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Sleepwalker (1984)
Director: Saxon Logan

review by Paul Higson

Lost films benefit from a mystique and, even upon rediscovery, continue on the bonus system by having then the history and the curious route to its rescue. A poor film becomes a little more than a poor film as a discussion piece; a moderately entertaining movie becomes a worthwhile recovery operation. Saxon Logan's debut is neither a bad film nor a masterpiece but, given the last 20 years of British horror film production, it is interesting though inconsistent. It was that and the running time of 50 minutes, a marginal qualifier for feature-length in its day - but a featurette at best amongst today's oft painful running times - that primarily led to the film's downfall.
   A Rhodesian (today Zimbabwe) émigré the teenage Logan found himself under the tutelage of Lindsey Anderson, assisting throughout the seminal dark fantasy O Lucky Man! (1972), the potency of cinema as a tool for political may never to leave him, as neither did the continent of his origin to which, subsequent to the failure to find a releaser for Sleepwalker, saw him return to locations like Mozambique covering and uncovering conflicts and duplicities or bringing attention to endangered animal species. Sleepwalker saw Logan furtively run politics and horror together in what was intended to be a first step forward in a feature filmmaking career. Made under the impression that the Eady system would at least garner the film a support slot on a bill, never expecting to lead a bill, Logan and film returned from the Berlin Festival and with some note and attention to find that the system had been scrapped and smaller studios losing their grip on the market to dollar-built multiplexes, and the greed machine in full throttle choking out the smaller films and the double bills. There was no money for new directors to move forward. Sleepwalker went into a deep slumber and it was only due to the speculations as to its existence coming between Darrell Buxton and regular internet correspondents, based on the film being made at a time when genre reviewers would jest or unremarkably hoax up a title, that the director stepped forward to present us with the proof of its existence.
   The film itself is surface simple, two locations, a dilapidated farmhouse and a restaurant, the latter tellingly being made the most of for a lengthy discussion of the state of the nation, though doing quite well for the aggressiveness of the dialogue, the pastiche venomous retorts of Nicholas Grace and a smattering of celebrity guest appearances from Fulton Mackay, Michael Medwin (veterans of Lindsay Anderson's Britannia Hospital (1982) and Raymond Huntley, at the end of his career. On either side of the restaurant episode is the decaying house where nightmares terrorise those who stay, the 'House of Usher' of Thatcherite Britain, an allegory of the times, a pathetically desperate handful of people trying to survive against cruel odds and failing, a Land of 'No Hope and the Inglorious'. The disintegration occupies several levels, at one stage, the second of the two couples (Bill Douglas and Heather Page) are revealed to be not marital but sibling, the story cat-cradling to read back and explain some of the frustrations and abuse of trust in this trap. The Nicholas Grace character screams to reside outside the trap, tries to fool himself that he does so, and his false fronts are numerous, he bemoans the country yet his driven by the culture of greed, he is lewd yet timid in the moment that sex is offered. The camerawork of Nicholas Beeks-Sanders and editing of Michael Crozier are crucial to the effectiveness of the film at its fore and tail ends, snap images of thrashing legs, shadowy corners and knife falls. There is more so a sexual frisson than there is a horror thrall, the anger, lust and frustration compacted, squeezing out the resulting carnage, a cleaver massacre.
   John Varnom and Michael Keenan co-wrote the screenplay with Logan between them spitting hopeful vitriol at the planned audience in an intention of corroding any lazy political blancmange left or right that the viewers may have set themselves unthinkingly into. It was a pity that audiences were home too chuffed with their new videocassette recorders to give a damn about whether the cinema houses may even survive. Logan can hardly be blamed for assuming the medium was no longer there to do damage with because the truth was simply that it was not there.
   Many lost films are lost because financing fell away and the product was incomplete, the director going on to make other features, sometimes in the same genre and giving you an idea of what might have been. On this occasion the film director was hurt by the experience and neglected the idea of a future in feature films adding that other element that we thrive on in the unearthing of lost films, that of the future history that never was. There is significant directorial skill on display in Sleepwalker and as he proved in a personal appearance and interview with Darrel Buxton on Saturday 31st August at the 13th Festival of Fantastic Films in Manchester, he is a personable and intelligent man, leading one to the conclusion that we lost a solid name in British film and possibly genre film with his rerouting to the field of documentary.
   It is hoped that the film can work its way now towards a DVD release though it's length would not make it that attractive a package alone. Further to this had been suggested that it could comprise a bill of British horror films with a political agenda that run a similar length so has not to upstage it, on time alone, films like Tony Bicat's Skinflicker (1973), Ian Lloyd's Face Of Darkness (1976) or Peter Syke's The Committee (1968) coming to mind.
   Recently, Logan won development money for a script that should return him to fictional narratives, though outside the horror genre, it will undoubtedly address actual horrors, with an African dictator of unbending cruelty as its focus. It is the horror fan's wish that not only does that project come to fruition but that he follow it with a return to the genre to show us what he had learned in the meantime.

Sleepwalker click on images to enlarge
- pictures courtesy
of Saxon Logan.
for more info contact: Darrell Buxton

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