ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, DEC. 5, 2002
The makers of They thought that by throwing the name of horror master Wes Craven around—as in “Wes Craven Presents They”—they would garner interest in the film from the millions of moviegoers who made the Craven-created Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream series so successful. But judging by the dismal turnout at the opening-night screening I attended at Metrotown, the ploy didn’t work.
Maybe they should have tried putting somebody—anybody!—in the film that people might know. I mean, Laura Regan and Marc Blucas? Ethan Embry and Dagmara Dominczyk? Cripes, the only actor I recognized in this Vancouver-shot flick was local theatre veteran Jay Brazeau. Oh, and BC CTV’s Tamara Taggart, of course. After a similar stint in last year’s wretched Halloween: Resurrection, the fresh-faced TV cloud pusher seems to have cornered the market on playing fresh-faced TV newscasters in bad horror flicks made here.
Even with its no-name cast and its cheesy attempt to cash in on the Craven name, I still had hope for They because I knew it had been directed by Robert Harmon. Now, this guy isn’t that well known either, but cult-horror fans should remember him as the director of the best fright flick of 1986, The Hitcher. How someone who could helm a film as relentlessly creepy and suspenseful as The Hitcher could deliver a dud like They is beyond me.
Well, not totally beyond me. For The Hitcher, Harmon was working from a script by Eric Red, whose writing talent would result a year later in the awesome redneck-vampire opus, Near Dark.
Brendan William Hood, the screenwriter of They, is no Eric Red. Everything his characters do is either predictable or unbelievable. Most of them, like Regan’s psychology student Julia Dunn, are young people in their 20s who start experiencing the same “night terrors” they suffered as kids, which means that whenever it gets dark—or convenient power outages occur—there is much scrabbling of demon claws in the shadows, and strange voicings borrowed from the velociraptors in Jurassic Park.
We’re only allowed split-second glimpses of the scurrying creatures, but the mystique that’s built up surrounding their form and ferocity pays off with just a couple of tense moments, as when Dominczyk’s Terry, investigating the freaky sounds, stuffs herself in a heating vent, risking an Alien-like ambush.
The rest of the time you’re left wondering if you even want these brain-dead and poorly drawn characters to escape their slithery stalkers.