REMOTE OUTPOST presents:
You find yourself on a barren and desolate world, light years from anything or anyone you know… Without much food or water, your oxygen running low, you strike out for the distant hills… After days of torturous climbing, you see an oasis below. An installation of quonset huts bedecked with hundreds of television antennae. Congratulations, Traveler, you’ve reached… THE REMOTE OUTPOST.
SOMETIMES… THEY COME BACK WITH A SEQUEL
A little while back we discussed the made-for-TV movie SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK (1991), with Tim Matheson and Brooke Adams, based on a Stephen King short story. Five years later, producers released a direct-to-video sequel entitled SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK… AGAIN (1996). There is only a tenuous connection to the original, as we shall see. Trimark, the production company behind this sequel, was formerly Vidmark, whose investors owned 20/20 Video—this gave them a unique resource for making sure each project would turn a profit, and it seems all their direct-to-DVD ventures did so. They were later purchased by some obscure company named (checks notes) Lionsgate.
SOMETIMES… AGAIN jumps right in with eerie music and an old woman fondling the world’s largest butcher knife. She cuts her finger… Her razor-sharp knives are within easy reach while Band-Aids are on the topmost shelf—really? As she strains to reach those pesky adhesive bandages, they move away. Gramma falls and strikes her head on a cast iron pig… Cut to an ambiguous and crappy set, where sparks fly from a junction box over a pool of oil or sewage and something humanoid begins to emerge… By now people were either glued to their set or turning to MURDER, SHE WROTE (1984-1996).
Our protagonist, Michael Gross (FAMILY TIES, 1982-1989, and TREMORS, 1990), is Dr. Jon Porter, a kindly psychiatrist. Dr. Jon is one of those “there is nothing in the dark that wasn’t there in the light” types… Just the kind of guy you want to see plagued by demons, ghosts or alien zombies. His demon-fodder-daughter (Hmmm… note to self: next project to be called “Demon Fodder Daughter,” or “Our Fodder, Who is a Daughter”) Michelle is played by Hillary Swank (also in some awfully fine films, and some finely awful ones like THE CORE, 2003 and THE REAPING, 2007). Michelle tells her dad Gramma is dead.
Off to the funeral! Guests include Jules and Maria, played by Jennifer Elise Cox (“Jan” in THE BRADY BUNCH MOVIE, 1995) and Jennifer Aspen (“Kathy” in A VERY BRADY SEQUEL, 1996). Jules is a nice girl with psychic tendencies, and her friend Maria is a boozing slut. Also in attendance is that horror movie staple, the Crazy Old Man, or C.O.M. This fellow is always the harbinger of doom and sometimes the “Keeper of the Exposition.” He is often a gardener (usually first glimpsed with sharp shears or monstrous hedge clippers), the owner of a desert gas station (keeps gila monsters as pets) or, as he is here, a man of the cloth.
Absent at the funeral but there bright and early the next day is a King staple, the mentally-challenged character. However, he has no psychic ability or supernatural power, which King’s characters (like Tom Cullen of THE STAND or John Coffey of THE GREEN MILE) usually do. The gardener is named Steve (hmm) and has a mower with “Speed Racer” painted on the side. Hmmm… nice guy, riding lawnmower, demons… I think we can all see where this is going.
Dr. Jon and his daughter bond while packing up Gramma’s junk. Both Gross and Swank are accomplished actors, and there is an ease and believability here missing from a lot of low-budget horror. (I believe it’s called “acting.”) We also meet Gramma’s pet pig Newton… (Named for Pig Newtons, the pork and fruit cookie sensation.)
Going through Gramma’s crap, Dr. Jon finds a pair of binoculars. He flashes back to being a kid, up in the ol’ tree house with his best friend, spying on his older sister (really?) and her friend as they undress. (Dr. John’s sister wears a pocket watch on a chain around her neck, which is important.) They see the arrival of Tony Reno, played by Robert (later Alexis) Arquette (THE WEDDING SINGER, 1998 and BRIDE OF CHUCKY, 1998), and his two no-goodnik friends, Vinnie and Sean, played by Bojesse Christopher (DEAD SILENCE, 1991 and SLEEPWALKERS, 1992) and Glen Beaudin ( Malcolm Frink on SUPERHUMAN SAMURAI SYBER-SQUAD, 1994-1995—I never saw this show, but I did like typing “Malcolm Frink).
Back in present day, Michelle finds clippings of her late aunt that proclaim, “Young Girl Found Dead in Cave.” She also takes us on a tour of the world’s creepiest doll collection – including one doll with just empty eye sockets (I think Mattel’s “Baby No-Eyes™” was a big seller that year).
Michelle grabs a burger with her new pals (The Psychic and the Slut, new this fall!) and Jules demonstrates her psychic gifts. A stranger puts a quarter in the jukebox, and it’s… Tony Reno. Michelle admires a feminine pocket watch necklace Tony wears, so he gives it to her.
The next day, friendly Tony Reno drops by with flowers. I will say, this was one of the better scenes in the movie. When Tony turns and reveals himself, Michael Gross does a great job of subtly registering recognition. He then calmly picks up a fireplace poker and, without brandishing it, asks Tony what they can “do” for him. Demon and dad’s eyes lock, then Tony smiles and lets himself out.
That night, Dr. Jon hears Michelle moaning—he finds her straddling demonic-looking Tony as his flesh-colored tail? tentacle? wraps around her. The scene manages to be erotic and disgusting at the same time, and Dr. Jon wakes with a start, probably reminding himself that “sometimes, a tentacle is just a tentacle.”
Through a series of flashbacks, we learn that Dr. Jon’s big sister was killed by the demonic trio as part of a ritual – and that Lil’ Dr. Jon (also new this fall!) electrocuted them and sent them into the abyss… (not permanently, tho’, ya knucklehead!).
Back in the present, Dr. Jon goes to pay a visit to Father Old Man (first name Crazy). The church is nice and modern on the outside and the inside… but downstairs? Hooboy. Accessed by a secret trapdoor, the decor is all cobwebs and occult drawings. Father C.O.M. tells Dr. Jon that thirty years ago he interrupted a cabalistic sabbath. Father C.O.M. has been keeping the demons at bay with his own blood, but he is growing old and weak. He tells Dr. Jon his sister was a sacrifice, and no one knows precisely when a cabalistic sabbath is… My guess is you wait for an email from the Abyss. Something on the order of:
CABALISTIC SABBATH NEXT TUES.
Sacrifice, demonic resurrection, face-painting for the kids
Bring a non-alcoholic beverage and a covered dish – no potato salad
Father C.O.M. gives Dr. Jon a book and tells him to look up Jim Norman, another fellow who “interrupted a cabalistic sabbath.” Aha! So there’s our connection to Movie #1.
Meanwhile, Slow Steve gets acquainted with his mower. Lots of blood spray and then a severed hand in the grass. Tony makes some terrible quips (“Looks like a bad hair day!” and “Mind giving me a hand?”). Yech.
Back at the mine, Tony draws a pentagram with Steve’s ground-up teeth (nice), then consecrates the pit/pond with blood from Steve’s severed hand. Another demon rises, complete with stubby little horns and an extremely long prehensile tail. The demon is nude, and its genitalia is an odd lump. I have to give the director/makeup team props for at least addressing sexuality in such a creature. The new demon convulses and becomes Vinnie.
Dr. Jon calls Jim Norman, but Jim’s “wife” says he died that morning. It’s actually Tony Reno! All we see of the brave school teacher from the original movie is a hand and forearm dangling in the frame, bleeding out.
At home, Jules and Maria throw a birthday party for Michelle—just the three of them. Possibly the most depressing 18th birthday party ever. Especially when they go to the kitchen and find a pentagram drawn in blood and Newton the pig’s severed head in the fridge.
Worst… party… ever.
The Sheriff is called in—she’s a petite, gum-cracking woman with a comically oversized sheriff’s hat. Although a pet pig has been decapitated, she doesn’t seem too concerned. Is she in league with the demons, or does every party in this town end with a pig losing his head?
Dr. Jon realizes someone else must die for Tony’s last friend to rise. He also sees allusions to a “False Prophet,” who can keep the latch or gate closed by severing a finger – AHA! (In King’s original story, the teacher had to amputate a finger to rid himself of the demons, but this was not in the first film.)
Michelle’s friend Maria seems solely concerned with booze and getting in Tony Reno’s demon-drawers. Even when she finds human teeth in his pocket she says nothing. This girl really needs to get out more.
After necking in the woods, Vinnie tells Maria she has ears “cute enough to nibble on…” (Uh oh!) Maria tells him she has a “surprise” for him. While Vinnie closes his eyes, she removes her top – Vinnie smiles and says, “I have a surprise for you, too…” Maria opens her eyes to find Vinnie all demon-y. She screams and it’s the last we see of the carefree girl with the mini-bar purse.
Back at the home of Dr. Jon is a’studyin’ on demonology. In one of the best scenes in the movie, third demon Sean delivers a package—Michelle opens it to find Maria’s ears with her diamond earrings still in them. A thoughtful note says, “Thought Michelle might like these.” Michelle—who apparently got ears for her last birthday—screams.
Father Crazy tells Dr. Jon he must desecrate Tony like he has desecrated him. Huh? Then, Father C.O.M. gives Dr. and daughter a one-item scavenger hunt: find something Tony has touched, that Dr. Jon’s sister touched, that the Darkness has also touched. Can you guess? (Hint: tick, tick, tick.)
Tony and his pals take Jules to the top of a dam – who knew there was a dam in the vicinity? Tony gives Jules a tarot reading, flinging cards so they embed in her palm, forehead, etc. (Insert joke about being “damned” and “carded” here.)
At home, Dr. Jon and Michelle frantically look for the watch Tony stole from Dr. Jon’s sister and gave to Michelle.
In the church basement, Father C. intones, “In the magic circle the False Prophet must sever a digit.” Using a ceremonial knife, Father C. cuts off his thumb – there is surprisingly little blood. Before performing the rest of the ritual, Tony and friends kill the old coot. Michelle is certainly going to remember this birthday!
Arriving at the church, Dr. Jon and Michelle split up because she refuses to go down into the wacky basement. Dr. Jon finds the corpse of Father Crazy. Instead of rushing to check on his daughter (The Demon Fodder), he pokes around while Michelle is being called out of the church by the voice of Jules… (Point of discussion: If Tony and friends were already in the church, why lure her outside now? Act out different parts with your lab partner.)
Dr. Jon sees the demons have used blood to write: “See no evil,” “Hear no evil” and “Speak no evil.” At this point, I was really wishing a demonic monkey would appear to liven things up.
At the mine, Michelle is trussed up and Tony draws a pentagram in blood on Michelle’s chest as she wails. Just before Tony stabs her, dad arrives and shoots him in the head. Tony reverts to his demon form, as do the others. They chain Dr. Jon to the electrical panel in a manner that is laughable, and he escapes and grabs yet another handy severed cable. The demons, who apparently forgot everything from the beginning of the movie, cross the oily pit/pool to get him and Dr. Jon electrocutes them. As they convulse and scream, Dr. Jon severs his own thumb and then smashes the watch, telling Tony, “Die you miserable (expletive deleted).” Tony, ever the wise guy, says, “Catch ya later” as he and the others are sucked down into the Abyss.
It seems like a happy ending, Dr. Jon’s ghost sister even waves goodbye, but, at the end of the credits, Tony Reno proclaims, “I’m back!”
For all my carping and snide remarks, SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK… AGAIN is not a horrible movie. It’s definitely low budget, but its performers help elevate the material, and the makeup work is quite good for a direct-to-DVD effort. I especially liked that each demon looked different. The mythology is a bit muddled, and that mineshaft is a giant plot hole as well as a literal one – is it running? If not, why is the power on? If it’s a going concern, why is no one ever working there? Why is that pool/pond/pit still there? Why are the shackles that held Dr. Jon’s sister years ago still there? Questions, questions.
It’s clearly not up to the benchmark of the original King story, although they do borrow the severed finger angle. The film was directed by Adam Grossman, who also directed the regrettable Wes Craven remake of CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1998) for Trimark. The movie was written by the director with Guy Riedel, who also conceived the story. Reidel is better known as a producer, having been involved with such films as WEDDING CRASHERS (2005), CLOVERFIELD (2008) and SUPER 8 (2011).
All in all, it would be a fine rental to razz with your friends while admitting that some of the acting and makeup were above average.
SUPPLEMENTAL TRANSMISSION: Mr. Soares kindly pointed out that I never reviewed or mentioned 666 PARK AVENUE in my last column about the Fall 2012 TV season. I was looking forward to the Terry O’Quinn’s next endeavor, post-LOST (2004-2010), but the promos didn’t wow me. I watched the pilot and quickly grew bored. When there is some really great stuff on (WALKING DEAD, BOARDWALK EMPIRE, FRINGE), why waste time with mediocre programming? I’ve heard the show has already been cancelled. I hope Mr. O’Quinn goes on to something worth his talents.
© Copyright 2012 by Mark Onspaugh