance, I'd say check out RIDING THE BULLET again." -- I feel like I owe it to him at this point. It'll definitely happen eventually; not sure when, though. The agenda around here is a mile long!

      "I was thinking of Madchen Amick's character from the excellent Tobe Hooper film I'M DANGEROUS TONIGHT." -- I had never heard of this until doing my research on "Sleepwalkers." Sounds cool; I'd like to check it out at some point. Eventually, I may well do a complete-films-of-Tobe-Hooper project for this blog. But when? Again, see previous comment regarding lengthy existing agenda.

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  9. I've been listening to the "Needful Things" audiobook, and wanted to mention that Homeland Cemetery is mentioned. That novel, of course, is set in Castle Rock ... Maine.

    So this Castle Rock, Indiana, thing continues to just not make a lick of sense.

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