Marion (Heather Page) suffers from a nightmare where she's being strangled in her bathtub. Her middle-aged brother, Alex (Bill Douglas), wakes her from her afternoon slumber with a plate of biscuits and a daily injection in her rear. Together they live in a dilapidated country home called Albion, inherited from their late parents.

Time to get up and get ready, he tells her: Marion's friend Angela (Joanna David) is coming for dinner that evening, with her well-to-do London husband Richard (Nickolas Grace). We soon learn that Marion and became friends while both were hospitalised - though we're not privy to the nature of either's illness.

Set on a stormy night, a tree branch shatters Marion's kitchen window moments before her guests arrive. Thus, she suggests the four of them venture to a local restaurant for dinner in place of the one she'd prepared, which now lies ruined.

During dinner tensions rise between traditionalist Alex and unapologetic business shark Richard. So much so, that Richard really can't bear the thought of staying over at Marion's run-down place. Angela, however, feels an obligation to do so and insists they honour their promise of staying over for just one evening. Besides, Alex behaves oddly and Angela is concerned by Marion's revelation that her brother once tried to strangle her during one of his sleepwalking episodes.

Back at the country house, the foursome enjoy a few more drinks and Marion flirts rather openly with Richard. By the time each individual retreats to their boudoirs, they've endured the social evening from Hell and so can be forgiven for any nightmares they share.

But is what ensues a nightmare, or bloody reality...?

Ominous synthesiser-led music cues, a cheap video-generated onscreen title, class clashes and open casual homophobia ("do you know what GAY stands for? 'Got AIDS yet?'"): Saxon Logan's odd SLEEPWALKER quickly establishes itself as very much a product of the 1980s. 1984, in fact.

It's a curious low-budget piece that plays with an almost stagey manner in parts: the broad performances and comedy of manners are suited to traditional British theatre faithful such as "Abigail's Party". But that creepy score serves as a frequent reminder that all is not well, and the film is bookended by stylised blue-hued scenes of terror that look more like something torn straight of a Dario Argento film.

At only 51 minutes in length, SLEEPWALKER is still capable of developing well-rounded characters without any overbearingly obvious exposition. It's also adept at eliciting tension - not only social tension within the group, which is in its own right quite delicious, but surmounting horror as the gory murders begin during the final act.

Aesthetics and performances are as dated as the script, which - beneath its references to microwave ovens as new-fangled things etc - is a blatant commentary on Thatcher's stomping of traditional values. But all of this, coupled with Logan's keen sense of pacing and subtle drama, lend the film oodles of charm. It also helps that it's quite unique.

Oh, watch out for Fulton Mackay (A CLOCKWORK ORANGE; TV's 'Porridge') as the restaurant boss too.

The BFI have rescued Logan's long-though lost film from obscurity and, with the help of cult filmmaker Nicholas Winding Refn (DRIVE; ONLY GOD FORGIVES), restored it in HD for this dual format blu-ray/DVD combo release.

Only the blu-ray disc was made available for review purposes, though I understand both discs contain identical content.

SLEEPWALKER is presented uncut in its original 1.85.1 aspect ratio. As you'd expect, it benefits from 16x9 enhancement. Housed as an MPEG4-AVC file on a dual-layered BD50 blu-ray, the film has been transferred in 1080p from the original 35mm answer print. I imagine this is as good as it's ever going to look, though viewers should accept that it hasn't survived particularly well over the decades.

Colours and blacks are sturdy, but there is a natural softness and strong grain to contend with. The grittiness is befitting of the material, but may well irk viewers who are looking for Criterion-like clarity from their HD purchases. Given the obscurity of this piece, I can accept how it looks - it's been through a 2k restoration process, after all, and looks nicer as it progresses.

The English PCM mono audio is a much cleaner prospect: very impressive. Optional English subtitles for the Hard-of-Hearing are well-written and easy to read.

An animated main menu page makes good use of the film's stirring, atmospheric electro score. From there, a pop-up scene-selection menu allows access to SLEEPWALKER via 6 chapters.

Of the bountiful bonus material, the most substantial is a 72-minute new interview with Logan. Any questions occur off-screen and have been edited out, so - aside from the odd film clip - the focus is squarely on Logan for the duration of this extra. Which sounds daunting, perhaps, but he makes for a likeable, erudite and open host. He speaks about his early days of living in a YMCA, writing to various filmmakers looking for a way into the industry, and finally get the break he needed when Lindsay Anderson (IF...; O LUCKY MAN!) replied. We also learn of how Rank dismissed SLEEPWALKER because they were unable to grasp its mix of Argento-esque horror and socialist humour, and how Douglas fainted moments after shooting one of the film's gorier scenes.

Logan likes to exercise his vast vocabulary, certainly, but never to the point where he becomes pompous and alienating. On the contrary, there's a sincerity to him that's warming - especially during the final 5 minutes where he breaks to compose himself after getting emotional over the prospect that his 'lost' film is finally being understood.

THE INSOMNIAC is a 45-minute film from 1971, directed by Rodney Giesler. It's a strange, sometimes surreal but always handsome piece about a man (Morris Perry) who suffers a blurring of reality and fantasy due to extreme sleep deprivation.

It starts off innocuously enough with children playing outdoors on a sunny afternoon, but gradually gets darker without ever becoming macabre. Suitably, the best way to describe it is "dreamlike".

Ironically, THE INSOMNIAC has been preserved much better than SLEEPWALKER. Pillar-boxed in its original 1.33:1 ratio, the print used is mostly clean and the HD transfer is little short of outstanding.

STEPPING OUT is an 11-minute short from Logan. This was shot in 1977 and originally played in cinemas as an opening accompaniment to Roman Polanski's THE TENANT. Without giving too much away, it's not difficult to appreciate that thematic pairing. This is provocative and stylish - enough said.

WORKING SURFACE is another Logan piece, co-starring Douglas as a writer working on a screenplay who becomes embroiled with playing out the script with two actresses. This 16-minute slice of cinema, from 1979, is the least interesting of the films on offer here. While the performances are solid, the storytelling is abstract and experimental: it's not an easy one to warm to.

Rounding off the extras is a traditionally excellent 24-page booklet. This contains notes on the main feature by historian Julian Grainger, along with more information on the backgrounds of the three supplementary features. It's a beautifully produced addition to the set.

SLEEPWALKER is an interesting, enduring curiosity piece. Likening it to anything else is difficult, and that alone makes it worth checking out. BFI's release of it is, naturally, excellent.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Bfi Flipside
Region B
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review