Saturday, 7 September 2013

Sleepwalker (1984) BluRay review - BFI Flipside



You know me by now…...



I like to think of myself as many things: intelligent, fearless, loyal, lover, fighter, and daredevil are all but a few of my many qualities. I firmly believe that when the inevitable Zombie apocalypse happens I will undoubtedly be the 'Rick character', fearlessly leading my trusty band of fellow survivors to evade the Zombie hordes. Of that I have little doubt.

With regards to being something of a love-god, I'm also certain in my own mind that one day Helena Bonham Carter will finally remove those pesky restraining orders, dump that director fella of hers and finally see the light that I'm the real love object of her dreams.

Now, for some reason that I cannot fathom, but there are some people in the world that that profess to know me who would actually regard the thoughts that I have about myself as near being near-delusional. The words cowardly, nerdy and sadly fixated would probably be more like the descriptions that they (my so called friends and family) would have of me. They may have a point. After all, the medication has yet to quite kick-in and those voices in my head are still chattering away. 

So maybe I won't survive the Zombie apocalypse - or if I do I'll probably end up being that guy that goes insane and hides away in some top story apartment with his collection of firearms and a few department store mannequins for his conversational needs………And Helen may thank her lucky stars that I'll never utter those words of romance that I long to say - " Get your Bellatrix Lestrange outfit on, m'dear".

What I AM sure about is my love and passion for many things science fiction, fantasy and horror. When it comes to horror, my love of the genre knows few bounds but when it comes to British Horror, especially obscure British horror, then I'm well and truly obsessed. There is a huge catalogue of lost and forgotten gems of UK films out there that we need to keep established in the public psyche. Thankfully I'm not alone in that endeavour.

The British Film Institute (BFI) Flipside series has one singular purpose - and that is to revisit and reassess British film releases, particularly those movies that may have become overlooked, brushed aside or simply misunderstood at the original time of release. I'm not talking about the established collection of British classics that may have suffered for whatever reason on their initial release but have since garnered a reputation of loving cult proportions - The Wicker Man is an obvious example. No, what we are talking about movies which still lurk outside the list of acknowledged classics.

The BFI Flipside titles are all remastered to High definition and are always accompanied by a veritable plethora of extra goodies, many of which are often previously unavailable short films, documentaries and interviews. If that wasn't enough, each film title has it's own individual numbered packaging together with illustrated booklets often with contributions from the actual filmmakers themselves - you can tell I'm a fan, eh?!


So when I received the preview copy sent from the BFI (via the fantastic UKHorrorScene of the latest release of a long-thought forgotten gem of British Horror - well put it this way, I almost choked on my mouthful of Red Wine when I saw the title.

The reason for my excitement is many fold, perhaps mostly because it's a film that I've had high on my wish-list for many a year. I've wanted to see this for many reasons, not just for the film's content, but also because the film's initial critical reception, problematic release and eventual curtailing of a potentially great directing career could be a film plot of of it's own. It's an all-too familiar tale of the failure of the British film industry to recognise what talent it has on it's hands.

Sleepwalker (1984) is the 27th title in the BFI Flipside series. Directed by Saxon Logan, it is a biting mix of horror and social satire. 





THE PLOT


Not exactly the happiest of couples…..
The story is a relatively simple one. It features a wealthy couple Richard and Angela Paradise who are driving on their way to visiting friends Marion and Alex Britain in their decomposing country family home, the interestingly named 'Albion'. Tensions between the immediately obnoxious Richard (played by the always excellent Nicholas Grace) and his meek wife (Joanna David) are obvious - especially when Joanna has problems directing her husband in the ever-worsening rain storm to her friend's home. Meanwhile, intermixed between the scenes of the visitors marital disharmony we witness, back at Albion, snippets of some violent nightmares that the host Marion (played by the gorgeous Heather Page) is experiencing. Her mood isn't improved when the on the evening that the visitors are due to arrive the violent storm has smashed one of the windows of the ever-decaying house and ruined the meal that she had been preparing - I hate it when that happens….

Marion has no forced to abandon plans for the cosy candlelit meal, much to the displeasure of her brother Alex, a 'couple' who also seem to be perpetually on the edge of argument and who seem to be harbouring more than the usual level of sibling rivalry.  The atmosphere, on the arrival of the wealthy couple, is immediately strained with the meeting for the first time between the two men resulting in obvious dislike. The  foursome head for a local restaurant where the conversation becomes ever more aggressive with comments on the state of the nation, greed and power. The contempt that the wealthy and obnoxious Richard has for the more socialist principled Richard is palpable - the dialogue here is deliciously aggressive.


When the foursome return back to the house the so far strained evening of drunkenness and the heady mixture of social and sexual rivalry soon turns to horror as the inhabitants become the victims of a violently disturbed attacker…………………..



How not to shave without a mirror

Sleepwalkers is part horror and cunning social commentary - it has real intelligence at it's core. Logan's film cleverly puts together two contrasting couples who's social tension parallels the political and wider social tension of the time of filming. This was the 1980's when Thatchers' Britain was in full swing with all the new ideas of greed, ambition and uber-capitalism fighting headlong with the decaying socialist and perceived ideas of the traditional way of British life. Indeed, the director clearly signposts his intentions with the surnames of the main characters - brother and sister "Britain' who live in 'Albion' (the ancient name of Great Britaian) representing the dwindling fortunes of a once great era who's best years are clearly behind it. The surnames of the wealthy 'Thatcherite' couple -  Paradise - is a unmistakable reference to the new conservative ideal of a place where society no longer exists and where the world of socialism and it's 'life-sucking' ideals have disintegrated into dust. 

The dialogue, particularly between the Alex and Richard who clearly despise each others view of the world, is biting and snarling - the scene where Richard, seeing that Alex is little more than a pseudo-socialist, lets loose in this fabulous verbal broadside: 

"You know what you are, don't you? You're the meat-eater that can't bear the blood. And do you know what's put all that flab on your conscience? Blood. Hundreds of years of it. It's bought you your little nest to get squeamish in. You're a pimp Alex, you're a kept man."

This is no left-wing attack on the times, it looks at the absurdity of both extremes of the respected ideology. If that wasn't enough the story also contains more than it's fair share sexual undercurrent and tension - the feeling of frustrated lust and pent up violence is delicious. The scene where the previously aggressive Richard meekly shuns away from the overt sexual advances of Marion is genuine gold.


There's a little something in your eye m'dear
It would be pure hyperbole to suggest that Sleepwalker is a complete masterpiece. Its is good, very good, though are are a couple of mementoes when the story falters slightly - but only very slightly. The atmospheric  and violent beginning and end of the movie is brilliantly filmed by lighting cameraman Nicholas Beeks-Sanders. The editing,  by Michael Crozier is simply stunning and is pivotal to the potency of the film with it's images of violence and horror. The final scenes are as powerful as any I can remember. 

So why did this particular film slip into the cracks of movie history, and apart from the rare appearance in selected cinemas rarely has rarely shown its face in nearly 30 years? Perhaps one reason is it's short running time of just 49 minutes, making it neither a short film or a feature length film. In the newly booming world of VHS sales providing a sanctuary for even the most forgetful of movie productions, the running time provided a real problem of how to fill the rest of the tape.

Yet, upon initial completion of the film things had began so well. The initial screenings at the Berlin film festival were received with great enthusiasm, so much so that it received the prestigious Special Jury prize. Saxon Logan had fully expected the film to perform as the opener for another more bankable release, however the ever-increasing 'multiplex' mentality of 1980's movie distribution meant that the old headlining feature with supporting featurette had died. Quite simply, even though it had received critical acclaim, the British distributors completely failed to understand both what the film was about and what to do with it. Consequently, the film was stuck away in storage and largely forgot about….. forgotten that is, apart from a few in the industry and some of here in internet land.

Not only was a fine film ignored, a potential great direction career was damaged. Zimbabwe-born Logan had originally cut his teeth under the tutorship of the great Lynsey Anderson, acting as the great man's assistant during the filming of the classic O Lucky Man! Indeed, the Anderson-esque feeling of Sleepwalker is clear for all to see.

However, so disillusioned was he with the movie process within the disintegration of the British film industry that films projects on such a scale of Sleepwalker failed to materialise again. It was only thanks to the director himself that actual proof of the existence of the film in fact existed.

It is my hope that not only now will the existence of an excellent piece of British Horror filming reach the audience it deserves but also the talent of Saxon Logan will be finally recognised. It is still not too late for him to flourish.

The Extras included in this set are more than up to the BFI Flipside's usual quality

* Presented in both High Definition and Standard Definition

* The Insomniac (Rodney Giesler, 1971, 45 mins): a man experiences a night-time world that is part nightmare, part sexual fantasy 

* Stepping Out (Saxon Logan , 1977, 10 mins): a couple's untraditional early morning ritual is observed in a short drama which originally supported Polanski's The Tenant in UK cinemas 

* Working Surface: A Short Study (with Actors) in the 'Ways' of a Bourgeois Writer (Saxon Logan, 1979, 15 mins): Bill Douglas plays a writer struggling with a script about two women (Joanna David and Heather Page) 

* O Lucky Man: Saxon Logan in Conversation (2013, 72 mins): exclusive feature-length interview with the director of Sleepwalker

* Extensive illustrated booklet with new essays on all films and complete credits 



Sleepwalker (1984) is due for release on 23rd September 2013, it is remastered from the only surviving print and presented for the very first time on a home entertainment format. The title is available both on BluRay and DVD as a dual format edition.



This article can also be found on the most excellent of horror websites http://www.ukhorrorscene.com/sleepwalker-1984-bluray-review-bfi-flipside/





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