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Film review: Stephen King's Sleepwalkers

Published: Wednesday, April 22 1992 12:00 a.m. MDT

You know you're a big author when your name is part of a movie title. And Stephen King is about as big as they get.

"Stephen King's Sleepwalkers" is his first "original screenplay" - it was written directly for the screen, rather than adapted from a short story or novel.

Moviegoers everywhere will be grateful when he returns to writing books.

This distasteful, gore-filled mess is overblown and underdeveloped, with characters so cartoonish that it's impossible to feel sympathy for any of them.

The "Sleepwalkers" of the title are some kind of cross between vampires and werewolves - creatures whose faces become animal-like whenever they become frightened or angry and who can live forever as long as they periodically suck the life force (a blue light) from a virgin. Their true form, which is reflected in mirror images, is some kind of slimy demon.

As the film opens, a mother sleepwalker (Alice Krige) and her son (Brian Krause), who have a passionate incestuous relationship going on, have just moved into a small Indiana town.

They try not to draw any attention to themselves, though Mom does have this penchant for setting traps in the yard to catch the cats that always seem to be hanging around.

As the film opens, Krause expresses his romantic inclinations toward a girl (Madchen Amick) in his high school literature class. Mom is expecting him to suck out the girl's life force and come back home and feed it to her.

But the film leads us to expect there will be a conflict, that Krause may double-cross his mother because he's in love with Amick.

Alas, King's screenplay isn't interested in silly things like conflict and character development. He just wants to rapidly take things from one gore scene to the next, with a lot of stupid Freddy Krueger-style one-liners along the way.

So, when Krause and Amick go to the local cemetery for a picnic and the big romantic encounter finally occurs, Krause suddenly has a radical change of personality. No longer is he the charming, reluctant suitor - suddenly he begins slapping Amick around and attempts to rape her while he sucks that ol' blue life force from her mouth.

But she wounds him deeply - with a corkscrew - and he stumbles back home where his mother weeps over him and tries to patch him up. Eventually, Mom seeks revenge on Amick's family.

King and director Mick Garris ("The Fly II," "Critters 2," "Psycho IV") throw in car chases, dumb cops, sadistic teachers and simple-minded parents for their target audience, teens who think all authority figures are jerks.

There are also plenty of in-cameos for those who think they are horror-hip - see if you can spot writer-moviemaker Clive Barker or filmmakers Joe Dante, Tobe Hooper and John Landis. And, of course, there's King himself as the cemetery attendant.

"Stephen King's Sleepwalkers" is rated R for considerable violence, gore and profanity, along with a few vulgar gags and an incestuous sex scene.

Favorite dialogue exchange: Krige says of the felines lining up in her yard, "Damn cats!" To which Krause replies, "Don't swear, Mother!"

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