Nov 29, 2014

Sleepwalker (1984)




Without question, the last thing the world needs is another leftist horror flick, especially those of the effortlessly effete British persuasion, but somehow I managed to find a tinge of preternatural potency in the less-than-feature-length blood-soaked Thatcher era satirical scare-fest Sleepwalker (1984) directed by white Rhodesian-British auteur Saxon Logan, who was influenced to become an ‘auteur’ by his much more famous comrade and mentor, filmmaker Lindsay Anderson (if...., O Lucky Man!).  Considered lost for nearly three decades until the BFI rescued the sole print of the film from the director’s attic, restored it, and released it in late 2013 on DVD/Blu-ray under the BFI Flipside label along with two of Logan’s earlier shorts Stepping Out (1977) and Working Surface: A Short Study (with Actors) in the 'Ways' of a Bourgeois Writer (1979), a 69-minute 2013 interview with the forgotten filmmaker, and Rodney Giesler’s thematically similar 45-minute short The Insomniac (1977), the quite literally bloody Brit satirical black-comedy-cum-horror-show was assumed to be even hearsay by some, as very few people had actually seen it and it had only been referenced in print form by English journalist/film critic Kim Newman (who, incidentally, is a big promoter of BFI Flipside and hosted the label’s screening of the 2010 ‘sampler documentary’ Kim Newman's Guide to The Flipside of British Cinema) some 14 years after its release in the FAB Press release Ten Years of Terror: British Films of the 1970s. Quite ironically yet most fittingly, the film owes its past obscurity to the very regime that the film ruthlessly critiques whose pro-big-business policies ultimately led to the work’s rejection by British film distributors (who found the film’s horror-satire style inexplicable and thus unprofitable), as well as the termination of a government subsidy to theater owners promoting the showcasing of British-made shorts before feature presentations (notably, Logan’s 1977 experimental short Stepping Out played before screenings of Roman Polanski’s The Tenant (1976) in UK theaters). A sort of poor man’s take on Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), albeit more literate and cultivated and minus the supernatural elements, Sleepwalker has been advertised by the BFI as an “outrageous mix of biting satire and stylish horror” that “recalls the work of otherwise unlikely bedfellows, Lindsay Anderson and Dario Argento,” yet the film has more obvious influences, namely James Whale’s The Old Dark House (1932), German expressionism, and Hammer horror films. Partly inspired by a true anecdote from Logan’s life about a rural retreat when his friend’s wife uncomfortably revealed to him and their mutual friends while tipsy that her husband once attempted to murder her while he was sleepwalking, Sleepwalker is a largely metaphorical work that was heavily inspired by Anderson’s underrated box-office failure Britannia Hospital (1982)—a work that uses a hospital as a metaphor for Britain—featuring characters that are more or less archetypes/allegorical figures and set at an old quaint country home that acts as the “embodiment of the United Kingdom” (as described by the director) about an unhappily married, mis-matched couple who come to visit their ‘friends’ in the countryside, only to fall prey to a somnambulist-based slaughter after a nasty night of venomous verbal class warfare.





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.




During the final ten minutes or so of Sleepwalker, everyone falls asleep and dark dreams ultimately degenerate into deadly real-life nightmares. First, Angela has a nightmare of Alex coming into her room and disemboweling her hubby Richard, whose guts he pulls out with his bare hands (according to auteur Logan, while shooting this scenario he, “had a slight problem with Bill Douglas; he hated blood and gore of any sort” and even fainted after shooting the scene). Next, Marion has a recurring nightmare about her brother strangling her to death in the bathroom. From there, Marion sleepwalks into the Paradises' room and undresses in front of Richard, who becomes so aroused that he begins licking the somnambulist’s armpit and then proceeds to suck on her tits, but the fun soon ends when Richard is sliced up with a butcher knife, presumably. Shortly after, Angela wakes up, steps in a huge puddle of her deceased hubby’s blood, goes to the kitchen, and eventually takes a butcher knife to the back of the head. The next morning, Alex wakes up from a nightmare and goes downstairs where he notices blood dripping from the ceiling. Before he can do anything, sleepwalking Marion appears and stabs Alex in the chest with a butcher knife and he cries out “wake up…wake up…Please, wake up!” just before he dies. In a metaphorical scene, blood covers old Victorian furniture. Maybe if Richard had cheated on his neurotic wife and banged unconscious psychopathic killer Marion, the midnight massacre could have been avoided.




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.



-Ty E

10 comments:

teddy crescendo said...

"Sadistic bastards" ! ? ! ?, there were just sensible people who knew that Thatcher was one of the most loathsome and horrifying abominations to ever defile the planet with her odious presence.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

It was so embarrassing and pathetic when they used to show some laughably inept and unwatchable short British made film in cinema's before 'The Real McCoy' from America finally appeared on the screen, like they were desperately trying to make people think British made films were good when they so obviously were not.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

The BFI is a fucking joke but it makes them an even bigger joke when they actually have the nerve to say that they think British made films are 'important', British made films are about as important as dog-shit.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

"Homo-hating", i love that phrase.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I like to think that that disgusting British faggot Derek Jar-girl would indeed have been very offended by that joke, the bloody odious woofter.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

In that restaurant once i`d realised the waiters were woofters i wouldn`t have even wanted to eat the food or touch the plates for fear of contracting AIDS, bloody disgusting fairys, kill `em all.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Ty E, you went 7 gloriously non-British movies between "Deep End" and "Sleepwalker", do you think next time you could go 70 or even 700 more reveiws without another British made piece of garbage, i`d be much obliged, cheers.

Jennifer Croissant said...

Jervaise is right, Bill Douglas was one of those pathetic tossers (like Ken Loach) who helped to systematically destroy the British film industry with their unwatchable and unimaginative horse-shit, Douglas` "trilogy" and Loachs "Kes" were laughable celluloid crap of the lowest order, not worth bloody tuppence.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Peter Greenaways "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover" is, quite simply, UNWATCHABLE ! ! !.

Anonymous said...

you really sound like a closet case, hamster