Sleepwalkers (1992) — A very goofy Stephen King original

“People really should learn to keep their hands to themselves. Here’s yours.”

Justin’s rating: Demoted to second-worst movie about cats since Cats came along

Justin’s review: Here’s your odd Stephen King fact of the day. As of this writing, Stephen King has to his name about 65 novels and short story collections — yet he also boasts 85 movies based on his works. That discrepancy is caused by short story adaptations and, in this particular case, an original screenplay not based on a previously published novel.

You know you’re in for a treat when the movie’s subject matter is so obscure that it needs a fake dictionary definition at the start of the movie. Sleepwalkers explains that the titular creatures are shapeshifting nomads “with human and feline origins” who feed upon the lifeforce of virgins and are the inspiration of vampires. So, werecat-draculas. Personally, I think that’s a big ask to make of your audience in the first minute.

As you’re absorbing that, we head into a crime scene full of hanging dead cats with an Enya song played for confusing effect. The cops — one of whom is Mark Hamill — then investigate a house where a screaming corpse with braces (!) flops out of a closet, sending me into a string of giggles that never stopped for the rest of the runtime. Make no mistake: Sleepwalkers is gloriously dumb, perhaps one of the most silly Stephen King enterprises ever put to film.

Our villains of the hour are Mary and Charles, a mother-and-son pair of werecat-draculas who are way too into each other — as in, dancing, kissing, and sharing a bed while the audience squirms and goes, “Where is the psychotic clown and Shawshank escapees?” For no clearly explained reason, their house starts coming under siege by hordes of local cats, so — naturally — they set bear traps around the place to kill them.

Anyway, even though we’ve got the House O’ Incest going on, Charles still wants to seduce the local girl Tanya so that he can bring home a meal of her lifeforce to mommy dearest. Or something. Once people start getting wise to the fact that there are these monsters in their midst, Sleepwalkers cranks up the “Slasher Soundbites” dial so that ridiculous kills and murder one-liners pop out all over the place.

The wild editing, bold camera angles, and crazy soundtrack keeps this from being anything near a horror movie and takes it right into a funhouse farce. When he’s not wooing Tanya, Charles can be found ripping off people’s hands, making scary cat faces, and stabbing people with pencils. His mom? Stabs people with corn cobs. You wouldn’t think that an ear of corn is a stabbing instrument, but according to this film, you would be very wrong.

And have I mentioned that tons of horror movie directors showed up for inexplicable bit parts here, including Joe Dante, Clive Barker, John Landis, Tobe Hooper, and (naturally) King himself? Why they’re there, no one can say, but it lends more of the what-the-what atmosphere that this movie conjures.

The key problem is that Sleepwalkers can’t fall back on an established and understood horror movie villain. We know what vampires, mummies, and zombies are. We don’t really need those explained. But these creatures — their powers, their rules, their bestial mirror images, their fear of cats, their obsession with incest — isn’t known to us and demands a level of explanation that we never get.

If a Stephen King movie can’t be incredibly good, I’m always happy to settle for incredibly strange — and Sleepwalkers is certainly that. From terrible early ’90s morphing effects to absolutely over-the-top deaths to a cat who becomes a general over an army, this isn’t going to scare you, but it’ll give you plenty of reasons to point and laugh (and maybe, just maybe, have a good time in the process).

Didja notice?

  • Lotta dead cats, right out of the gate
  • CAT JUMP SCARE — A FIRST IN CINEMA HISTORY!
  • You can tell that shriveled corpse is a “little girl?”
  • Guy just casually cuttin’ up his arm
  • Bear traps never be trappin’ cats, dang it
  • Cleaning a movie theater is a great time for a one-girl dance party
  • Love that crazy teacher who slaps kids with rulers
  • Tanya throws her underwear all over her room like confetti
  • Whole lot of talk about gravestone rubbings
  • The monster driving a car with the radio playing “IT’S A MONSTER!” is a little too on the nose
  • It’s cool for a teacher to pull over a kid to bully them
  • You can run for a long, long time with your hand ripped clean off
  • Aww cops love to play with their cats on duty
  • Sleepwalkers have car-cloaking invisibility shields
  • Tanya’s parents are played by the same actor couple who played Ferris Bueller’s parents. No kidding.
  • Mommy gets really slappy when she’s hungry
  • “This completes you somehow”
  • Sleepwalkers can make their cars transform into other cars
  • Rolling down the hill cam
  • Eye stabbin’ time
  • Pencils deep in your ear only slow you down a little bit
  • Complainy Stephen King can’t get a break
  • Ron Pearlman cameo!
  • That cop really can’t shoot
  • DEATH BY CORN COB: “No vegetables, no dessert. Those are the rules.”
  • The cat army is pure cinematic epicness
  • Finger bitey, aintcha?
  • Revolver bullets can explode cars with a single shot
  • If you don’t like cat deaths, you probably should avoid this film
  • Sleepwalkers can turn on record players with their miiiiiiinds
  • The whole end scene is the cast throwing cats at the villain from offscreen
  • Whole lotta people get bear trapped in this flick
  • Cats can make people explode in fire

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