APES ON FILM: Terrors Abound: Somnambulists and Conjurors!

by Anthony Taylor
Contributing Writer

 Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.

 

 

STEPHEN KING’S SLEEPWALKERS – 1992
2.5 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Brian Krause, dchen Amick , Alice Krige
Directors: Mick Garris
Rated: R
Studio: Eureka! Entertainment
Region: B
BRD Release Date: October 19, 2020
Audio Formats: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1 and LPCM 2.0 audio options
Video Resolution/Codec: MPEG-4 AVC, 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Run Time: 89 minutes
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The 1980s were truly rife with film adaptations of Stephen King’s novels, for better (THE SHINING, STAND BY ME, THE DEAD ZONE) or for worse (CUJO, CAT’S EYE, MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE). The 1990s started strong with MISERY, but as they settled in, his horror-related work took a back seat to adaptations of more mainstream stories such as THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, and THE GREEN MILE, which garnered more attention from critics and audiences. King’s first direct-to-screen story, not based on a previous work, was SLEEPWALKERS (1992).

The film introduces us to the “legend” of the Sleepwalkers – immortal monsters that feed on the life force of virgins, supposedly based on Native American folklore. Luckily, these maiden-sucking vampires have a fatal weakness; cats hate them and can scratch them to death, releasing the fires of hell within their souls. Owing as much to Val Lewton’s CAT PEOPLE (and coming only a decade after Paul Schrader’s stylish remake of it), SLEEPWALKERS trades in the same psycho-sexual horror headspace, focusing on the mother-and-son monster duo of Mary and Charles Brady (Krige and Krause), an incestuous pair that’s just moved into town and set their sights on the lovely life force of movie theater popcorn girl Tanya Robertson (Amick).

King really misses an opportunity to craft a story of substance by making Charles a one-dimensional vampiric douchebag, tossing off one-liners as he kills a teacher, terrorizes the initially smitten Tanya, and tears through town in his Trans Am. Had he been torn between the past and the fate thrust upon him by his evil mother and his true love for Amick’s character, the film could have been much more substantial than a teen monster movie of little consequence, which it eventually becomes.

Eureka’s Blu-ray presentation looks and sounds great, but is Region B encoded, so you’ll need a region-free player to view. If you’re unable to play a Region B disc, Shout! Factory has released the film in the U.S., and the supplemental materials on the Eureka release were all ported from the Shout! Factory discs except for a new audio commentary by director Mick Garris and Lee Gambin. The Eureka release does come with a Limited-Edition O-Card slipcase with silver laminate finish and a Limited-Edition Collector’s Booklet featuring new writing by Craig Ian Mann which is included with the first two-thousand copies only.

Stephen King’s SLEEPWALKERS is cheesy fun but could have been so much more. Recommended for King completists.

 

THE MAGICIAN – 1973 – ‘74
1.5 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Bill Bixby , Keene Curtis , Julian Christopher , Joseph Sirola
Created By: Bruce Lansbury
Studio: Visual Entertainment Inc
DVD Release Date: August 25, 2017
Audio Formats: Dolby Audio, English Stereo
Video Resolution/Codec: NTSC 1
Aspect Ratio: 4:3 (or is it?)
Run Time: 1025 minutes

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THE MAGICIAN was the third of Bill Bixby’s (MY FAVORITE MARTIAN, THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE’S FATHER, THE INCREDIBLE HULK) network series, and the least successful. It lasted only a season on NBC from 1973-74, and I recall it fondly as helping to ease the sting of the cancellation of SEARCH, a show that my eight-year-old self obsessed over the year before. The series found Bixby playing the world’s greatest illusionist, Anthony Blake – a professional magician and amateur sleuth and “fixer” for friends and acquaintances who needed his special kind of help. Think of him as a cross between Houdini and The Equalizer.

The series was entertaining and the concept interesting enough, but it suffered from network meddling; bad luck (Bixby’s character name was Anthony Dorian in the pilot, and a stage magician named Tony Dorian came forward after it aired which prompted the name change to Anthony Blake); producers trying to wrestle spiraling budgets under control (halfway through the season, Blake’s private live-in jet airliner was discarded in favor of an apartment at Los Angeles’ The Magic Castle); and even a writer’s strike. Regular characters disappeared halfway through the season and new ones added with no explanation. The hook for the series was Bixby’s likable magician, but it wasn’t enough to keep viewers tuned in through all the inexplicable changes and the show folded after just twenty-one episodes.

Visual Entertainment Inc. has released the full series and pilot episode in a four-disc set in DVD format, and I was happy to get them. At first. The company admits in a warning screen at the beginning of the discs that quality is not as high as many other DVD series releases from the time period, so I was forewarned. This is excusable – the show quality is a bit rough here and there, but the fact that it was released at all (and for a reasonable price) was something for which to be thankful. What I can’t abide is that they label the video as appearing in the original NTSC 4:3 aspect ratio, which it does not. The ratio has been stretched to fit modern television screens’ landscape orientation rather than simply allowing the black bars on either side of the picture, as any sane person would have formatted it. The stretching results in loss of picture at the top and bottom of the screens to some degree, but mainly it makes everyone appear wider than normal, which pulls me (and everyone else, I assume) out of my “comfort” zone and makes the whole experience unwatchable. In some scenes it’s hardly noticeable; in the next, it’s grossly exaggerated. Maddening and completely unnecessary.

I can’t recommend purchasing this set, no matter how big a fan you might be. The best we can hope for is a release from a responsible company who respects the viewing experience at some point in the future. Save your money for that day.

 

Anthony Taylor is not only the Minister of Science, but also Defender of the Faith. His reviews and articles have appeared in magazines such as Screem, Fangoria, Famous Monsters of Filmland, SFX, Video*WatcHDog, and more.

*Art Credit: Anthony Taylor as Dr. Zaius caricature by Richard Smith

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