You Might Also Like? explores lesser-known movies related to big new releases.
We begin this entry with Stephen King’s A Good Marriage, the sleepily received adaptation of a Stephen King novella about a woman who discovers that her husband of a quarter century has an unfortunate predilection for serial killing. This got me to thinking about other half-forgotten Stephen King movies, specifically the wonderfully insane 1992 horror film Sleepwalkers.
The movie opens with a spooky, macabre variation on a cliché beloved by both me and lazy students throughout time. It begins by defining its subject matter, only instead of going with the requisite, “Webster’s defines Sleepwalkers as…” (which I’m guessing it couldn’t use, as Webster’s is suspiciously mum on the subject of incestuous were-cats, and subsequently worthless), it instead substitutes the following definition:
sleep’walk’er n. Nomadic shape-shifting creatures with human and feline origins. Vulnerable to the deadly scratch of the cat, the sleepwalker feeds upon the life-force of virginal human females. Probable source of the vampire legend.”
—Chillicoathe Encyclopeadia of Arcane Knowledge, 1st edition, 1884.
It’s rare that a film introduces its fatal flaw and its central premise at the same time. But Sleepwalkers accomplishes this formidable feat by positing the existence of terrifying, shape-shifting vampire monsters that can be defeated by a lazy swipe of the average housecat. Though they’re murderous blood- and energy-sucking ghouls, Charles Brady (Brian Krause, who has the blandly hunky beefcake looks of a Henry Willson creation) and mother/lover Mary (the otherworldly Alice Krige) live in mortal fear of pussycats. This incestuous twosome travels from town to town feeding on the life-force of virgins, which is sucked up via a purple glitter sparkle ray. A terrifying, terrifying purple glitter sparkle ray.
After killing and draining a virgin in California, as well as massacring a whole bunch of cats (they really, really do not care for cats), mother and son then flee to a seemingly idyllic Indiana town. Charles enrolls in the local high school and sets his sights on Tanya Robertson (Madchen Amick), a virginal good girl who works at the local theater and is impressed by a crazy, kooky short story Charles reads for his English class about were-cats who travel from town to town.
I am too old and too married to fall in love with movie characters the way I did as a kid, but hot damn if I didn’t develop a crush on Madchen Amick watching her dance exuberantly to “Do You Love Me” while sweeping up at the movie theater where she works. She’s a charmer here, and at its best, Sleepwalkers has some of the same sunny perversity and small town/big secrets weirdness of Amick’s breakthrough show, Twin Peaks.
Alas, these nasty cat-people have the misfortune to move to the only small town in America with a deputy sheriff (Dan Martin as Andy Simpson) who drives around with his beloved cat Clovis (Sparks) in the passenger seat of his car—though it is a wonder he gets anything done, since he seems to devote most of his energy to singing ribald ditties and doting on his cat. There is a long and distinguished tradition of police dogs, but I can’t imagine a cat in a police car would be anything other than a distraction.
It’s a measure of what a deeply strange movie Sleepwalkers is that Clovis, a not particularly remarkable, non-anthropomorphized cat, is the hero of the film. He’s the one who first notices something weird about Charles (namely, that he is a bipedal, shape-shifting were-cat who must suck the energy from virgins to survive), and it is Clovis who causes Charles to freak out and reveal his true were-cat form.
In school and while courting Tanya, Charles initially drips All-American charm, but the more demonstrably evil he becomes, the quippier he gets. When a teacher played by Glenn Shadix of Beetlejuice fame puts the moves on him, Charles rips off his hand and jokes, “People really should learn to keep their hands to themselves. Here’s yours,” before handing the terrified man his own hand. When Charles jams a pencil into the head of poor Andy Simpson, meanwhile, he grins and enthuses, “Ha ha! Cop Ka-Bob!” with the demented glee of Jim Carrey in The Mask. Yes, maiming and murdering people really brings out the open-mic comedian in Charles, who must feed his mother with the energy he steals from virgins.
Sleepwalkers gets crazier and crazier as it proceeds, which is saying something, as it starts out batshit insane. The in-joke cameos pile up as the film races to an agreeably ghoulish ending, including Stephen King (credited as “Cemetery Caretaker” but looking, as usual, like a Faulknerian idiot-man-child), Joe Dante, Tobe Hopper, Clive Barker, John Landis, and Ron Perlman, who played the world’s most romantic cat-like dude in the 1980s television show Beauty & The Beast. And in the end, of course, Clovis emerges triumphant. Vampire-like, mother-fucking (literally) were-cats simply can’t compete with a tabby with a grudge. So while Sleepwalkers fails spectacularly as a horror movie, it triumphs as a loopy camp comedy.
Sleepwalkers is streaming on Crackle through November 1.