In order to take up a scarce teaching job, Jim Norman (Tim Matheson) returns with his wife and son to the small town where he was raised – a place he has shunned since the traumatic death of his brother, Wayne, many years before, at the hands of a gang of hoodlums, who in turn perished when a train crashed into their souped-up car.
Jim gets landed with teaching history to a class of jocks and ne'er-do-wells. But, as though that weren't nightmare enough, his pupils start dying in mysterious circumstances, their seats in class being taken by the aforementioned hoodlums, back from the grave and as nasty as ever. Soon they're prowling round town in their hotrod, stirring up trouble for our hero.
It's a story with all the usual Stephen King key-notes – a small town setting, a beleaguered family man, nostalgia for the 50s and early 60s, a fondness for baseball and muscle cars. Yet, as in a Morecambe and Wise piano recital, the notes don't seem to be in quite the right order. Perhaps intimidated to be working on source material by such a heavy-hitter, veteran TV director Tom McLoughlin loses his way in a tangle of histrionic flashbacks, while having no idea what to do with the 1950s iconography the story invokes (the resurrected hoodlums, with their flick-knives, leather jackets and slicked-back hair, are doppelgängers for the baddies in “Stand By Me” (1986), but come across at times as refugees from a “Happy Days” fan meet.)
That said, McLoughlin is much more sure of his footing when the time comes for some colourful, EC comics style gross-out moments in the third reel. And Matheson, although a little old and stolid to be playing poor, flaky Jim, is dependably rugged and sincere throughout. Thanks largely to him, “Sometimes They Come Back,” although far from being perfect, should be of interest to King addicts.