Today: June 17, 2024

Sometimes They Come Back

Film adaptations of Stephen King books often fall into two categories

Film adaptations of Stephen King books often fall into two categories – the excellent
and the forgettable.
Sometimes
They Come Back
belongs firmly to the latter.

Based on King’s 1974 short
story of the same name, the film opens with a sequence that has echoes of
earlier King adaptations. A birds-eye view shot of a solitary car travelling
along the road is reminiscent of The Shining, while the protagonist’s
reflective style of voice-over narration brings back memories of Stand By Me.
While there are actually traces of both films throughout Sometimes They Come
Back, the similarities stop there; Tom McLoughlin’s film lacks the
subtlety and character development of either of these more successful King
adaptations.

The film centers around
teacher Jim Norman (Tim Matheson), who returns with his wife and young
son to the town he grew up in after struggling to find work elsewhere. The
setting brings back memories of his brother’s murder, however, and Jim soon
realises that the gang of dead teenagers responsible have a score to settle
with him. The story sounds like a hammy, revenge-from-beyond-the-grave style
horror, and that’s exactly what the film delivers – just with a distinct lack
of scary moments, and an irritating plot that lags in places and feels rushed
in others.

The back-story between Jim
and his brother Wayne, for instance, is introduced early on and feels awkwardly
paced. The film uses flashbacks to show the close bond they shared as children,
with a nine-year old Jim being comforted by Wayne, who gives the smaller boy
his baseball cap in an attempt to cheer him up. While this is strikingly
similar to the depiction of Gordie and his brother’s relationship in Stand By
Me (even down to the baseball cap scene), Sometimes They Come Back fails to
create the same moving depiction of a close-knit, brotherly bond. The emotional
thread feels forced, and the flashback gives us barely any time to get to know
the characters.

This lack of subtlety is
present throughout the film. The dialogue is bland and often clichéd, and the
characters lack depth. The undead teenagers that haunt Jim also look like John
Travolta
’s entourage in Grease, and are possibly even less
threatening.

The most frustrating thing
about Sometimes They Come Back, though, is the feeling that it could have been
so much better. There are several fleeting moments of interest in the film that
are either left unexplored, or snuffed out too quickly. Jim’s quick temper, for
instance, and the mysterious incident that occurred at his last teaching job
that caused him to be fired, both feel like areas that could have been
developed further.

Instead, what we are left
with is a film that misses the mark by a long way; Sometimes They Come Back is
destined to join the ranks of other failed King adaptations, forgotten in the
shadow of films like The Shining and Stand By Me.

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