By Janine Gericke.
Saxon Logan’s 1984 film Sleepwalker was once thought to be lost. Distributors weren’t sure how to market and sell the film; so instead, it ended up on a shelf for nearly 30 years. Finally, BFI Flipside have not only restored the film for a DVD/Blu-ray release, but have also included several of Logan’s other short films, along with an interview with the filmmaker. Does Sleepwalker hold up after all this time? For the most part. It may not have the gross out horror that audiences are used to seeing today, but it does offer a nice character study and plenty of gloomy atmosphere. After all, this is not really a horror film.
The tone of the film is unsettling. It opens with a slow, ominous pan of a dilapidated estate, somewhere in the English countryside. It is raining and storming and it feels like the opening of any classic horror movie. There is the haunting music, which quickly morphs into a synth score. There are many scenes, all taking place in the house, where someone walks into a dark room and it feels like there should be someone standing in the shadows, ready and waiting. Many of these scenes are accompanied by a blue light cast over the actors. It is a nice compliment, adding a certain amount of tension to the film. The affect is also reminiscent of the old Hammer horror films, or something like Dario Argento’s Susperia (1977).
Sleepwalker introduces siblings Alex and Marion Britain (Heather Page and filmmaker Bill Douglas), who have inherited the estate named Albion. Marion has invited Richard and Angela Paradise (Nickolas Grace and Joanna David) to stay with them for the weekend. First off, let’s talk about these names. Alex and Marion live in Albion, which is also the oldest known name of Great Britain. Their home is clearly older, and their name implies that they are from old money, old traditions, and so on. Marion is an ex-author who now reads other people’s work and has no problem tearing everything apart. Alex works as a translator, something Marion shows no respect for. Richard and Angela Paradise live in London and Richard is obsessed with the idea of making money, no matter how he does so. Angela appears apathetic, though she also seems to hate her husband. From the moment these four characters are in the same room, it is painfully obvious that there is no love within this group and that spending the weekend together may prove to be a huge mistake.
The night is dark and stormy, with the sound of thunder and bolts of lightening flashing through the windows. Marion has a lovely dinner planned for the group, but the storm and a smashed window in the kitchen, put a damper on the night. Instead, the group convenes at a nearby restaurant, which is completely empty with the exception of the four of them and an older gentleman dining alone. Here is where things really pick up. We learn that Richard is a dreadful human being and why everyone at the table, maybe with the exception of Marion, can’t stand him. During their dinner, the topics of money, status, and political standing are the driving topics of discussion. Richard cuts Alex off and smirks at his comments, only furthering their lack of respect for each other. The entire conversation is tense. Richard praises the age of the microwave and how London is the only city to live in. “Money. Massive unemployment. Marvellous! I’ll drink to London.” Of course this only seems to offend Alex, while the two women are drowning themselves with wine and who knows what else. When Marion does speak, it’s mainly to demean Alex and his occupation, while Angela makes attempts to side with Alex, but realizes she won’t be able to speak over Richard. Angela does bring up how Richard wants to enter into politics, but again, this confuses and angers only Alex, who knows that Richard has no idea what he is talking about, ever.
After an intense dinner, the group returns to the estate and it is in these final scenes that the film takes a very dark and twisted turn. I don’t want to go any further, since I think that any horror movie fan should check out this film. I would hate to give anything away. Since the runtime for Sleepwalker is so short, I recommend checking out the extra features on the disc. The Insomniac (1971) is a good pairing with Sleepwalker. Stepping Out (1977) was shown in theaters as an accompaniment to Roman Polanski’s The Tenant (1976), and Working Surface: A Short Study (with Actors) in ‘the Ways’ of a Bourgeois Writer features Billl Douglas, Heather Page, and Joanna David. The interview with Logan, clocking in at a whopping 72 minutes, is definitely worth a look as well.
Janine Gericke is a Film International ‘In the Field’ writer.