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A flop at its debut twenty years ago, “They” (Wes Craven Presents: They) is an overlooked gem that will terrify even modern audiences.

 Spoiler Alert: I beg of you, if you haven’t yet seen the movie, go check it out now, even if you never come back and read this. It’s just that damn good. 

The late ‘90s and early 2000s were not a great time for horror movies. Though many titles from that era are recognizable, few of them are considered very good, and even fewer are bona fide classics. Look at this list, and if you even remember any of them very well, tell me I’m wrong:

I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998)
Disturbing Behavior (1998)
Phantoms (1998)
House on Haunted Hill (remake, 1999)
The Haunting (remake, 1999)
The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999)
Final Destination (2000)
Urban Legends: Final Cut (2000)
Leprechaun in the Hood (2000)
Hellraiser: Inferno (2000)
Ghosts of Mars (2001)
Forsaken (2001)
Thirteen Ghosts (2001)

One of the things most of those movies had in common (besides mediocrity) was a tableau of GQ tweens on the poster giving bedroom eyes to the camera. By the time 2002 rolled around, it was time for a change. And change came in the form of some much-needed, grittier horror…

Resident Evil with its action-packed scenes and sublime gore, The Ring with its slick Americanization of the groundbreaking Japanese ghost story from 1998, 28 Days Later with its fast zombies and badass soundtrack, the original and haunting American version of The Grudge, M. Night Shyamalan’s freaky alien movie Signs, and even some decent independent fare like Dog Soldiers and May.

With new material like that saturating the market, it was difficult for a little movie that could, like Wes Craven Presents: They to stand out above the pack.

It came in 23rd for the month of December after being overshadowed by The Ring and the George Clooney vehicle Solaris on the horror front, as well as huge mainstream successes like Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

In the end, They only managed to make back $16.1 million against a budget of $17 million, making it a technical bomb. However, when you look at the competition it was up against, it’s easy to understand why.

Still, you can’t blame everything on competition; after all, The Ring was up against the same odds and is considered by most horror fans to be a modern classic and ended up banking almost a quarter of a billion at the box office. Then again, it did have almost three times the budget of They and an international market already supporting it thanks to the source material.

And what did the critics have to say about They?

Unfortunately, not enough good things to help it out (not that anyone should give too much of a damn about what the critics think). Reviews were more “mixed” than bad. And even though it retains a 4.5 out of 10 on Rotten Tomatoes, that’s only based on 57 total reviews, a tiny sample size, and a mere quarter of those for The Ring —  which sits at a not-that-much-higher 6.6, comparatively.

In other words, you can’t really go off They’s box office performance or its critical reception if you want a fair idea of the true quality of the film.

The best thing you can do is what I did, which is to watch it and make up your own mind.

Even if you saw it a long time ago, there’s a good chance you may have lumped it in with the other, similarly marketed movies during that period and didn’t give it a fair shake.

Perusing the old reviews, what I saw most lambasted was its alleged lack of originality, even though I have yet to find another film about night terrors besides a documentary called The Nightmare (2015), which is more focused on cases of sleep paralysis and a couple of in-name-only low-budget stinkers from 1993 and 2014.

There are other films with similar themes, to be sure, such as Darkness Falls (2003) and Boogeyman (2005). But not only did those come out later, they are also objectively worse (by all critical and audience metrics).

But despite its actually having an original premise, some pretty decent FX for its time, and horror maestro Wes Craven’s name attached to it, for whatever reason, THEY failed to connect with audiences.

So why bother digging it out of the closet now?

Well, not only did the film just celebrate its 20th anniversary (November 27, 2002), but it also happens to be my personal favorite horror movie.

So, in much the same way I talked up Rockula (1990), which is my favorite horror comedy musical romance movie of all time, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to show some love for a film that I have watched at least a dozen times and which still scares the shit out of me.


For starters, it begins on a dark and stormy night in a little boy’s bedroom, with a cracked open closet door and a room full of scary-looking toys (no wonder the kids in these movies always wind up traumatized).

Mom leaves the bedroom door open a crack after checking under the bed, but soon the kid (Alexander Gould, the voice of the title character in Disney’s Finding Nemo) is alone in the dark with nothing but his blanket and a malfunctioning flashlight for protection…and wouldn’t you know it, the boogeyman comes after him.

Fast-forward to 2002 when the kid is all grown up, only now he’s certain that whatever was after him then (and caused him to disappear for two days) has come back for him for some sinister, unknown purpose.

After a brief introduction to his childhood best friend, our lovely protagonist, psychology grad student Julia Lund (Laura Regan, Dead Silence, Mad Men), is summoned to a diner by the utterly distraught Billy (Jon Abrahams, House of Wax).

He reveals that the night terrors they both suffered as children have been plaguing him as an adult and that he believes “they” are coming for him.

Explaining that he’s been doing research on whatever has been tormenting him and that he hasn’t slept in days, he warns Julia to watch for the signs of their return (such as malfunctioning electronics, crying babies, and flickering lights) and then commits suicide in front of her.

Julia seeks comfort from her boyfriend, a paramedic named Paul (Marc Blucas, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) but soon starts experiencing unusual visions of her own.

Her visions include a portal behind a bathroom mirror that leads to a nightmarish dimension filled with dark, hideous creatures, the same kind that spirited Billy away during the film’s opening.

The next day, at the funeral, she meets two friends of Billy’s, Sam (Ethan Embry, Empire Records, Can’t Hardly Wait) and Terry (Dagmara Dominczyk, The Count of Monte Cristo, Kinsey).

They also had night terrors as children and later reveal that they are starting to believe some of the things Billy was writing in his journals and that they are not only experiencing terrifying visions themselves but that they have been “marked” with a sore on their bodies that won’t heal, something that happened to Billy towards the end of his oppression by the creatures.

Throughout the remainder of the film, “they” get closer and closer to Julia, first coming after Terry and Sam, then eventually Julia herself, who goes to her childhood psychologist, Dr. Booth (Jay Brazeau, Stargate SG-1), for guidance.

On one of her visits, Julia meets a little girl (Jodelle Ferland, Silent Hill, Case 39) who is a patient of Dr. Booth and is marked similarly to Sam and Terry; she tells Julia that “they” come for her in her nightmares. When Julia asks what “they” want, the child simply replies, “To eat me.”

The other-dimensional creatures look like a cross between xenomorphs and Gollum. But throughout most of the film, they remain just out of sight, amorphous, and obscured by darkness and shadows.

It’s a wise choice by the filmmakers, who probably understood that even though the mostly CGI creature FX were above average for their time, it was the audience’s imagination filling in the blanks that would be most terrifying.


I could not find any evidence online that Wes Craven had direct involvement with this movie apart from allowing his name to be attached to it. There are eight movies that Craven allowed to use his name:

Wes Craven Presents: Mind Ripper (1995)
Wes Craven Presents: Wishmaster (1997)
Wes Craven Presents: Carnival of Souls (1998)
Wes Craven Presents: Don’t Look Down (1998)
Wes Craven Presents: Dracula 2000 (2000)
Wes Craven Presents: They (2002)
Wes Craven Presents: Dracula II: Ascension (2003)
Wes Craven Presents: Dracula III: Legacy (2005)

To be honest, Wishmaster is the only one I’ve seen in its entirety.

But in a search on almost any browser, the first title that comes up when you type in “Wes Craven Presents” is They, so it at least has the distinction of being the most popularly searched title in that series of films.

While no one would begrudge the master of horror (The Hills Have Eyes, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Scream, to name a few) an easy paycheck, it’s hard to believe that he would allow just any movie to carry his name without at least being given a pitch for the film. So, it’s pretty safe to assume that he at least knew what the movie was about.

And if you think about the themes (nightmarish creatures, night terrors, other dimensions, boogeymen), it’s not hard to imagine him giving They his blessing.

But whether he did or not, after considering how scary the movie is, fans of both the film and the director should not be so quick to dismiss the fact that for better or worse, his name is still attached to it and, at least in this writer’s opinion, deserves to be.


As with most of my favorite horror films (1977’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake, the 1986 remake of The Fly, John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness, etc.), They has a decidedly downbeat ending.

Unfortunately for Julia, she fails to find a way to defeat the creatures that are after her.

But in an alternate ending which is included in the 2003 DVD release, it turns out that the entire thing was just in her head and that the characters from the movie were actually mental patients and staff members at the mental hospital where she lives in a small room (in a bit of mean-spiritedness, the creatures end up getting her anyway in a final jump scare).


Easy. Laura Regan.

Laura practically carries the entire film on her shoulders — from the introduction of her character as a studious grad student with a love for life despite a tragic past, to her genuine concern for her friend and, later, his friends, to her stressed but loving relationship with her romantic leading man. Through it all, and most importantly through her descent into madness punctuated by more terror than most of us could possibly imagine, the beautiful actress expresses the whole gambit of emotion.

She performs, at the tender age of 24, like a professional many years her senior. It’s easy to see why she went on to find success in other Hollywood films and on TV.

It also has an incredibly haunting score by Elia Cmiral (Stigmata, Wrong Turn), which is available on CD, as well as eerie and atmospheric cinematography by Rene Ohashi (Nikita, To Catch a Killer), and a very original story by Brendan Hood (The Deaths of Ian Stone).

Apart from the solid acting and production, perhaps the most important bit of horror cred this movie has (Craven’s name drop notwithstanding) is that it was directed by Robert Harmon. Harmon directed the second-best movie Rutger Hauer ever did (not going to challenge Blade Runner), The Hitcher (1986), which is one of the scariest, most suspenseful movies of the ‘80s.


Good question. You probably shouldn’t. I am clearly in the tank for this movie (in large part because I suffered from night terrors both as a child and an adult, which is relatively rare), and I think the gossamer, waif-like Laura Regan is one of the most beautiful women ever to walk the planet (if I’d been asked to cast Galadriel for the new Lord of the Rings TV show, she would have been my first choice).

But I wouldn’t just recommend any personal favorite to my beloved Morbidly Beautiful readership without testing it first.

So, of course, I sat down with my skeptical, slasher-loving best friend, my wife, my teen-aged kids, and a few other close friends before making my final verdict to see how they would react to it. And wouldn’t you know it – they jumped at all the right places, talked about how terrifying it was, and sat through the whole movie without playing on their phones or getting up to go to the bathroom.

If that doesn’t scream, “Check this movie out,” I don’t know what else does.

Watch it late at night with the lights off, especially if you’re looking for some real nightmare fuel and are as big a fan of “the boogeyman” as I am.


3 Records

  1. on July 30, 2023 at 9:37 pm
    Jimmy wrote:
    They Yes, agree. Never saw "They" until now (July 2023) on Prime and it's definitely raising my neck hairs, during sunlit hours. I was afraid of the dark as a kid. But happily got over that in my 20s, living in remote area where bears and cougars really were night time monsters and you needed your wits. Around that time I had an experience with sleep paralysis where suddenly awake but frozen I saw a figure in my closet, but kept my eyes open and it slowly dissolved. I realized it was an image from a dream I still remembered. The image was still in my visual cortex, now superimposed on my waking image of the closet. That was a huge realization about the nature of these ghostly images. But I still love horror films and "They" is awesome.
    • on July 30, 2023 at 11:23 pm
      Stephanie Malone wrote:

      Thank you so much for taking the time to share. We’re so grateful for your support of the site and thrilled to hear you enjoyed this movie recommendation.

    • on September 22, 2023 at 9:49 am
      S Michael wrote:

      Hi, Jimmy! Sorry I haven’t gotten around to responding to your awesome post till just now – the day you posted it is actually my birthday – what a cool present! Not sure how it slipped through the cracks, but I really enjoyed reading your thoughts – living with sleep paralysis/night terrors in a remote/already creepy area must have been torturous! I’m glad you were able to relate to the darkness of They!

      I’m also really glad you enjoyed the review, and I am really curious, just because it’s such an underrated gem – are there other movies like this that also scared you? I’m always looking for recommendations for similarly scary movies because I LOVE being scared! Feel free to let me know in the comments or email me at [email protected] – and STAY SCARED!


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