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Details At A Glance

Category Horror/Erotic Thriller Crew Biographies
Rating r.gif (1169 bytes)
Year Released 1992
Running Time 85:35 Minutes 
RSDL/Flipper No/No
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 2,4 Director Mick Garris
Columbia.gif (3109 bytes)
Columbia Tristar
Starring Brian Krause
Mädchen Amick
Alice Krige
Jim Haynie
Cindy Pickett
Ron Perlman
Stephen King
Case Soft Brackley
RPI $29.95 Music Nicholas Pike
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192 Kb/s)
French (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192 Kb/s)
German (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192 Kb/s)
Italian (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192 Kb/s)
Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192 Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9Yes.jpg (4536 bytes)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking No
Subtitles English
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    By the year 1992, pretty much everything that Stephen King had written was already translated into a screenplay, including a short story by the name of The Lawnmower Man, the film version of which had so little relation to the original story that King successfully sued the makers and had his name removed from the credits. Some of the screenplays were remarkable and quite faithful to the original story (The Dead Zone, Pet Sematary), and some weren't worth the effort to sit and watch (The Shining, which King himself has also denounced, and It, to name a couple). Sleepwalkers takes a different approach by using a screenplay that was specifically written as such by King, and the difference really speaks for itself. Instead of being left wondering about the details that have been left out of the original story, we are able to see Stephen King work fully within the advantages and limitations of the cinematic format. Indeed, we get to see the man himself in a cameo as a cemetery caretaker, as well as some memorable cameos by Clive Barker and Tobe Hooper as forensic pathologists (how appropriate), as well as John Landis and Joe Dante as laboratory workers (again, very appropriate). We even get to see an uncredited cameo from Mark Hamill, not as a corpse like his post-Star Wars career, but as one of the police officers we see at the beginning of the film.

    The plot of Sleepwalkers, unlike much anything else that Stephen King has written during his monumental career, is rather simple. Essentially, a sleepwalker is a vampire-like creature that feeds upon the "life-force" of virginal human females, and the introduction even offers this as being grounded in Gothic history as a possible source for the vampire myth. The film begins with a quick introduction at a house where one such human female has been drained in this manner by sleepwalkers that remain unknown until moments later, when we are introduced to Mary Brady (Alice Krige) and her son, Charles (Brian Krause). Mary is not in the best of health, what with virginal females being something of a rare commodity in this relatively enlightened age, and it falls upon Charles to find such women for Mary to feed upon. After some exposition that consists of Charles disposing of a rather shady teacher known only as Fallows (Glenn Shadix) in a messy manner that made me get up and applaud, Charles eventually gets around to the task of putting the moves on Tanya Robertson (Mädchen Amick). Whether or not he is genuinely in love with her, as we could be forgiven for thinking during some moments of the film, is anyone's guess. This creates a serious conflict of interest in the story that really should have been explored further, but is left hanging as a loose thread in a manner that is far more consistent with Kevin Williamson than the great Stephen King. When Tanya takes Charles with her to see a graveyard, however, we see Charles attempting to suck away her lifeforce, an assault which Tanya responds to by plunging a corkscrew into Charles' back.

    Herein lies the essential problem with Sleepwalkers and its script: the above-mentioned moment is all that the film really consists of, just Tanya fighting off Charles as he tries to get something from her that she is not willing to give. I don't mean that in any vaguely erotic sense of the description, as the film's few eroticised moments only succeed in vaguely offending me with their gay innuendo and incestuous erotica. Having gotten to know several victims of incest in the last few months, I suspect that the latter succeeded in offending me more than it did when I originally saw this film, but having a gay character such as Fallows presented as a teacher with an abusive bent towards unsuspecting students also offends me a lot. It's a good thing that this film recovered itself by showing the man getting exactly what he deserved when he picks the wrong student to make advances towards. Another problem with this film is that when one is told that the film is written by Stephen King, you expect to see a multi-textured story in which all of the characters, not just the leads, are firmly developed as people with feelings and histories. Aside from the aforementioned minor role by Glenn Shadix (whose other notable role was the much-disliked Otho from Beetlejuice), it is hard to care exactly what happens to anyone other than Mary Brady, Charles Brady, or Tanya Robertson. The erotic subtexts of the film also fail to receive anything resembling serious or even vague development, instead merely being used to advance the film in a clumsy manner. If these had been dropped in favour of further development of the characters killed by Charles and their back stories, we could have had a tight, hundred-minute horror film that could have stood on its own merits. Instead, what we are left with is a horror film that tries to be as mild an erotic thriller as possible, and falls flat in comparison with Basic Instinct, which arrived at theatres during the same year.

    Having said that much, Mädchen Amick looks truly beautiful in this film, and makes the film worth buying if you want to see something really nice to look at on your home theatre. Glenn Shadix puts in a marvellous performance as a character I really grew to hate in a second flat (which was the whole idea), and Alice Krige bravely fights against the constriction of the script. The violence of the film is very graphic and well-simulated, even if the concepts of the murders depicted are patently ridiculous, although I won't spoil them if you haven't seen the film. If you want to be entertained in a bloody, and decidedly B-grade fashion, then this is the film for you, unless you plan on watching it with someone who has strong views about child-protection issues (even though all the characters are at least seventeen years old). Perhaps in the near future when the 1986 production of The Fly and its sequel are transferred to DVD (that's a hint for whoever owns the rights), this would make a good marathon episode. Just don't watch this film with anyone who is likely to take it seriously.

Transfer Quality

    Before I begin, I would like to direct your attention to the price point of this disc, which is at $29.95. The reason for this is that Columbia Tristar have apparently decided to experiment with this price point for the current batch of horror films, with a possible view to extend this price point over a whole line of more "budget" titles. As to what titles will be in this range, whether there will be any limitations on extras with these titles, or what criteria they must meet in order to be considered for this range, I don't know. In spite of such minor concerns, this is a welcome change in the state of the market, and one that I hope is a sign of things to come.


    When I was informed of the lower price-point for this disc, I was half expecting a lower standard of transfer, but this is a Columbia Tristar disc, through and through. By the time I was finished making notes about the film and its transfer, I had only written two specific comments about the quality of the transfer. Having seen this film several times on the Very Hazy System, I think I can say that this is another excellent demonstration of DVD's complete superiority.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and it is 16x9 Enhanced, which makes a very nice difference from the Pan & Scan mess that was thrust upon the VHS version. One might think that you wouldn't lose much from Panning & Scanning a 1.85:1 picture, but the simple truth is that the wider aspect ratio was well-used, giving the peaceful suburban American environment a life of its own.

    The transfer is razor-sharp throughout except for a couple of shots towards the end of the film where a lot of motion is taking place, but this is a fault caused by the photography. The shadow detail is good, although some dark shots could have been a little more detailed if you want to be really picky. There was no low-level noise in the picture at all, which is a nice change from the VHS rental version, where more than half of the film was little more than noise.

    The colour saturation is an accurate reflection of the location where the film was shot, which looks a lot like the American equivalent of Richmond, NSW. Deep shades of grey and green leap off the screen and say hello, while the occasional splash of red is somewhat dull in saturation, creating a more realistic use of fake blood than in most films of this kind. Colours are used extremely well in this film, and the transfer gives them all plenty of room in which to look their best.

    MPEG artefacts were not noticeable during the feature, and it is pretty fair to say that the compression is totally transparent on this disc, with not a single artefact to be noticed at normal playing speed. Film-to-video artefacts consisted of some minor telecine wobble during the opening credits, but this settled down to the point of being unnoticeable once the film got underway. Film artefacts were mild, and hardly present at all, although they did pick up in frequency during the middle of the film.


    The audio transfer simply cannot be faulted, unless you want to be really picky and complain about the lack of a Dolby Digital 5.1 remix. Given that the film was originally presented in Dolby Stereo, the transfer we have here is more than enough to please the pickiest fans of this film. The audio transfer is presented in five languages, all of them in Dolby Digital 2.0 with surround-encoding: the original English dialogue appears first, with dubs in French, German, Italian, and Spanish filling out the disc. I listened primarily to the default English dialogue.

    The dialogue is clear and easy to understand most of the time, although some lines were mumbled or screamed, making them a little more difficult to discern at times. Given that these lapses occur very early or very late in the film, when the dialogue is doing little to advance the story, this is more than acceptable. Audio sync was not a problem except for one line at the end of the film, but this appeared to be more of an ADR issue than any specific transfer problem. I suspect that most of the people who view this disc solely for entertainment won't notice any real problem at all.

    The score music is credited to Nicholas Pike, and an especially haunting effort it is, too, making the film work in moments where it almost fell flat. Much of the score consists of simple progressions on a synthesizer, accompanied by some disjointed choir humming, and it is quite effective in spite of the stark simplicity. The theme used during the closing credits was more than enough to keep me glued to the screen whilst they rolled, which is saying quite a lot.

    The surround channels were used to support some sound effects and music, but they weren't really used in an especially creative or inspired way. Given that the surround information on all of the soundtracks present is monaural, a sad limitation of the Pro-Logic encoding system, this can be overlooked. During the car chase sequences, some sound effects are moved from the front to the rear in order to further the illusion on the screen, which was a nice touch. The music's use of the surround channels helped add to its haunting presence, so this is overall a very good Pro-Logic remix of a film that was originally presented in Stereo.

    The subwoofer was used sparingly but effectively to support the sounds of engines and assorted violence, all without making itself conspicuous. All in all, this is one of the most satisfying surround-encoded soundtracks I have had the pleasure of listening to for some time.


    This is the only disappointing aspect of this DVD, with an excellent theatrical trailer left out, and almost nothing offered to compensate. Of note was the small one-sheet advertisement for Gladiator that I found within the case, proudly advertising what Columbia Tristar describe as "the DVD event of the year".


    The menu is static, but appears to have been 16x9 Enhanced. Navigation is nice and easy, and the graphics are very attractive to look at.

Crew Biographies

    Biographies of director Mick Garris and screenwriter Stephen King are included, providing some interesting information about the two, such as the fact that Mick Garris has brought a lot of Stephen King's work to the screen, and is also responsible for writing 1989's production of The Fly II. Unfortunately, these biographies do not reveal anything about King that hasn't been repeated to death, but it was interesting to read about the director responsible for this film.

R4 vs R1

    I've searched every reputable Region 1 review site and have even sent queries to online retailers such as Amazon, only to be told that there are no matches for any search containing the word "sleepwalkers" among Region 1 DVD products. Having said that much, a PAL transfer of this film is preferable because much of this film consists of dramatic panning and zooming shots, and the effect that 3:2 pulldown has on such shots is very ugly to look at. Add that to the fact that this film simply does not justify the extra cost of importing, and you have a compelling argument in favour of the Region 4 version. A German Region 2 version is available, but it is fundamentally identical to our version, right down to the restriction to audiences over the age of eighteen years.


    Sleepwalkers is a film that aims for a certain market that was receiving a lot of publicity in 1992, and falls a little short of the mark. It is not quite "so bad that it is good", as has been stated by some casual reviewers, but you will probably laugh at some of the outrageous kills before being offended by the incestuous and aggressive homosexual overtones. The real problem is that the film doesn't take itself as seriously as it probably should have, and the horror element suffers as a result. It is however, worth watching more than once, especially now that it has been presented on a very good DVD.

    The video quality is excellent apart from a few too many film artefacts.

    The audio transfer is one of the best Pro-Logic mixes I have listened to in a while.

    The extras are exceptionally limited.

Ratings (out of 5)

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 © Dean McIntosh (my bio sucks... read it anyway)
October 20, 2000.

Review Equipment
DVD Grundig GDV 100 D, using composite output; Toshiba SD-2109, using S-video output
Display Panasonic TC-29R20 (68 cm), 4:3 mode, using composite input; Samsung CS-823AMF (80 cm), 16:9 mode/4:3 mode, using composite and S-video inputs, calibrated using the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built In (Amplifier)
Amplification Sony STR-DE835, calibrated using the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Panasonic S-J1500D Front Speakers, Philips PH931SSS Rear Speakers, Philips FB206WC Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer