Written by: Adam Grossman & Darryl Sollerh (screenplay), Stephen King (characters)
Directed by: Daniel Zelik Berk
Starring: Clayton Rohner, Faith Ford, and Max Perlich
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
Hell has finally frozen over!
In one of the more infamous chapters of Stephen King lore, the beloved author once sued New Line Cinema for attaching his name to The Lawnmower Man, claiming that its adaptation had nothing in common with his short story. His suit was successful, and the studio was forced to remove all mention of him from all the marketing, thus ensuring King’s name couldn’t just be slapped onto any old thing with a vague connection to his work. I mention all of this because I’m not sure how Sometimes They Come Back For More didn’t suffer a similar fate: while its credits carry the insistence that this “sequel” is “based on characters created by Stephen King,” it’s much more accurate to say it just swiped a familiar title and ran with it. My only guess is that it was such a low-profile DTV release destined for obscurity that King didn’t even bother to raise his ire at it, which would honestly be a better dismissal of it than I could ever hope to write.
But since we don’t know for sure (to my knowledge, King has never addressed it), I guess I have to explain why this one’s a dud. For starters, it’s going to remind you of a much better movie right off the bat: I mean, if I describe a horror movie that unfolds in an Antarctic military compound, your mind is wandering straight to The Thing or perhaps The Thing From Another World. Maybe even the 2011 prequel to The Thing, too, which is more worthwhile than this one. In this case, we’re stuck down at a mostly desolate outpost, as a soldier named Karl Schilling (Damian Chapa) has lost his mind and embarked on a violent rampage. When military policemen Sam Cage (Clayton Rohner) and Callie O’Grady (Chase Masterson) arrive on the scene, only two soldiers (Max Perlich & Faith Ford) have managed to barricade themselves into a safe bunker, away from the at-large Schilling. It doesn’t take long, however, for the quartet to realize that something truly strange is afoot, as slain soldiers inexplicably return to life to wreak havoc, providing a hint about Schilling’s nefarious, supernatural plot.
Franchise departures rarely come as pronounced as the one on display here, as this film bears little to no resemblance to the films preceding it. If the second entry—which at least had the decency to retain the same basic plot of the original—was stretching it, then this one practically rips up any connective tissue. Sure, the characters’ names from the previous films appear on a map, vaguely intimating that their ordeals were part of a larger, more sinister plot, but it feels like a cheap nod to justify the title more than anything. If this movie had been titled anything else, nobody would have ever accused it of being a Sometimes They Come Back rip-off, as the skeletal outline of the short story (“man returns to childhood hometown and is haunted by violent specters of his past”) is absolutely nowhere to be found here. With the exception of the demonic subplot that eventually emerges, it really has little in common with the previous two movies.
Of course, that doesn’t necessarily preclude it from being a decent movie, at least in theory. After all, A Return to Salem’s Lot is one of the more unsung entries in the King cinematic canon despite having almost nothing to do with either author’s original novel or Tobe Hooper’s adaptation of it. Unfortunately, the likes of Larry Cohen and Michael Moriarty are nowhere to be found here. Instead, we’re saddled with uninspired direction from Daniel Zelik Berk, working within the confines of an obviously small budget: save for some flashback scenes, the entire film unfolds inside a handful of nondescript military bunkers and the surrounding Antarctic. Barely anything of interest happens within or without, as the script takes the obvious, familiar route of having the four survivors grow increasingly distrustful of each other’s motives before realizing that Schilling is somehow reanimating the dead.
Honestly, that’s not the worst logline—it’s basically “The Thing Goes to Hell”—but it doesn’t have any of the resources needed to pull it off. Not only is the gore lackluster, but so too are the characters: both blandly written and performed, they spend most of their time either bickering or uncovering clues about what Schilling is really up to. The only thing faintly resembling character development involves Cage’s recurring cryptic visions and flashbacks, both of which indicate he’s hoarding some awful secret that could prove to be everyone’s doom. This subplot provides what little intrigue the film has since movies featuring demons ripping through human flesh are a dime a dozen, and this one does little to distinguish itself in this arena. Gore is pretty much nonexistent, and the make-up effects for the possessed soldiers mostly amounts to some pentagrams etched onto their skin. There’s some obvious splatter potential here that goes completely untapped, creating the impression that everyone involved had the misguided notion that this should be serious business.
Never does that approach feel more misguided than it does towards the end, when the story threatens to completely careen off the rails. Admittedly, it does so in a good way, as this otherwise humdrum plot catches the spark of something imaginative by revealing Cage’s awful secret. Without spoiling the particulars—because to do so would reveal the only worthwhile part of the whole thing—let’s just say the story takes a hard right turn into an unexpectedly wild mythology. There’s more than meets the eye when it comes to both Cage and Schilling, who share an unexpected connection that allows the film to feign some sense of ambition. Some developments—like the romance that blossoms out of nowhere between Cage and one of the survivors—just require you to just go with it and nod along amicably. It’s nonsense, of course, but it’s preferable to the rest of the movie, which is otherwise such a snooze that you can’t help but perk up when you realize Schilling’s satanic-tinged lair stands in stark contrast to the dreary, dull aesthetic guiding the film. That’s right: this is the sort of movie where basic, colorful lighting is downright noteworthy.
Not much else is. Chapa’s increasingly campy turn as Schilling does capture the general vibe of the previous demons in this “series,” but it’s hardly enough to really justify its title or its existence. Sometimes They Come Back For More is an utter void of a movie that would have likely been completely forgotten if not for its unearned branding (as opposed to its current state, where someone might randomly remember that, yes, there were three of these things). I’d be more cynical about it if I hadn’t seen it play out a dozen times over the years to varying effect. This particular instance only inspires a mild shrug at the whole thing—I mean, if Stephen King himself (apparently) ignored it and brushed it off, who am I to get really pissed about it?
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