Jim Norman (Tim Matheson) is an emotionally troubled teacher who returns to the source of his problems, his hometown. Twenty-seven years before, Jim’s older brother was killed by a gang of hoods as Jim watched. Now these creeps are back — they’re zombie hoods who haven’t aged a day. They tool around town in a hot rod from hell. They’re also in one of the history classes that Jim teaches, and they scare the willies out of him. Jim’s wife (Brooke Adams) believes him — up to a point. The police think Jim is imagining things, having a breakdown.
As its title advertises, Sometimes They Come Back is a Stephen King creation, based on one of the prolific horror writer’s short stories. And as is true of King’s best work, it takes a potentially ludicrous premise such as the one described above and invests it with deeper emotions than you’d expect from pop fiction.
In this case, director Tom McLoughlin and scriptwriters Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal emphasize the love between brothers and the importance of facing up to your fears even as they provide such scary-movie thrills as peeled-skin monsters.
It would be easier to like this well-acted, skillfully produced TV movie if it didn’t combine so many elements from better-known King works. The flashbacks to an idyllic youth are straight from the movie Stand By Me; the pairing of rattled husband and noble wife echoes the novel The Shining; the movie’s ideas about death and evil derive from King’s The Dead Zone. Still, Matheson’s performance is truly moving, and the drama of Sometimes They Come Back is stronger stuff than most TV movies. B+