Column: Slicing Score: Sleepwalkers (1992)

Review: By Maria Mitchell

Sleepwalkers (1992). Score composed by Nicholas Pike.

Ailurophiles may have mixed feelings about this film. I know I do. I find the concept skewed but still interesting enough to pull a good soundtrack out of its music supervisors. I’ve got to mention that much of the soundtrack’s atmosphere makes use of what may be generically termed “jungle music”. A good portion of the score is relaxing music brought to an abrupt halt by quick, miniature crescendos. The relaxing side of the score is a good interpretation of the world of sleep being the meeting ground where Sleepwalkers‘ predator cats will suck the life away from their victims.
Many films have given cats a bad rap. Stephen King turned his trick from Cat’s Eye, where an evil gnome was trying to kill a little girl by sucking her life away and was saved by her pet cat, on its head for his screenplay, Sleepwalkers, and made the cat the soul-sucker. The film adaptation of Tales from the Darkside features an aptly named tale, “Cat from Hell”, in which the superstition about cats stealing the breath away from people during sleep is cited again. While cats have been equated with evil since the Renaissance (one particularly disgusting example being the character, Malkin, from Thomas Middleton’s play, The Witch, where a cat is the willing sex slave of a witch who also happens to be his mother), I find the origin of the idea of cats preying on people in their sleep hard to pin down. I feel it’s probably not a widespread superstition. It’s humourous to think of cats as predators waiting to kill one in one’s sleep when it’s more likely that the lazy, little critters will still be asleep, no matter when their victim “pops off”.
The sleek strings cued in many parts of the score help make the “cats” in this film possess a convincing weight of evil, because the strings evoke graceful movement and agility, both of which are qualities most humans love to hate, since so few of us have them. If cats could laugh, they would laugh at our inept clumsiness. Some sudden brass provides almost farce-like horror. All in all, the orchestra sounds like they had a great deal of fun performing this one, but I think it’s one those jokes you just have to “be there” to get.
The absolute highlight of this score for me, though, is the inclusion of “Boadicea” by Enya at the film’s conclusion. This entire film just wouldn’t have been the same without it. “Boadicea” was originally a piece commissioned by BBC television for a series about the Celts, for which Enya was asked to write the accompanying music. “Boadicea” was a musical epilogue for the life of the fallen Iceni queen of the same name in Southeastern England, who lead a rebellion against Roman conquerors in 60 AD. Enya chose to use her voice as an instrumental rather than vocalize any words. This makes “Boadicea” a piece where the profound sense of loss can be understood in any language. Its melody is one that remains hauntingly rooted in the subconscious long after the film has faded away. Personally, I think it was almost too good for Sleepwalkers. This brings up an odd quandary about film music I don’t think I’ve ever addressed in this column before. What happens when a piece of music feels almost too good for the film? That film becomes very lucky because it ends up snagging a dignity that it wouldn’t have otherwise achieved. Sleepwalkers, without “Boadicea”, would have leaned heavily towards being just a little fright fest meant to scare virgins into being afraid to be virgins. With “Boadicea”, the conclusion of the film finds the intended victim is the victor, but the music makes it clear her victory is hollow because that which is most precious to her has betrayed her. This is a note of reflective horror, not blood-and-guts visceral horror, and gives the movie’s conclusion a refined feel that doesn’t happen very often in horror films. If Queen Boadicea were alive today, I’m not sure she’d see a connection between herself and Sleepwalkers, but I think she could respect the impossible role Stephen King bequeathed to Madchen Amick’s character, which demands that she be innocent and wise.

Sleepwalkers s
oundtrack is available through www.amazon.com.