Sometimes They Come Back is the type of movie I describe as a comfort horror movie. It’s not too scary, it’s a made-for-tv film, with a high school teacher as the main protagonist. The film, directed by Tom McLoughlin and based on a short story by Stephen King, follows Jim Norman, a teacher struggling with emotional problems who moves back to his childhood town along with his son, Scott, and his wife, Sally. When he was nine, Jim moved away from the town following the murder of his older brother by a gang of greasers who are killed in a train accident shortly after their dark deed. One of the greasers escaped, but before their deaths, the others vowed revenge. The trauma manifests itself in different ways for Jim, who struggles with his perception of reality when his students start dying—and the greasers return from Hell to take their place in his class.
You Can’t Kill What’s Already Dead
I haven’t read the short story the film is based on, but Sometimes They Come Back is one of my favorite horror flicks. I saw the movie on television when I was a kid and immediately developed a massive crush on the leader of the greaser gang, Richard Lawson, who’s played by none other than famed horror stud Robert Rusler. Fans of Freddy Krueger will recognize Rusler from Nightmare Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, in which he played the ill-fated hunk, Ron Grady. Rusler is much more sinister in this film, as his character, Lawson, terrorizes Jim and his family and plans his revenge against Jim for orchestrating his death.
Meanwhile, Jim’s sanity slips as he sees the demonic greaser gang take over his class and murder his students. His emotional outbursts and troubled past leaves the frazzled teacher as somewhat of a social outcast, so no one believes Jim about the greasers and even believes he might have had something to do with the deaths of his students. It becomes a struggle not only to send the demonic trio tormenting him and his family back to Hell but to clear his name as well. Tim Matheson (Johnny Quest, The West Wing) expertly portrays Jim as a man at the end of his rope, who is willing to do whatever it takes to protect his wife (played by Brooke Adams) and son (played by Robert Hy Gorman).
Sometimes They Come Back has a great premise and slowly builds to the reveal of the demonic greasers. It explores themes of trauma, grudges, and history repeating itself, to the backdrop of a spooky little town. It might not be a film for everyone, but I think it deserves its spot in the pantheon of horror classics thanks to its stellar cast, especially the trio of greasers. Robert Rusler truly steals the show as their maniacal and sadistic leader, though Nicholas Sadler and Bentley Mitchum also give great performances as his two demonic lackeys.
Sometimes They Come Back is an excellent starting point for those just starting their journey in the horror genre. The gore is minimal, the imagery disturbing, the suspense palpable, the acting is the right mix of serious and corny, and the ending of the film is truly heartwarming. I highly recommend adding this film to your Halloween binge.