Review: SLEEPWALKER (1984)

Saxon Logan’s Sleepwalkerput out on DVD by the British Film Institute's Flipside label, is a dark vision of English mores. A peculiar mix of satire and horror film, it is notable, too, for a rare screen appearance by director Bill Douglas (The Bill Douglas TrilogyComrades).

Sleepwalker’s relationship to the horror genre is at once complicated and refreshingly oddball. If the aesthetic is playful – even hokey – the dialogue is vicious and unrestrained in its satirical bent. Words, here, cut like a maniac’s knife or sting like a scorpion's tail. Some of Logan’s observations remain resonant, while others are terribly dated. The film’s primary target is the rise of the Thatcherite mind-set and its culturally bigoted and materialistic views, but Sleepwalker – for the sake of balance – is also equally annoyed with the namby-pamby Left. “You know what you are, don’t you? You’re the meat-eater that can’t bear the blood,” the right-leaning businessman Richard (Nickolas Grace) informs timid Alex (Douglas), over the course of a tense evening dinner.

The flirtation with imagery befitting a slasher movie is often dealt with amusingly. It also fits in into the tradition of 'the old dark house', made famous by such films as The Cat and the Canary (1927) or James Whale's 1932 classic, The Old Dark House

Alex, preparing a tray of biscuits, places a syringe next to the plate, which is suggestive that something nefarious is about to take place. It's then revealed that the implement is for nothing more than to prescribe his sister, Marion (Heather Page), a shot of insulin. Later on, a black leather gloved hand – a traditional staple of Italian gialli – appears in the darkness only for it to switch on a living room light. It is not the beginning of a sequence leading to bloody murder. Again, Alex manically chopping wood with an axe in the conservatory, looking like he’s about to turn into a psycho killer, is revealed as nothing of the sort. He's merely chopping wood for the fire. The synth-heavy score, too, which sounds like leftover cues from a Dario Argento picture, adds another layer of calculated absurdity and incongruity. Douglas is especially noteworthy as morose book translator Alex, but the whole cast is on top form with their exaggerated performance style heightening the nightmarish scenario with aplomb. Yes, the evening is made up of bickering, rivalry, snobbery and murder, but is it all a dream of England?