Opening with a classic eerie nightmare scene involving blood-covered broken glass and a person being strangled to death in a bathtub that would probably lead the viewer to assume they are about to watch a classic Gothic haunted house film, Sleepwalker then cuts to a grey-haired chap named Alex Britain (played by Scottish director Bill Douglas, who is best known for an autobiographical trilogy about his working-class upbringing) preparing an insulin injection and milk and cookies for his bedridden sister Marion Britain (TV actress Heather Page), who has spent all afternoon in bed and who is the one who suffered the nightmare during the phantasmagoric introductory montage. Although initially seeming like an old (and regretfully) married couple, Alex and Marion are actually brother and sister who opted to move in with one another after their mother croaked and they inherited the North England rural estate ‘Albion’ (which is, somewhat notably, the oldest known name for Great Britain). The two siblings are expecting company, Marion’s friend Angela Paradise (Joanna David of Italian auteur Roberto Faenza’s The Soul Keeper (2002) aka Prendimi l'anima, which depicts the romance between psychoanalyst C.G. Jung and holocausted Jewess Sabina Spielrein) and her cannibalistic pseudo-conservative capitalist hubby Richard Paradise (Nickolas Grace of the classic dystopian cult sci-fi TV movie Max Headroom (1985) and the hit 1998 fantasy-adventure TV mini-series Merlin), who works “in video” (surely, a jab by Logan and his co-writer Michael Keenan at the desecration of cinema via the video boom). On their way to Albion, the Paradises get lost and Richard demonstrates his innate assholery and callous control of his wife by screaming at Angela, “Just let me remind you that this rural blood retreat was your idea. They’re your fucking friends. You find the place!” just before almost running over an old man on a bike. When the married couple finally arrives at the estate, it is quite apparent that emasculated bleeding heart socialist wimp Alex cannot stand alpha-asshole Richard’s audacious airs of arrogance. Since Marion’s planned evening of “al fresco” has been ruined by the rain and an exploding light bulb and shattered window which destroyed the kitchen, the four emotionally volatile adults are forced to spend the evening at a local restaurant where Richard uses the opportunity to loudly espouse his quite humorous homo-hating and sweatshop-saluting Weltanschauung and Alex demonstrates that he is a tired old leftwing weakling who is all talk and no bite just like so many others of his cuckold kind.
Upon arriving at the restaurant, Richard declares, “The place is full of bloody queers. Didn’t know they had them this far north” after noticing the elderly old queen waiters and proceeds to tell the following joke that would have probably upset queer auteur Derek Jarman: “What does G-A-Y stand for? 'Got AIDS yet?'” In an exceedingly feeble attempt to verbally battle Richard, Alex remarks that he recently read an article in the ‘New Scientist’ stating that AIDS is not an “exclusively homosexual” disease. From there, Richard demonstrates he is not a true conservative or traditionalist by revealing he is a sadistic sort of multiculturalist who advocates sweatshops and complains regarding country living that it is “luddite rubbish” and “sheer antiquated claptrap” and gives a toast by declaring “Here’s to microwaves.” Needless to say, Richard is not impressed with Alex’s sentimentalist speech about living in the country and being proud of his country home. Eventually, Marion reveals that her brother Alex once attempted to murder her when he was sleepwalking. Additionally, Marion, whose job involves reading the works of prospective writers for a publishing house, describes how she suspects that her brother submitted a thriller novel, “about a woman who has a dream about peeling tomatoes. Then, when she wakes up, she’s sliced her husband to bits with a carving knife.” After declaring in regard to her brother that “translators don’t have style,” Marion states that she suspects that the novel was written by her brother due to certain “technical details,” including “Russian expert. German expert. But particularly well up on sleepwalking.” Cleary, the two couples are mismatched, which auteur Logan emphasizes by sitting the two assholes (Richard and Marion), as well as the well-meaning weaklings (Alex and Angela), together during the dinner scene. Indeed, like Richard, Marion also hates the country and complains that she was forced to move to Albion when she was 13 after her estranged father abandoned the family and, “pissed off to Africa. About a century too late.” Richard is so excited by what Marion says, that he declares, “damn right. Big pond for big fish. It’s the only place to be in this country. Money. Massive unemployment. Marvelous! I’ll drink to London,” which rather irks Alex. The last straw for Alex is when Richard states he is a proponent of Thatcher era unemployment, stating, “bloodletting…Sucking the poison out of the system. Dog eat dog. If you can’t go to work, go to hell.” When Alex asks him if he is serious, Richard replies, “Deadly. Don’t you know your own history?” and then proceeds to berate his adversary, calling him a “kept man” and “a bloody pimp, a bloody little pimp who thinks all prostitutes ought to be virgins.” From there, Alex, who has had a little bit too much to drink, gets up to pay the bill and passive aggressively tells Richard to “don’t get up,” as if he has the testicular fortitude to fight him or something. Needless to say, the guests don’t tip so well, or so complains the waiter to his fellow “arch queen.”
When the four frenemies get back to Albion, Alex uses the excuse that he needs to chop some wood and Marion follows, with Richard begging his wife to leave that night, but Angela refuses because she feels the need to pay back her friend for her support for when she was in the hospital. Indeed, although never mentioned explicitly, it seems that Angela has some mental problems that no Valium overdose could cure as she met her fellow mental cripple Marion there. Angela also feels sorry for fellow mental invalid Alex, but she soon becomes frightened of him after seeing him chopping wood with a sort of murderous rage and screaming “bastard” in regard to Richard, as if carrying out some sort of murder. When Angela confronts her friend about her brother’s behavior, Marion reveals that she and Alex met with a psychiatrist who diagnosed the latter with suffering from “deep-rooted trauma” which is “all the result of a deeply insecure childhood.” Marion also trashes Alex’s bibliophilia and Teutonophilia, remarking regarding her brother’s book collection after Richard asks about it, “Von Kleist’s stuff of Alex’s. German dramatist. Death, rot, misery. Right up his street.” Marion also reveals her more morbid side by quoting from Edgar Allan Poe’s short story The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar, which is about a hypnotist who puts a man in a suspended state of hypnotism as he dies. After Alex calls his sister a “bitch” and walks out of the room and she responds by calling him a “dog,” Marion begins hitting on Richard right in front of her friend Angela, who becomes quite dismayed upon accidentally turning on negro porn and subsequently goes to bed. While Richard is prepared to cheat on his wife and commence coitus with his kindred cruel spirit Marion, she screws it up by complaining that her brother called her a “prick teaser,” thus hinting there is a somewhat incestuous relationship going on between the two disharmonious siblings. After their failed attempt at romance, Richard and Marion head to bed and the real fun begins.
As exceedingly heavy-handed socio-political subtexts of most of the works of mainstream ‘masters’ of horror George A. Romero and Wes Craven demonstrate, horror and politics do not mix well together and the last thing a jaded gorehound wants to see are zombies ripping out and eating the hearts of pansy bleeding heart liberals. Indubitably, if Saxon Logan’s Sleepwalker does anything even remotely notable, it is creating an unholy cinematic marriage between scathing political satire and blood-drenched phantasmagoria of the shadowy anti-Thatcherite sort. Politically speaking, the film is notable for ruthlessly reaming all aspects of the mainstream British political spectrum during its time, with mainstream ‘conservatives ‘ (as personified by Richard) being depicted as deracinated psychopaths of the globalist technocrat sort whose only loyalty is to money and their own egos; socialists (as personified by Alex) being depicted as introverted emotional cripples who prefer to hide in an imaginary utopia and cower before their enemies; the British middle class (as personified by Angela) being portrayed as well meaning yet hopelessly feeble pushovers and cuckolds who support corrupt regimes despite knowing better; and Britannia (as personified by Marion) as an emotionally erratic and savagely snide whore and murderess who walks through life aimlessly and unconsciously slaughters both friends and foes. Notably, the film’s co-writer Michael Keenan was a diehard commie, as Logan revealed in the interview O Lucky Man: Saxon Logan in Conversation (2013) regarding his collaborator: “…I would say that most of my education in cinema came from going to movies with him. He was phenomenally intelligent and we enjoyed each other’s ideas, and although he was an avowed Marxist, we still managed to get on. And he brought to our work a kind of rigor that perhaps wouldn’t have necessarily been part of my work if I had been solely the author.”
Although the film was an abject failure commercially speaking, Logan initially had high hopes and thought he was “made” upon completing Sleepwalker having it screened at the opening of the Berlin International Film Festival (aka Berlinale) where it received a standing ovation, but when he later brought the work back to England and screened it, it was even hated by the filmmaker’s friends, thus reflecting the longstanding hatred Brits, especially of the elitist sort, have for the horror genre (after all, the classic horror-thriller Peeping Tom (1960) more or less destroyed auteur Michael Powell’s career). Of course, Logan’s filmmaking career never even began and Sleepwalker reflects the promising formative work of an auteur who could have developed into something much more interesting and provocative than the various hack filmmakers that were working in England at the time, though I doubt he would have became the next Lindsay Anderson (who, incidentally, was supposed to have a cameo role in the film but injured his ankle while in NYC and could not make the flight back). Notably, in a September 2013 interview with Celluloid Wicker Man, auteur Saxon would reveal that his somewhat admirable but undeniably unmarketable intentions with the film were as follows: “I had a great deal of freedom to make whatever film I wanted. I love Britain and care about it deeply. That is why I chose to make SLEEPWALKER. I naively thought it would be a “wake up” film that would be entertaining, too. It is not entirely rooted in Thatcher’s time nor does it knock the aspirations of the young and thrusting. Instead, it knocks rapacious and unthinking greed, spineless idealism, and meek acquiescence. I feel it is still relevant now. For all its surface appearance Britain is dilapidated. There is a cold aggressiveness to the culture. Politically the current parties are like high street banks: in the same business only differentiated by the colour of their debit and credit cards. I think “Albion” is incrementally decaying while the rich concentrate on getting richer, the middle class acquiesce and the poor can just go to hell. Bill Douglas got the script in one. He came up to me and said: “Marion is Britannia gone mad, is she not?”” Too eloquently directed, sophisticated, and restrained for the average video nasty junky and far too gory, politically incorrect, and cynical for the average art fag cinephile, Sleepwalker is ultimately an uneven celluloid enigma that is nowhere near as bad as it sounds but is also nowhere near as important as the BFI believes it to be, as a cult film without a cult. For those sadistic bastards that jumped for joy and sang “Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead” when the “Iron Lady” croaked in 2013, Sleepwalker is, next to Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989), probably the most clever and creative anti-Thatcher flick ever made.