Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Vamp or Not? Sleepwalkers


I first (and, until I re-watched for this article, last) saw this film (written by Stephen King) at the cinema back in 1992 and it did leave a legacy. Though I remember thinking the film was pretty much hokum there is a cat in the film which is pretty darn cool. The cat was called Clovis and I therefore named the cat we used to have Clovis (unfortunately Clovis had to be re-housed when my better half developed a rampant allergy to cat hair but I hear she is still doing well.) I also didn’t really consider this to be particularly vampiric, at the time, but as it regularly lands on vampire filmographies I thought I’d better give it another look.

The first thing we see in the film does give us a mighty big clue in the form of a legend up on screen:

“sleep‘walker 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.”

a sleepwalker's victimThis not only gives a mighty big clue but sets up the film. At first we see the Sleepwalkers' old house as the cops investigate it. Outside cats are strung up all over the place and inside they find the mummified corpse of a young girl.

not a normal relationshipCutting to the new abode of our monstrous duo we meet mother and son Mary (Alice Krige) and Charles Brady (Brian Krause). There is an incestuous relationship between the two – and it isn’t a hint but blatant - and a symbiotic relationship also. It is Charles who feeds upon the girls and then he feeds his mother.

Charles woos TanyaCharles has set his sights on local girl Tanya (Mädchen Amick), whom he believes to be pure. Of course the need to seek out virginal prey is not unusual in the vampire genre. The film itself is fairly basic in the story. He goes for girl, nearly kills her. She gets away and he is grievously injured. The mother goes on the rampage through her family and half the cops in town to get her back to feed to him in order that he might heal. As I said, when I saw it I felt it was hokum and re-watching it I concurred with myself. The film is a B level but what is interesting is the lore they produce.

I think I'm turning catThe sleepwalkers are cat like creatures. When startled, angry or feeding they shift appearance to part cat and, sometimes, to full hairless cat shape. They appear to be very strong; Charles rips the hand off a teacher (Glenn Shadix) who is trying to blackmail him for sexual favour. They also seem to be able to take a lot of conventional damage. Charles fears that they are the last of their kind but Mary says she can feel others.

cats hate sleepwalkersDespite being catlike they are hated by cats themselves. The cats can see them for what they are and, by the end of the film every cat in the town (it seems) is sat outside the house waiting for them. Whilst vampires are normally effected by holy symbols and, perhaps, things like garlic or hawthorn, these creatures are mortally wounded by cat claws. Mary describes it as an allergy and a scratched Charles says it burns. Enough clawing will cause them to burst into flames.

true form in the mirrorAn interesting twist was with regards the mirror. Standard vampire folklore states that a vampire has no reflection, as we know. These creatures do have a reflection but the mirror seems to reveal their true face. A photograph shows a blurred double image with the true face emerging. This was a particularly nice turn around of conventional myth. Fear of sunlight was ignored but one suspects that, had they wanted to, the concept of them being primarily nocturnal could have been introduced – it just wasn’t.

making the car dimThey have other powers. There is some indication of telekinesis. Charles is able to change the appearance of his car – for a short while at least – in both make and colour. They also have a power that they call going dim and is, essentially, invisibility. We see Charles hide himself and his car and Mary hide the car, herself and the injured Charles. Going dim is useful against human enemies, however cats can see into it.

feedingOf course we then have the feeding. Not only is it only virgins on the menu but rather than their blood it is their lifeforce that the sleepwalkers are after. This is drawn through the mouth and, if sustained, mummifies the victim. Draining of life energy as opposed to blood is not unheard of in the genre and was most famously done in the film Lifeforce. Though it is lifeforce, or appears to be, the virginal aspect is not forgotten and Charles describes them feeding upon virtue. As I said Charles feeds and then feeds his mother and, whilst not explicit, it seems that this might be through a sexual act – we see them enter the bedroom and then a light glowing from the window near the head of the film.

The association with cats as an enemy is somewhat unusual but the idea that a vampire is cat-like is not too unusual in itself. We see such a relationship in Carmilla, in which the eponymous vampire can turn into a cat and even feeds in that form.

the photo shows the truthAll in all I would have to agree that this should be classed as Vamp. It is an unusual twist on the genre, to be sure, but it has all the hallmarks. This is not the only film with lifeforce sucking cat creatures, in 1998 the feature length cartoon Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island featured similar monsters (which, unusually for Scooby-Doo, were real monsters and not someone in a mask).

I should also mention that the film is a horror buffs delight with cameos from John Landis, Stephen King, Tobe Hooper and Clive Barker.

The imdb page is here.


Christine said...

Actually this was quite good B-movie. Atmospheric graveyard and candlelit Gothic house, nice use of music (Enya!) and both cats and pretty virginal wallflowers.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Christine, when you put it like that it sounds better than I rememember it... lol

Actually, probably the biggest disappointent re this was the fact it was on at the cinema at the same time as Split Second. I wanted to set Split Second and my gf at the time wanted to see this... we saw this...

I loved Split Second hen I saw it and that just underlined my disapointment with this.

But, as you say, as a B Movie this wasn't too bad, all told

christine said...

Don´t understand me wrong, I think Stephen K is sleazy, trashy and overrated writer, and this is a silly film, there is crappy dialogue and fat villains (I don´t mean insult fat people but the using of stereotype) and all that shows he did not use ghostwriter after all. But even with all these flaws, it was pretty good B-movie.