I haven’t seen this movie since spring of ’91 when I recorded it at my then girlfriend’s apartment, which would certainly qualify this as a memory movie. I remember not being all that impressed by it and haven’t revisited it since that night. It’s been out on DVD for quite a while now, but since Olive has acquired the rights to it, and it being a memory movie, I figure it’s about time I do a re-evaluation.
If anything it provides a momentary doorway into the past. I don’t remember much more than she and I seated on the couch, remote in hand, pausing it every time a commercial came on. I hate commercials when I’m recording things. Who doesn’t? That’s pretty much all I remember. But it’s a fond memory nevertheless just because of the time and her being there.
I watched it last night and felt it wasn’t bad, perhaps even good enough to make it into my collection, but then this morning I re-read the short story and now have my doubts about whether I’ll keep it or not. Stephen King’s short story is darker than what made it to TV. Where as his tale feels more horror oriented, the movie adaptation feels more horror fantasy. All the components, most of them anyway, from the story are in the movie, just rearranged and restructured more sensibly (I will give it that), but all the darkness and horror has been taken out, and rightly so, since there are elements in King’s original take that aren’t 1991 TV movie friendly, if it were remade nowadays, which I would like to see, I’m sure those elements wouldn’t be much of a problem. It certainly makes the whole tale more potent in my eyes.
In the movie Jim Norman (Tim Matheson) had an older brother who was murdered when he was twelve. They were attempting to head downtown by way of train tunnel, the faster route, but a gang of kids in their black, 1954 Ford sedan cut them off right there on the tracks and attempted to rob them. They wanted money but Jim insisted all he had was four cents; they didn’t believe him. Older brother Wayne (Chris Demetral) attempted to fight back, but that angered Richard Lawson (Robert Lawson in the short story) (played by Robert Russler), so he pulled out a switchblade and threatened to kill him. It was an accident that had Wayne “falling” onto the switchblade. A train was now coming, but Lawson couldn’t find his keys, because Jim found them on the ground and ran off with them as he sought help. There were four kids in all, one escaped at the last minute while the train crashed into the car blowing it and the kids into a million pieces.
In the story Jim and Wayne encounter the kids under the train trestle as it passes overhead and the murder is no accident. Two of the kids pull blades. One stabs Wayne right in the chest; the other stabs him right in the scrotum. Motive for the crime (robbery) is still the same and so is the catalyst for the murder (Wayne fighting back), but no train kills the kids for they’re not on the tracks to begin with. Their death comes months later when they’re being chased by the cops and they ram their car into a phone pole that collapses and burns them to a crisp, but one kid survives and manages to grow into adulthood. You can easily see now why the murder was changed for TV. That’s pretty hardcore stuff for 1991 TV audiences. Seeing a little kid viciously stabbed in the chest and junk and it not being an accident.
In the movie version, Jim, his wife, Sally (Brooke Adams), and his son, Scott (Robert Hy Gorman) head back to Jim’s hometown, for closure and because there’s an affordable teaching job there. Jim’s a high school teacher. In the story, there is no son, and even though both Jim’s (movie and story) have had previous nervous breakdowns, Story Jim is not thinking about his tortured past, not consciously, but both have nightmares. Movie Jim dreams about the incident where Story Jim as dreams about an incident at his previous school where a kid attacked him. The connections made to his past in the short story slowly come to light and the supernatural events just spontaneously happen, where as in the movie you get the sense his returning home has somehow triggered them.
My one problem with the movie is that the villains, the kids, Lawson, David North (David Garcia in the tale) (played by actor Bentley Mitchum) and Vinnie Vincent (Vincent Corey in the story) (played by actor Nicholas Sadler) come off a bit cartoonish, with a lot of sinister laughing and crazy antics to show they’re bad. There’s some of that in the story but they come off genuinely creepier.
In this class Jim takes over, as three of the students meet sinister ends, most likely due to the kids offing them, they show up as transfer students and take up residence at the desks of the deceased kids. In King’s tale it’s all being told through Jim’s eyes so none of the “murders” are seen, they are related later to Jim through various “outlets,” and that kind of makes the kids seem even creepier. In the TV movie we are clearly shown who’s responsible and in fact one of the kids, Chip (Chadd Nyerges), who dies in the movie, lives in the short story.
For Director Tom McLoughlin’s flick the back-from-the-dead bullies still wear their 1950s attire, where as in the story their clothing is up to date, allowing them to fit in better, but their vernacular is still stuck in time. The confrontation in the bathroom with Jim in the movie , towards the end, is more interesting in King’s version for it occurs in the classroom and only with Lawson, who confides in Jim he knows they’re dead and back from the grave to finish unfinished business, which is what Jim is.
Both endings are extremely different from one another as well. In King’s tale the kids actually kill Jim’s wife, though it’s never revealed how, but she lives in the movie, as does Jim’s kid. It’s basically black magic that takes out the dead kids in King’s version. Jim consults a book called, Raising Demons, and he tells Lawson to show up in one of the classroom late one night and they’ll finish this once and for all. Before they ever arrive, he goes in and following the instructions in the book creates a pentagram on the floor and conjures an evil force. Only its voice can be heard and one of the things he must do is give it two of his fingers, so without hesitation he takes out a pocketknife and cuts off both index fingers and throws them into the pentagram as an offering.
When the three kids show up to kill him, this evil force appears in the form of his dead brother (both respective parties acting and reciting the same things they said when it first happened), but when Vinnie goes to stab this “wayne-thing,” quoted in King’s tale, Vinnie’s final fate is this, “… and then scream, his face collapsed in on itself, charring, blackening, becoming awful…then he was gone.” For the other two, here are their fates also as quoted from King’s tale, “Garcia and Lawson struck moments later, writhed, charred, and disappeared.”
The ending for Jim in the original story is more downbeat. Basically as he got rid of one problem he inadvertently managed to create a new one, for it’s described that demons can be summoned and made to do one’s bidding, but they also sometimes come back.
In the movie the final confrontation is on those train tracks, same place where it all happened. The kid that got away, adult Mueller (William Sanderson), plays a crucial role, but he never did in King’s tale. He takes the place of Wayne’s brother at one point when he rebels and is stabbed. As everyone is once again going through their roles as they initially happened, Wayne appears, but this is dead-twelve-year-old-Wayne and not demon-Wayne. This provides a heartfelt ending to Jim and Wayne’s characters after its all over and he tells his brother he can now move on. A ghost train makes an appearance, because there is no train that goes along those tracks anymore. (In the story Jim used a Halloween record with train sounds to set the proper mood in the classroom when the confrontation occurs). And the kids die the exact same way they did in life, but now they are no longer in purgatory, but on their way to hell where they belong.
The ending is more upbeat as he sends Wayne on his way and takes his wife and kid home. I can kind of see now why King used to hate a lot of the movies made from his short stories. His plots work perfectly as short stories and are expertly paced and created for that medium alone, but to do them as full-length features you have to naturally stretch them out and add events, details and characters they aren’t part of the original concept and that does make for a radically different end product at the movies. I don’t hate all the movies based on his short stories, there’s quite a few I love just as much as the source material, but the TV move for this one is not one of them.
As I mentioned Sometimes They Come Back has been on DVD before, in 1996 and 1999 by Lionsgate, then as part of a collection in 2011 from MGM, but now that Olive Films has the rights they are re-releasing it again on DVD and for the first time on blu-ray on October 27th!
Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p 2.35:1 high definition widescreen—5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio—No subtitles
Up to now all previous versions of this flick have been full frame, and until recently I had no idea this played theatrically in a few other countries, hence the 2.35:1 aspect ratio on this new release and if that alone doesn’t make you want to pick it up, the overall transfer should, for it’s colorful and clear as all hell.
The only extra included is the trailer.
It’s hard to believe this movie kicked off a franchise, to which I have never seen any of the sequels. I can’t imagine they have any connection to this first flick and have a feeling they’re all just a variation on a theme, but if you’re a fan of them and need a really nice print of the first one you’ll need to pick up this blu-ray or the new DVD.