Written by: Guy Riedel & Adam Grossman (screenplay), Stephen King (characters)
Directed by: Adam Grossman
Starring: Michael Gross, Alexis Arquette, and Hilary Swank
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
ďHere's a question: If a gardener with a big mouth is alone in the field being tortured and no one has to hear him scream, does it still hurt?"
On the rare occasion that a Stephen King adaptation inspires a sequel, itís almost always noteworthy in some way: Pet Sematary Two is one of those impossibly great follow-ups that has no business being as entertaining as it is, while Children of the Corn inspired one of the longest running franchises to date. Both of these scenarios make at least a little bit of sense, given how popular their original films were. More difficult to account for, however, is the existence of the Sometimes They Come Back franchise, which somehow legged its way to three entries for no goddamn discernable reason at all. While I will contend that the first film is a pretty underrated King adaptation, thereís a reason thatís a somewhat unpopular stance; furthermore, even if it were roundly hailed as a masterpiece, it doesnít exactly beg for a sequel. Hell, Dino De Laurentiis was lucky to wring one movie out of Kingís original short story, but that obviously didnít stop him from making a couple more starting with 1996ís Sometimes They Come Back Again, a somewhat ironic moniker when you consider how inexplicable it is that this title resurfaced after a five-year layoff.
For the most part, itís more a bout of dťjŗ vu than an actual follow-up: rather than return to the original filmís characters, this one trades them out completely, paving the way for an entirely new family to be terrorized by spirits from beyond the grave. In this case, itís psychologist John Porter (Michael Gross) and his daughter Michelle (Hilary Swank), who must return to the formerís childhood hometown when his mother dies in a fiery accident. Of course, John quickly discovers it was no accident at all thanks to the cryptic ramblings of a bizarre priest (Morgan Sheppard) at the funeral. More alarming, however, is the sudden appearance of a boy (Alexis Arquette) who bears a striking resemblance to Tony Reno, the fiendish hoodlum who murdered his sister 30 years earlier. Once he begins to woo Michelle, itís clear that this is Reno himself, inexplicably returned from the grave to exact revenge for his own death at the hands of a vengeful John.
Where the original film took a genuine interest in capturing Kingís musings on reckoning with childhood trauma by finding the gravity of such a bizarre scenario, this one is total, complete nonsense. Perhaps sensing that the film would be destined for such ranks, everyone involved seems to have made Sometimes They Come Back Again with the express purpose of capturing the eyeballs of late-night channel surfers. And since this was the 90sóarguably the heyday of stumbling upon the wildest shit imaginable on cableóitís especially glorious or horrible, depending on your persuasion. Obviously, if you head into this sequel with the expectation that itís even trying to be a genuine movie about its charactersí unbelievable encounter with sinister forces, youíll be left disappointed. This is why Iím here, though: to make it clear that you should not in any way expect that, even if the likes of Michael Gross, Hilary Swank, and Alexis Arquette are among its ranks. Perhaps in an alternate universe, that trio collaborates to make something legitimately special.
However, we live in this universe, the one where Sometimes They Come Back Again is a loud, tacky excuse to stuff as much splattery, whackadoo trash possible into its 96 minutes. Luckily, I am perpetually here for such nonsense, especially when itís delivered with the brisk, reckless abandon on display here. This is a film that gives zero shits about catering to any decent sensibilities, something that should be obvious right off the bat, when a poor old woman goes up in flames. But just in case there were any lingering doubts, it also tosses in an awful stereotype of a mentally handicapped kid who cuts the grass on a Speed Racer themed lawnmower. Oh, you think, thatís perhaps not the worst, at which point I must warn you that this poor kidís head definitely winds up on the business end of his own lawnmower in a scene that induces howls of laughter right alongside the sneaking suspicion that itís so very wrong. I honestly canít think of a sequence that better encapsulates the lunacy on display here.
To its credit, though, it features a pretty good set of other candidates, as Sometimes They Come Back Again is littered with similar nonsense, whether it be a pair of weird girls Michelle befriends (one of them is big into tarot cards because this was the 90s and everyone had a goth phase) or a scene where a boy peeps on his sister and her friend through a window as they change. Or maybe the best scene is the one where John has a nightmare about watching his daughter banging a demon right there in her bedroom. This is one of those film where you feel tempted to just read off all the insanity to get the point across, but Iíll refrain, if only because Iíd hate to reveal every single insane thing it has to offer. Lord knows you wonít watch if for just about any other reasonóthe filmmaking is pretty pedestrian, and the performances are largely forgettable.
An exception there is Arquetteís turn as Reno, who is quickly reduced to a cackling, pun-spitting Freddy Krueger wannabe. Derivative though it may be, itís spirited as hell and meets the film exactly at its level: this is total, complete junk, and Arquette knows it. It feels like Robert Rustlerís performance in the original on overdrive: where that film at least took time to build a sort of nervous, uneasy energy around its trio of ghouls, this one drives headlong into complete maniac territory, leaving the audience with little doubt what kind of film this will be. Maybe it comes at the expense of Gross and Swank, two performers we know deserve better but are left to sort of flounder about here at the mercy of a script that doesnít offer much in the way of actual character development. Yes, there are ostensibly characters here, but most of them feel like theyíve been loaded aboard the conveyor belt for a meat grinder.
Luckily, though, itís committed to running the characters through it quickly, and in increasingly wild fashion to boot. By the end, Sometimes They Come Back Again is completely shorn of any pretense, having degenerated into the type of splatter movie that finds a way to butcher its cast via tarot cards and electrocution. In many ways, it does sort of remind me of Pet Sematary Two in that itís a complete, schlocky 180-degree turn from its predecessor; however, while that film still boasted solid production values, a manic energy, and tons of gore, this one feels more akin to the 90s Amityville movies, a trio of similarly bonkers but cheap productions that donít have much to offer beyond their memorably deranged moments. I suppose thatís better than not having any such moments at all, though; in fact, I feel like the internet should be crawling with insane gifs from Sometimes They Come Back Again. Plus, donít take my word for it: King himself actually allowed his name to appear in these credits, which is more than some ďadaptationsĒ (including the aforementioned Pet Sematary follow-up) can boast.
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