Mick Garris and Stephen King have had a long and fruitful working relationship together, both good and bad. Their first full fledged collaboration, with Garris directing and King writing, was Sleepwalkers (1992). Sleepwalkers feels like a film that Stephen King wrote after doing a vast amount of cocaine and watching Lifeforce (1985) when he meant to watch Cat People (1982). Sleepwalkers is an uneasy fusion of eighties style creature-feature with late period grindhouse thrills.
The film follows an incestuous mother and son (Alice Krige and Brian Krause) who are werecats who travel from small town to small town looking for attractive virgin girls whose life force sustains them. Tanya Robertson (Mädchen Amick) is their latest target but after things don’t go as planned when a cop (Dan Martin) is killed the duo must contend with police cat Clovis who is out to avenge the death of his human.
As is his fashion, King doesn’t really bother to establish any lore around his central idea of werecats; these beasts can “dim” (turn invisible), they have telekinetic powers, and they can pass as ordinary human beings. With an array of powers as ill defined and unpredictable as these it becomes hard to gauge just how much danger any of the characters is in at any given time. Actually, the most urgent danger is posed by the cops who all seem interested in sexually abusing Amick (the film’s perpetual victim).
The effects in Sleepwalkers is where the modest budget is at its most evident. Since it’s the feline appearance of these creatures that is supposed to evoke the most horror this is a major misstep. Garris, a talented director, is trapped between King’s poor screenwriting and the low budget that Ion Pictures relegated to the film. Cameos by Joe Dante, John Landis, Clive Barker, Tobe Hooper and Mark Hamill are fun to catch but that isn’t enough to sustain Sleepwalkers.
Without the cameos and Clovis the super cat Sleepwalkers would be an unbearable mess. With these elements the film doesn’t work, but at least it’s entertaining. Mädchen Amick is terrific (dancing around the movie theater lobby) and the chance to see her team up with Clovis and his army of strays is just too campy and weird to resist.