Color, 1992, 89 mins. 12 secs.
Directed by Mick Garris
Starring Brian Krause, M├Ądchen Amick, Alice Krige, Jim Haynie, Cindy Pickett, Ron Perlman, Lyman Ward
Scream Factory (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Image Entertainment (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Sony (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)-

Though SleepwalkersStephen King had Sleepwalkersdabbled in writing screenplays adapted from his written work on several occasions with Creepshow, Cat's Eye, Pet Sematary, and Maximum Overdrive, 1992's Sleepwalkers got a lot of promotional mileage out of the fact that it featured the first King screenplay written, as the posters awkwardly put it, "expressly for the scream." Like two of those prior titles, this one turned out to be a feline-centered tale of the supernatural as well as the first of many collaborations between King and director Mick Garris, who would go on to direct numerous subsequent adaptations including 1994's The Stand miniseries. The film got off to a rocky start with Garris stepping in for another director who was let go for making too many changes to the script, and moviegoers were taken a bit off guard when they sat down in their theater seats only to get a warped tale of monster incest and rampaging, heroic kitty cats. However, that weirdness ultimately worked in the film's favor as its perverse small town atmosphere and cracked plot twists stuck in viewer's memories and made it a small screen staple for years.

After wreaking havoc in a seaside California town, Charles Brady (Charmed's Krause) and his mother, Mary (Krige), relocate to Indiana where they try to keep a low profile. That's difficult to do since they are both sleepwalkers, a dwindling species of ancient human-feline Sleepwalkerscreatures who can shapeshift and can only be harmed by cats, who can see what they truly are. Unfortunately the sleepwalkers also have to subsist on the lifeforce of female virgins (of course), and soon Mary becomes desperately hungry. SleepwalkersCharles decides his newest target will be sweet young Tanya (Amick), a high schooler and movie theater employee, but their first date doesn't go as planned when Charles's true nature comes out. Soon Tanya's trying to convince the local authorities that something horrible is lurking in plain sight (with deputy cat Clovis proving to be a valuable ally) while the sleepwalkers race against the clock for their next meal.

Filled with blood, elaborate latex effects, and quirky humor, Sleepwalkers is a fun throwback to the '50s creature feature template at a time when the horror genre was desperately struggling to find a new, post-slasher identity. Of course it isn't even remotely on the same tier as the major genre offerings from that year (namely Dead Alive, Candyman, and Bram Stoker's Dracula), but its modest, popcorn-friendly charms still work largely thanks to the canny casting of Krige, whose unearthly, sensual presence also animated Ghost Story, Silent Hill, Sleepwalkersand Star Trek: First Contact. A fan favorite from Twin Peaks and current star of Riverdale, Amick is excellent as well and completely charming as always as she turns what could have been a typical damsel in distress role into a strong, sympathetic heroine. Krause has a much tougher job since his character is far more shakily written Sleepwalkersand gets sidelined or buried under heaps of makeup for the majority of the film, but he does well with what he has. Taking a cue from John Landis's films, this one's also chock full of genre cameos with King, Landis, Joe Dante, Clive Barker, Mark Hamill, and Tobe Hooper all popping up. The weakest aspect here is definitely the early attempt at using morphing for a handful of creature transformation shots; it looked pretty awful at the time and looks even worse now. Thankfully that's easy to overlook given the mostly practical nature of the makeup effects, including plenty of werecat variations to keep viewers on their toes.

Sleepwalkers has remained steadily available on home video since the '90s in every significant format, with its first Blu-ray release coming from Image Entertainment with only a theatrical trailer in the bonus department. Far more satisfying is the 2018 Blu-ray special edition from Scream Factory, which comes loaded with extras that provide much context for how this unusual project came about. SleepwalkersThe Sony-provided HD master was top notch the first time around and looks the same here, which is just fine; the moody, burnished orange and gold interior scenes look especially rich here. DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0 English options are provided; both are Sleepwalkersfine if not overly dynamic, with most support going to the score by Nicholas Pike and some out of left field song choices including Enya's "Boeadecia." Optional English subtitles are also provided. A lively new audio commentary with Garris, Amick, and Krause is a brisk tour through the making of the film including the various L.A. locales standing in for Indiana (including Santa Monica's Aero Theater), the casting choices (including a reunion for Ferris Bueller parents Cindy Pickett and Lyman Ward, a real-life couple at the time), the challenges of directing Garris's first car chase, the little Stephen King references, the allergies that could have been a big production issue, the innovation of that death by corncob, and some directorial chicanery involving a breakaway vase.

Garris also turns up on camera for "Feline Trouble" (18m34s) as he recounts getting the job, forging a rapport with King, admiring the work ethic of cat star Sparks (the "Robert De Niro of cat actors"), making changes to the ending (and adding the opening scene) after test screenings, and working with regular composer Nicholas Pike. He also explains the weird reason his own name had to be used so prominently in the marketing. The fun "When Charles Met Tanya" (15m25s) brings Amick and Krause together again for a chat about the "dark and sexy" script that lured them in, swapping makeup horror stories with fellow cast member Ron Perlman, and using "creepy comedic timing" in one key scene. The wonderful Krige turns Sleepwalkersup in Sleepwalkers"Mother & More" (15m49s), originally announced under the title "Family Values," in which she explains how she came to appreciate the dark humor in the script once production started, took unusual steps to learn her lines with the aid of scarlet fabric, and observed clever tricks to get all the feline actors to perform on cue. Finally, "Creatures & Cats" (15m38s) turns to special make-up effects creator Tony Gardner and prosthetics designer Mike Smithson for an exploration of this film (hot on the heels of Garris's Psycho IV) including the range of applications from minor adjustments (like contact lenses) to full face appliances; they also go into the original discarded ending (shown via some raw VHS footage), which featured two creatures melting into each other in what looks like an homage to The Thing. A batch of behind-the-scenes footage (6m53s) also focuses on the effects work including cat puppets, shambling monster outfits, and priceless footage of dozens of cats waiting for direction. The trailer, four TV spots ("Sleepwalkers is the scariest Stephen King movie ever!"), and a stills and poster gallery are also included. Early orders directly from the label also get a poster of the fantastically insane new cover art.

Reviewed on November 12, 2018.