Movies based on short stories by Stephen King have proven time and time again to be a mixed bag and this TV movie adaptation of a tale reprinted in the Night Shift anthology proves to be one of the bad ones. This cloying, mawkish attempt at bottling King’s repeated obsession of the terrors lurking under the surface of small town America aims for chilling and instead nails lukewarm with this undercooked potboiler.
Troubled husband and father Jim Norman has brought his family back to his old home town from Chicago in order to find work as a high school teacher (writers and teachers were King’s hero de jour back in the day) only to have troubles with some of the local students.
Giving some local football playing lunkheads an F is the least of his troubles however when students in his class start dying and are replaced by a gang who dress like the Arthur Fonzarelli fan club and bare a striking resemblance to the street punks who murdered his brother and then died in a fiery train trash when Jim was a child. Anyone usually would write this off as a one in a million coincidence, but as this is King it’s obviously the gang members, back from the dead and looking for some good old fashioned revenge by framing the beleaguered teacher for each of the deaths.
Director Tom McLoughlin, one of the few directors to actually try something new for a Friday the 13th movie (part 6 if you were wondering) disapointingly turns in a movie so extraordinarily bland you are constantly in danger of all traces of it leaving your brain while you’re actually watching it.
We are lucky enough to currently live in a golden age of television where storytelling, performances and production values easily match that of modern cinematic experiences but back in the early 90’s things were very VERY different.
For example, for a tale of revenge from beyond the grave, there is virtually no tension and even less scares (except one mildly startling moment when the gang show a terrified jock their REAL faces) and the whole thing is as predictable as a two-piece jigsaw puzzle.
The performances are pretty much what you’d expect from a TV movie made in 1991 with the melodrama flowing like a waterfall of unsubtle acting and contains many irritating niggles from that era like an over-reliance of flash backs, a tedious opening monologue and the fact that not a single student in Jim’s class looks a day under 31.
Ultimately as boring a film as it is it’s also worth pointing out how sanitized it is compared to the far, far darker source material where the main character does a deal with a demon to take care of the undead hoodlums that involves cutting off his fingers. Here the messy climax throws in goofy portals to heaven, a hokey ghost train from Hell and a “touching” reunion between Jim and his dead brother that evokes more yawns than tears.
The whole thing ends up as an exercise in self-defeat as the effort of filming the more down beat source material means it’s tamed for TV which in turn makes it horribly toothless and therefore doesn’t retain the power of the story anymore, so what the Hell was the point in making it in the first place?
Yes, sometimes they come back but also sometimes they shouldn’t bother.