I had a somewhat complex and rocky relationship with the “Children of the Corn” franchise when I was younger, but we broke up before its completion, probably because it wasn’t satisfying my needs and I had started seeing other franchises on the side. I was a huge Stephen King fanatic as a kid and…by Stephen King fanatic, I actually mean that I loved the adaptations of his books and not the books themselves…I adored the likes of “The Shining“, “Pet Sematary“, “Christine“, “Salem’s Lot“, “It (1990)“, “Sometimes They Come Back“, “The Stand“, “The Langoliers“, “Pet Sematary 2“…”The Graveyard Shift“…”Sleepwalkers“…Hey, don’t look at me like that! This was during an age when I thought “Jaws: The Revenge” was quality cinema! I assure you that my tastes have improved, which is why you can always trust me when I encourage you to watch respectable, classy films like the “Carnosaur” trilogy. Anyway- I tried to get through Stephen King’s novels, particularly “The Shining“, but I was too young to really appreciate his style and skill. Continuing this personal flashback, I also had some fond memories of the “Children of the Corn” franchise, back when it was about as young as I was. I remember enjoying the grisly violence, because that was pretty much all it took to entertain 12 year old me, along with the farm-themed weapons (which I found to be creepier than the kids themselves). I remained faithful to the franchise all the way through “Children of the Corn 4“, but never got around to watching “Children of the Corn 5“, because I was now in my “Scream” phase. When “Children of the Corn 6” was released on VHS, I was curious and picked up a copy at my local video store, but the movie was so terrifyingly boring that I was scared off from pursuing the franchise any further. But a couple of years ago, I watched a documentary surrounding 1980’s horror flicks and was stunned when they started showing footage of the original “Children of the Corn” , because I didn’t recognize a single image. It turns out that I had actually watched “Children of the Corn 2” and somehow got the two titles confused! How could I- an obsessive horror fan boy with a compulsion for franchises- have watched “Children of the Corn 666: Isaac’s Return“, but not the original cult classic? I was so ashamed of myself that I shrugged my shoulders indifferently and moved on with my life…But now I do this ‘Compulsive Franchise Disorder‘ thing, so why not finish it?
CHILDREN OF THE CORN (1984)
(Directed by Fritz Kiersch)
(Written by George Goldsmith)
(Starring Peter Horton, Linda Hamilton and John Franklin)
Stephen King penned “Children of the Corn” as a short story in 1977 and one year later, it could be read as part of “Night Shift“, a collection of short stories. During the early 1980’s, the film industry had suddenly become very interested in King thanks to the horror boom and sought to adapt many of his hottest properties, which makes it odd that “Children of the Corn” ended up being part of the first wave of Stephen King adaptations. It’s a solid short story, but it hardly ranks as one of his masterpieces and you’d think filmmakers, producers and studios would be interested in works that have enough material to stretch out into a full length feature film. Apparently King wrote the first draft of the script himself, but it was rejected in favor of something a little more conventional, a snub that would drive a wedge between King and the franchise to this day. Anyway, Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton play a traveling couple, who are stranded in a remote town that has been taken over by murderous, cultist children. They worship an entity known as ‘He Who Walks Behind the Rows’, who apparently commanded them to slaughter their own parents, as this religion does not favor adults. While panned by critics, “Children of the Corn (1984)” was financially successful and would develop enough of a cult following to spawn 8- going on 9- sequels, although I’m not entirely sure why. The movie has not aged very well, assuming it was ever ‘good’. The irony is that I do think it’s competently shot, scored, edited, etc. and there is some memorable imagery surrounding the cornfields and the farm-themed weapons. Yet it ultimately crumbles underneath the weight of a broken narrative.
The story unfolds as a mystery, as our protagonists are trying to piece together the puzzle that is the town of Gatlin, but the filmmakers make one critical error…they reveal EVERYTHING in the opening scene! So much of the content is dedicated to the characters trying to find out what happened to the adults and why the kids are acting so suspiciously, but the audience already knows all the answers to this mystery and are just waiting for the characters to catch up…for about half of the f@cking movie! This deflated any potential for suspense within the narrative and left me feeling kind of bored. Wouldn’t it have been creepier if we spent most of the running-time not knowing what befell the residents of Gatlin? The wasted potential was embodied in the scene where an elderly character is stalked by the titular children, as the filmmakers do a decent job at setting up the suspense…for a little bit…Something moves in the background, but we don’t get a good look at ‘who’ or ‘what’, giving our imaginations some exercise. The ambiance picks up, introducing a feeling of dread as you realize that something terrible is lurking in the shadows…and then a static shot of a menacing kids face completely ruins the mood, because we now know the threat and it’s just a f@cking kid. The flaw gets a reprisal during the finale, as after some pretty impressive build up, ‘He Who Walks Behind the Rows’ turns out to be a cheesy special effect…Disappointing…The pacing is supposed to be ‘slow burn’, but because we know where it’s going, it ends up just being slow. Watching characters walk around and comment about how weird the town is gets old very quickly, which isn’t helped by how badly written our protagonists are. They run over a child with their car and then TAKE A NAP!? SERIOUSLY!? What kind of asshole leaves his wife in a mysterious house that is filled with drawings of children murdering adults, so shortly after coming across a boy whose throat has been slit? These characters aren’t presented as jerks, but they’re so dumb that you don’t feel inclined to root for them. I’ll give credit to Linda Hamilton and Peter Horton for doing their best and their collective charm and chemistry sometimes re-attached my interest. But the movie relies too much on the child actors, who are all bad. Courtney Gains was imposing enough as Malachai, but Robby Kiger (Job) kept getting on my nerves. His dialogue was the primary culprit though, as his snarky attempts at being funny only derail the tone even further and his voice-over narration was just horrible. The filmmakers should’ve reduced the screen-time dedicated to the kids, keeping their dialogue to a minimum, which would’ve made them creepier and maybe I could even take them seriously as threats…With that said, was I supposed to take any of this seriously?
The sound design was so campy that I was even suppressing giggles when a child was being brutally murdered. I suppose it’s possible the director realized that the subject matter was too dark and that the cheesiness would make it easier to swallow, but the cinematographer seems to be striving for unease and the ‘scares’ are mostly conventional in their staging, so the tone ends up being very inconsistent. The score is actually quite memorable, yet it’s mixed so poorly that it sounds awkward in relation to the visuals. But these are token criticisms and I could’ve easily just summed up my feelings as “Children of the Corn” is bad, but in a mostly yawn inducing way. I spent most of my viewing experience wishing things would move along faster and lamented the wasted cinematography, which gets completely upstaged by the lame effects and editing choices. There were a few moments that provided some unintentional amusement, like when the two main kids are stationed as lookouts and when instructed by their doomed comrade to make sure ‘no one is looking’, the girl screams out “NO ONE IS LOOKING! NO ONE IS LOOKING!” over and over again. No one might’ve been looking, but I’m pretty sure everyone heard you, ya dumb brat. The presence of John Franklin (Isaac) is surreal because he’s actually a 25 year old man playing a child. He suffers from a growth hormone deficiency, which allows him to appear younger than he really is, but I wasn’t aware of any of this while I was watching the movie. I was just thinking that there was something uncanny about him, as he’s too small to be an adult, but his face has aged too much for him to actually be a kid. His performance is often considered to be the best part of the film and while I agree that he’s a much better actor than the actual children, his hammy delivery felt out-of-place to me. I do see his appeal though and maybe if his screen-time wasn’t so limited (he only appears sporadically), he might’ve saved “Children of the Corn” for me too. As is, the flick is dull. Keep in mind that the source material was a SHORT story, which means the filmmakers are obviously going to struggle with stretching out the content to fill a single film. I’m not surprised that the final product feels too thin on material to warrant its own existence, but I am a little surprised that they kept stretching until they had a 10-movie series out of it…*gulps*
CHILDREN OF THE CORN II: THE FINAL SACRIFICE (1992)
(Directed by David Price)
(Written by A L Katz and Gilbert Adler)
(Starring Terence Knox, Paul Scherrer and Ryan Bollman)
“Children of the Corn” had been a modest financial success, but apparently no one was interested in making an immediate follow-up, because it would be 8 years before we got a sequel. The timing was strange though, as horror movies were gradually losing their mainstream appeal and predictably enough, “Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice” under-performed at the box office. The rest of the saga would then be doomed to live the rest of its days in in direct-to-video hell, consuming all who dare to witness its sins against cinema…and yes, I have also noticed that “Children of the Corn II” crowned itself “The Final Sacrifice“, two movies into a 10-movie franchise. “The Final Sacrifice” takes place immediately after the events of the first film, where the surviving children of Gatlin are adopted by a neighboring town. John Garrett (Terence Knox) is a struggling reporter who arrives with his estranged son Danny (Paul Scherrer) to investigate the bloody incident. Soon, the children start congregating in the corn fields and the adults start dying in mysterious, absurd ways…Is ‘He Who Walks Behind the Rows’ back? Is “The Final Sacrifice” better or worse than “Children of Corn“? Um, I guess it depends on what you want out of it. I think the first film had superior direction, editing, cinematography and acting- BUT ONLY BY THE ADULTS. “The Final Sacrifice” was better when it came to the child actors, as most of the dialogue went to the older ones and they said very little. From a technical perspective though, this sequel is a step down. It’s adequately staged and shot, but it’s very workmanlike, as if everyone involved was competent enough, but had no inspiration to do anything interesting. The director attempts some stylistic flourishes, but they’re very derivative of other films (ex: “Predator“, “Tremors“) and seem awkwardly out-of-place. The writers tried a lot harder and I do think they turned in a slightly better script, if only because we get to see the children gradually take over the town. Even though “Children of the Corn” might be the more polished film, I think this one is more entertaining because stuff actually seems to be happening. There are a lot more deaths and twists, even if said deaths are silly and said twists are poorly realized. I said they tried, I did not say they penned a stellar script. At one point, they reveal that the townsfolk are mixing contaminated crops with the good stuff and it’s speculated that this might be what’s driving the kids crazy. An intriguing possibility, but the problem is that we’ve already seen proof of the supernatural prior to this scene and we see it again afterwards, so this ‘twist’ fails to function as either a red herring or a reveal. They spend so much time on building up the troubled Father-Son relationship, but there isn’t much of a purpose or pay-off to it and don’t even get me started on the conventionally shallow love stories. I HATE conventionally shallow love stories.
The movie is very cheesy for a variety of reasons, such as the overly dramatic scare chords, the silly ominous chanting, the cartoonishly evil Sheriff, the bad special effects, the 1990’s fashions, the dumb character moments and the hammy, awkward performances by the adult actors. I think a lot of this was intentional based on the silly death sequences, particularly one where bingo players witness a grisly demise first hand, but it aint going to stop their game! The writers also named some of the victims after ‘The Wicked Witches of the East/West’ and yes…one gets a house dropped on them. There were times where the actors got so bug eyed that I had to assume they were intentionally aiming for camp and that made “The Final Sacrifice” easier to swallow. This kind of tone was common in the early 1990’s, as the genre had grown stale and was entering its self-parody phase. The filmmakers weren’t being creative or ambitious by embracing the silliness, as everyone was doing that on some level, but at least the status quo kept the tone consistent. I did sometimes laugh and as goofy as the kills were, the film is fairly bloody and mean spirited. I would rather watch a f@cking ludicrous sequence where the kids use a remote control car to possess the electric wheel chair of an old crone than an entire movie of two characters walking around, trying to learn what we saw in the first five minutes. Yet even though this is “more” entertaining than the first film, I can’t call it ‘entertaining’, because the characters are just too unpleasant. Everyone is always bitching, bickering and being aggressive and hostile ALL. THE. F@CKING. TIME! Micah (Ryan Bollman) is the cult leader who is actively seeking the deaths of all adults, yet even he seemed a lot more amicable than our leads. Why must nearly every interaction be uncomfortable and vitriolic? The only character I liked was Frank Redbear (Ned Romero), but he always has to share the screen with John, whose gruff, rude skepticism contaminated all of their scenes…and maybe the rest of the movie. He was just so unlikable! The second half becomes a little more action oriented, so there isn’t enough time for the characters to start whining and snarking at each-other, but the first half was more frustrating than it was worth. I was hoping that nostalgia would save the day here, as this was my first experience with the franchise. I remember liking it back as a kid, but while I could tolerate this as an adult, I can enjoy its strengths elsewhere- like with “Carnosaur“, “Maximum Overdrive“, “Dead Sushi“, etc.). Those movies have all the cheesiness one can ask for without the sour taste of vitriol.
CHILDREN OF THE CORN III: URBAN HARVEST (1995)
(Directed by James D.R. Hickox)
(Written by Dode B. Levenson)
(Starring Daniel Cerny, Ron Melendez and Nancy Lee Grahn)
I watched “Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest” when I was a kid and I hated it so much that I abandoned the franchise for a few years, although the reason for my vitriol was…unusual. You have to realize that this was during an age when I could’ve applied for a membership to the cult of ‘He Who Walks Behind the Rows’ and if I was offered, I’d probably join in protest of my parents not wanting me to watch “Carnosaur 3: Primal Species“. I had already fallen in love with gore and the thrill of being scared, so I was definitely a horror fanatic, yet “Urban Harvest” scared me so much that I had nightmares for a week…It wasn’t my finest moment and I HATED the movie for my girly reaction…But now I am an adult and I can watch “Carnosaur 3: Primal Species” whenever I f@cking want, so did “Urban Harvest” terrify me once more? No. No, it did not…But did I get to see Charlize Theron take a corn monster tentacle to the crotch? Yes. Yes, I did…and for that, I think we can all agree that “Urban Harvest” is probably the best entry within this franchise…Although the fact that it’s actually pretty decent might also have something to do with it being the best entry within this franchise. Interestingly, this was made immediately after “The Final Sacrifice“, but sat on the shelves for three years before being released. I keep hearing conflicting statements as to whether this was distributed theatrically or if it was sent straight to video, although everyone seems to agree that if this did find its way into theaters, it did poorly. The concept had lost its mainstream appeal and the lack of quality entries certainly wasn’t drawing audiences in. I just think it’s a shame that “Urban Harvest” had to be the sequel to suffer the fallout, as its failure discouraged the studio from taking any risks with the franchise. Subsequent sequels might exist thanks to the strong cult following, but now they would be cheaper and stick to a safe formula. “Urban Harvest” surpasses its predecessors and followers because the studio was willing to put some money into it and the filmmakers were given the freedom take the saga in a new direction.
Eli (Daniel Cerny) and Joshua (Ron Melendez) are two farmboys who are placed into foster care when their Father goes ‘missing’ and end up getting adopted by a successful couple in urban Chicago (the farms meets the streets, yo!). They have difficulty fitting in at school, but it turns out that Eli is a worshiper of ‘He Who Walks Behind the Rows’ and he gradually lures the other children into his web. He raises a crop at an abandoned factory and then the adults start dying…The idea to move the crops from the farms and into the streets was a brilliant one at the time, as the old formula had grown stale and the use of ‘Urban Youth’ added more mainstream appeal. This does ultimately mean that “Urban Harvest” has aged somewhat awkwardly, as all 1990’s pop culture has aged somewhat awkwardly, but at least it’s different. Everything about this movie is superior to its predecessors, from the direction to the cinematography to the effects to the acting to the arrangement of the score. This isn’t to say that the movie is works on all levels, but it is a step up and it succeeds in the areas it generally needed to succeed in. For example, Ron Melendez is not a good actor, but he’s not bad enough to have a negative impact on the film, especially because Daniel Cerny has our undivided attention as the new antagonist. Eli creeped me out, because he can deliver the fire-and-brimstone speeches with the same level of intensity as Micah and Isaiah, but he can also be disarmingly sweet. Cerny’s performance balances a childlike innocence with an ancient evil and he’s very charismatic when he wants to be. Not every line is delivered perfectly, but I could see why so many people would fall for his con. The kills are kind of cheesy and sometimes outright ludicrous, but they’re all very mean spirited and I cringed at the fates awaiting these victims. I think what upset me the most as a kid was how unpredictable “Urban Harvest” can be, as it will spend time building up a potential storythread, only to abruptly end it in a deliberately cruel fashion. I can’t really elaborate without spoiling, but there are a few shocking twists. I might’ve hated them as a kid, but I love them as an adult. The finale is insane, where we actually get to see ‘He Who Walks Behind the Rows’ as a giant f@cking plant monster and it’s awesome…and kind of terrible. The visual effects are reminiscent of “The Thing” and sometimes they’re quite good, but other times they’re…a hand puppet playing with dolls in a miniature set…The final confrontation between the two brothers was pretty cheesy as well. But hey, props for the ambition and I did still enjoy “Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest“. It can sometimes induce eye rolling, but it experimented with new ideas, had some money to work with and acquired talented people to make use of the ideas and money. Plus, it terrified a child so much that it spared him from watching some truly shitty sequels…at least for awhile…
CHILDREN OF THE CORN IV: THE GATHERING (1996)
(Directed by Greg Spence)
(Written by Stephen Berger and Greg Spence)
(Starring Naomi Watts, Jamie Renée Smith and Karen Black)
“Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering” was the first entry within the franchise to be released direct-to-video, although it should be noted that it was produced during a time when being direct-to-video was more of a marketing strategy than a guarantee of poor quality. In fact, “The Gathering” is usually considered to be the ‘best’ of the “Children of the Corn” sequels and I can see why. At first, I was going to suggest that this benefited from a bigger budget, as it seemed like the filmmakers had better equipment to work with. The editing, the cinematography and the music arrangement all boasted a certain polish lacking in its predecessors. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that there weren’t many sets, effects or ambitious visuals. The only SFX were based around the (simplistic) gore, making this the first sequel to not overreach with post-production effects. I now suspect that this was the cheapest of the first four films, but I have to give credit to the filmmakers for doing an admirable job of masking the limited production values. They also hired a capable cast, whose stellar performances often overcame the thin writing. The characters are even somewhat endearing, so I didn’t spend every second wishing they would get eaten by a giant corn monster. I remember watching this when I was a kid and feeling indifferent, but as an adult, my appreciation for the boost in technical skill…didn’t make this any less underwhelming…”The Gathering” has some decent gore and it’s too short to be boring, but there isn’t anything particularly interesting or memorable about it. I can’t even think of anything notably terrible about it and the worst thing I can say about “The Gathering” is that it’s anti-climactic. The others had giant monsters and eldritch terrors appearing during the finales, but this ends with a kid wielding a scythe, even though his first scene had him showcasing supernatural powers that he would never use again. That’s not good for any movie, but that isn’t especially horrendous either.
A young Naomi Watts stars as Grace, a med-student who has to return home to care for her troubled Mother (Karen Black) and her two siblings (Jamie Renée Smith, Mark Salling). Eventually the kids start acting strange, developing mysterious fevers, adopting new personalities and developing a homicidal disdain for the adults.”The Gathering” distances itself from the Children of the Corn mythos, never acknowledging the events of its predecessors or even mentioning ‘He Who Walks Behind the Rows’. This can either be good or bad, depending on your perspective, as starting anew frees the story of the burden of continuity and the stigma of being associated with crappy sequels. Godzilla, James Bond and Gamera have all been through this and their franchises were saved because they pushed the reset button. I think “The Gathering” made a mistake by attempting a similar maneuver though, as it stripped away what little the franchise had going for it. Even though there are cornfields and deadly farming equipment, they’re downplayed because the camera doesn’t seem all that interested in lingering on them. They- to me- were a pivotal part in establishing the franchise’s identity and their absence reduces “The Gathering” into a generic, ‘evil child’-themed, horror flick. The script is pretty worthless, as the narrative collapses underneath heaps of dream sequences- which seemingly makes up for 50% of the running-time. They build up to absolutely nothing, as no ones decisions are affected by their nightmares. Karen Black’s character has been having a re-occurring dream that keeps her from wanting to leave her house, but why is she having these dreams? Is Josiah tormenting her? Why? What good is it to alert an enemy of an impending danger, which is even more baffling when Grace starts having nightmares about him as well. These dream sequences only exist to pad out the running-time. Director Greg Spence tries his hardest to scare us, but his efforts only result in an unhealthy serving of cheese. The scare chords and dreams-within-dreams reveals are so overblown that they made me laugh. Josiah was also a pretty weak villain compared to Isaac, Malachi, Micah and Eli, but only because the script is completely uninterested in him. He doesn’t give any sermons like the others, he just occasionally glowers and screams during flash cuts- something else the movie relies too much on. I guess he’s supposed to be frightening because of his burned face, but Josiah is arguably more of an effect than a character and nothing about him unsettled me. “The Gathering” is fast paced, but it moves so fast that it never has any time to build up suspense or atmosphere. While the characters are likable enough, their deaths lack impact because Grace- who has an emotional connection to the majority of this cast- usually doesn’t have time to react to their grisly ends. She doesn’t even learn about a few of them, making the casualties feel insignificant. Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering” is just a movie that seems designed to draw out as minimal of a reaction as possible, for better or worse. Mediocrity at its most mediocre. Yet I am a little worried that I’ll miss this bland-yet-edible serving of ‘Children of the Corn’ by the time this marathon ends…
CHILDREN OF THE CORN V: FIELDS OF TERROR (1998)
(Written and Directed by Ethan Wiley)
(Starring Stacy Galina, Eva Mendes and David Carradine)
I remember seeing a few previews for “Fields of Terror“, but even though the hot chicks, David Carradine and the promise of blood intrigued me, I never got around to watching the actual movie…and thank f@cking God for that, as I would have to start spanking myself right now if I willingly sat through this piece of shit more than once! During the late 1990’s, there was a slasher revival and “Fields of Terror” may have been trying to jump on the bandwagon, or at least it was trying to appear like it was jumping on the bandwagon, because it’s not really the slasher that the trailers suggested it would be. The story follows a group of teenagers, who are traveling across country to put the ashes of their dead friend to rest, but run afoul of a mysterious and dangerous cult centered around children. The script definitely has a lot of the cliches which normally accompanies slashers, particularly when it comes to plot induced stupidity from the characters. I’ve never understood why horror-movie characters always think it’s okay to break into someones house to stay the night, just because it doesn’t seem like anyone is home. Unless your protagonists are anti-heroes who casually break the law, that is and will always be bad writing. I was going to criticize the script for having the characters constantly remind themselves that “They need to stick together“, seconds before they casually wander off on their own…in an environment they know is hostile…But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I would rather risk my life like a f@cking moron than spend one more second with these assholes. These characters are so unpleasant that I grew angry at the movie for trying to flesh them out and give their deaths some resonance…Yeah, I never thought I would say that! I would normally respect a movie that doesn’t treat its cast as disposable, but I wanted them all to die when they were introduced whining over the ashes of their dead friend. Allison (Stacy Galina) is the heroine, but she’s also a wet blanket for every scene she’s in, being a perpetual mood killer who causes a lot of their problems. Greg (Alexis Arquette) is the comedic relief, but his jokes are always inappropriately placed and he’s rude, even though we’re supposed to find him ‘lovable’. Kir (Eva Mendes) is a self centered complainer and her character development lacked any sense of foreshadowing. Tyrus (Greg Vaughan) whines a lot too, but he also seems to love yelling, which is a…wonderful…combination…*twitch*… So yeah, these people are irritable and you can’t wait to see them die…and trust me, you will have to wait, as “Fields of Terror” might have the bad writing of a slasher, but it lacks the nudity and gore of one.
The problem with adding modern (1990’s) teenagers to the traditional corn setting is that they feel so out-of-place. This could be a way to build suspense, but instead amounts to characters deciding to walk into the MIDDLE of a corn field without telling their companions just to collect some corn…It’s just hard to swallow. The only time the direction stands out is when Ethan Wiley is doing something incredibly cheesy, like having the camera linger on bad effects, such as the ‘fiery eyes’. The visual style downplays the ‘Children of the Corn’ motifs, with the corn fields merely being part of a setting and never being used for atmosphere or visual panache. The movie occasionally adopts a (bad) sense of humor and it constantly derails the mood…or maybe this was supposed to be more comedic, but it’s hard to laugh when characters are constantly talking about suicide and child abuse…Either way, the tone is a mess. “Fields of Terror” does have some interesting ideas on paper, like how the children aren’t interested in murdering the adults and just want to be left to their own devices. But all this means is less excitement and tension, because we know they’ll only kill the protagonists if they absolutely have to, which they obviously don’t until the finale…Actually wait, if the children just wanted to be left alone, why did they burn the protagonists car, leaving them stranded in ‘corn child’ territory? Their motivations seem contradictory and at times, it feels like there were some last minute re-writes to add more ‘horror’ to the plot. The opening has its child villain, Ezeekial (Adam Wylie), display incredible powers that he doesn’t wield during his final struggle with the heroine, so I imagine that scene was conceived after the finale was shot…or the writing is just THAT incompetent. The story is surprisingly confusing when it comes to certain revelations and the acting isn’t very good…It’s not horrible either, but only David Carradine and Fred Williamson turn in good performances for their *sigh* cameos…I wish there was more of them! Their scene together is easily the best in the movie! “Fields of Terror” isn’t necessarily incompetent from a technical perspective, at least within the context of a direct-to-video release…But I found myself hating it because I spent my viewing experience either irritated with its characters or bored because it wasn’t killing off its characters. The sad thing is…I can see effort that was being put in the script…I think it’s impressive that writer-director Ethan Wiley attempted to flesh out his characters, making them more than just victim fodder. I respect that he doesn’t seem to have wanted to make a conventional horror flick, focusing more on the religion of ‘He Who Walks Behind the Rows’ than the usual jump scares and violence. I don’t know if “Fields of Terror” endured a troubled production and Wiley’s vision was comprised or if he simply didn’t know what he was doing. I suspect that Wiley penned a much darker script, but the studio wanted him to draw influence from “Scream“, which is probably why the tone is so messed up. The entire genre had adopted the ‘wink at the camera’ style of humor and it just didn’t fit here. This is only speculation though and it doesn’t really matter as even if “Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror” has an excuse for sucking, it still sucks. Of the first five films, this has been the worst and I’m very concerned, because it doesn’t even have the most infamous reputation of the sequels. How low will this franchise go?
CHILDREN OF THE CORN 666: ISAAC’S RETURN (1999)
(Directed by Kari Skogland)
(Written by Tim Sulka and John Franklin)
(Starring Natalie Ramsey, John Franklin and Paul Popowich)
If “Children of the Corn 666: Isaac’s Return” has taught me anything, it’s that…It’s incredibly difficult to force yourself to revisit a movie that scared you off from finishing the franchise that you’re now marathon’ing…You’d think that the lesson would be “Don’t watch “Children of the Corn 666: Isaac’s Return” more than once…or even once…“, but…then I’d feel like a f@cking idiot for not learning anything and we can’t have that, can we? To be fair, “Isaac’s Return” isn’t as tepid as I remembered it to be, probably because I have a greater appreciation for atmosphere than I did back in 1999. I was impressed with the cinematography, ignoring a few bouts with difficult lighting, as this sequel boasts plenty of moody shots. I liked some of the use of color and director Kari Skogland crafts some interesting visuals and compositions. There is some style to be found within the editing, especially early on when time seems to skip in a seamless cut. The dialogue is ridiculous because these kids combine modern lingo with the old fashioned, biblical dialect that these movies love to exploit and the result is…contradictory, to say the least. But the cast is pretty good and I found myself appreciating John Franklin’s absurd levels of ham much more here, for reasons I will explain later on…Yet make no mistake, “Isaac’s Return” sucks, even if it has a little bit of merit in its favor and even if it is a step up from the last one. The plot makes no sense, which is strange because there isn’t much of it and what little we get is comprised of cliches. Isaac (John Franklin) apparently survived the events of the first film, but has been in a coma for the past 19 years. He wakes up thanks to the arrival of Hannah (Natalie Ramsey), who has traveled to the town of Gatlin to look for her Mother, a former member of Isaac’s cult. The problem with this entire concept is that the ‘Children of the Corn’ are no longer children and they chose to not call the movie “Adults of the Corn 666” or “Old Children of the Corn 666” or “Washed Up, Former Children of the Corn 666“, so the hook is gone. Throughout this viewing experience, I felt like something was missing, as if the script had lost large chunks of content. I felt like there was a lot of unanswered questions and contradictory information. I often didn’t understand the decisions of certain characters, because gaps of their arcs felt like they had been cut out. The script is alarmingly disjointed and clumsy, even more so than its predecessors. Skogland might have an eye for imagery, but she doesn’t do a good job at building tension or excitement. The pacing never really seems to pick up until the final 15 minutes, when the established tone is thrown out of the window for silly one-liners and out-of-place effects. The film relies far too much on dream sequences in order to make up for the creeping feeling that very little is actually happening, but it only ends up drawing attention to the inactivity of the narrative. After the 3rd ‘vision’, the audience will predict that every ‘allegedly scary’ scene is going to end with our heroine snapping out of it or waking up. So what can keep our interest? While I understand John Franklin’s appeal in the first “Children of the Corn“, I felt his hammy performance worked against that films intended tone. I enjoyed it a lot more here because the rest of the movie is so flat that he becomes the sole spark of entertainment. Otherwise, “Children of the Corn 666: Isaac’s Return” is mostly boring.
CHILDREN OF THE CORN: REVELATION (2001)
(Directed by Guy Magar)
(Written by S.J. Smith)
(Written by Claudette Mink, Kyle Cassie and Michael Ironside)
“Children of the Corn: Revelation” is the first sequel in the series to not be numbered, as if replacing a ‘7’ with a boring subtitle like “Revelation” is going to boost viewership…and is “Revelation” even a fitting title? I mean, there are revelations, but you get those in just about every single movie ever made…Actually, now that I think about it, the subtitle might reflect the film’s tendency to borrow from every single movie ever made, so good choice! Anyway, Jamie (Claudette Mink) can’t seem to get in touch with her grandmother, so tracks her down to a condemned apartment, which resides in the middle of a cornfield. As she attempts to solve the mystery, creepy children start killing off the other residents. I can’t find any specific information on the internet…although let it be known that I wasn’t going to be spend a lot of time doing research on this shit…but I suspect “Revelation” began as an ‘original’ screen-play that was converted into a “Children of the Corn” sequel shortly before production started. The majority of the narrative plays out like a cliched haunted house mystery, with some shots of corn being shoehorned in there. There is a brief reference to the events of the first movie and the child preacher certainly dresses the part, but these elements could’ve easily been added at the last minute. Maybe this is why I struggled with understanding the whole plot? I’m still not entirely sure about some of these motivations or explanations. I hate having to call it an ‘original’ screen-play though, because the entirety of its content is comprised of used ideas. The residents are all broad caricatures of the victim fodder you’d see in any horror film- the stripper, the stoner, the asshole, etc. The heroine ignores the ‘do not enter’ sign and trespasses because she hears some laughing, because horror movie protagonists seem to have no problem with trespassing. Even the scares are derivative, as the vast majority of them are of the false variety. How many times did a character become startled at the arrival of the kids or someone else? The children are supposed to be creepy because they frown and stare intently, even though this had become a cliche since the 1980’s. Guy Magar seems to love the ‘classics’, as we get ‘timeless’ chills such as a character closing the cabinet mirror, only to glimpse something horrible in its reflection. That is embarrassingly lame. Finally, I swear they used stock music the entire time, with some of the suspense chords being so ancient that I thought they were only still used in parodies. Inspiration must be a stranger to this film crew.
The sad thing is “Revelation” either had better production values than “Isaac’s Return” or was able to utilize its limited resources more effectively, because it’s a decent LOOKING film. I was impressed with the first act, as the dilapidated apartment made for an atmospheric location…even if its appearance is somewhat cliched itself…I was even impressed by the cinematography, as there are a few chilling visuals, although they’re often undercut by the bad editing and sound mixing. I don’t know what happened, but the eerie imagery was gradually replaced with a lot of atrocious shots that made some scenes look like they were being filmed on a sound stage. Maybe the producers ran out of money? I don’t know, but the visual quality takes a nosedive after a certain point. “Revelation” also marks the first time we’d see modern CGI in the franchise and it’s so bad that I’m surprised the filmmakers never tried to work around it, as most of the effects shots weren’t necessary. They could’ve easily been omitted. The acting is bad too, especially when it came to the kids. They’re trying so hard to look menacing that I started to find their appearances comical, albeit not enough to really entertain me. The adults are better, with Michael Ironside doing the best in his cameo role. I’m still not entirely sure what his function was within this story, but he was the only one who seemed to have a firm handle on the material. Claudette Mink was mostly adequate, but it seemed like whenever she was supposed to reach an emotional high, she’d become disinterested and her line delivery would sound awkward. “Children of the Corn: Revelation” isn’t the worst of the franchise, but it’s so…so…familiar? Conventional? Cliched? It’s not only a bad movie, it’s also a bland movie, so much that I keep forgetting I’ve seen it…
CHILDREN OF THE CORN (2009)
(Written and Directed by Donald P. Borchers)
(Starring David Anders, Kandyse McClure and Daniel Newman)
I think it was obvious to everyone that the “Children of the Corn” franchise had run out of steam, assuming it had any steam to begin with. I thought the series sucked right out of the gate, but I can understand its cult appeal and at the absolute least, the earlier films were built around menacing children and sinister cornfields. You might argue that a film series called “CHILDREN of the CORN” should not be praised for including the subjects that appear in the f@cking titles, but the latter sequels barely seemed to feature children or corn, so we take our victories were we can find them. In 2009, the horror genre was experiencing a remake boom and the 1980’s in particular were ripe for the pickings, leading to ‘re-imaginings’ of “Halloween“, “Friday the 13th“, “A Nightmare on Elm Street“, “Prom Night“, “The Stepfather” and even “April Fools Day“. I guess it made some sense to throw “Children of the Corn” on that pile and Donald P. Borchers- who was a producer on the original- made the creative decision to craft a new adaptation which would be much more faithful to Stephen King’s short story. Unfortunately, Borchers’ attempts to correct the mistakes of the 1984 version of the same name only drew even more attention to the challenges of adapting short stories. Once again, Burt (David Anders) and Vickie (Kandyse McClure) are driving in the middle of nowhere when they stumble upon a cult of children who have evil intentions for the pair. Whereas the previous incarnations of Burt and Vickie were in a mostly harmonious relationship, the couple in this version seem to be on the verge of murdering each-other. Burt mostly ignores Vickie when he isn’t trolling her, while she is constantly whining and mocking his military background. This was an element of Stephen King’s work that did NOT need to be faithfully recreated, as these characters and their interactions are so aggravatingly unpleasant that “Children of the Corn (2009)” nearly becomes the WORST of the entire franchise. I hated BOTH of them so much that I did not want to see them die as much as I just wanted to watch something else instead.
Burt and Vickie were intended to be jerks in the source material as well, but the benefit of being a SHORT story is that it’s…short…so you don’t follow them for long. Yet this is a full length, feature film and Borchers did not wish to make changes or add a lot of new content, so he stretches out their arguments for as long as possible to fill the required running-time. That is the only thing he could do if he wished to be faithful to Stephen King’s writing, but these mediums are so incompatible that his vision was doomed even before he started working on the script. As much as I hate to say it, the filmmakers behind the first “Children of the Corn” were much smarter for using the source material as inspiration for their own story…as shitty as it was…as at least theirs was designed to be cinematic. For example, have you read Edgar Allen Poe’s “Pit and the Pendulum“? The beloved 1963 adaptation is nothing like his short story, because if it was, an entire hour would be dedicated to its protagonist fumbling around in the dark and who wants to see that? Instead, the filmmakers took parts of the story (namely the pendulum) and crafted their own plot that would serve a visual medium…and it was awesome! I apologize if I’m rambling about this point, as I’m not sure if I’m making my criticism clear. To sum this up- little happens in “Children of the Corn (2009)” that doesn’t happen in the book, which was only about 30 pages long, so every scene takes f@cking forever to get over with…and the vitriolic interactions between Burt and Vickie are already excruciating enough to sit through without them dragging on…and on…and on…It gets pretty unbearable! The actors who play the loathing couple are passable, I guess. Anders sometimes undersells the emotions he is supposed to be expressing and McClure’s line delivery is often clumsy, but they’re usually fine. I blamed the characterizations they had to work with, not their abilities as actors.
Discussing the rest of “Children of the Corn (2009)” is difficult because every other point is a bizarre mess of good and bad. For example, I liked how the titular children acted a lot more like real children, something I find creepier than the usual ‘perpetually glowering kids’ of most horror movies. The child actors are surprisingly decent as well, but the ‘fire and brimstone’ dialogue seems even more ridiculous coming out of their mouths BECAUSE of the better acting. The lines themselves aren’t any better or worse than what we got from “Children of the Corn (1984)“, but the difference is in the deliveries. The first one had its child actors be as over-the-top and hammy as possible, which made the over-the-top and hammy dialogue easier to swallow. These lines were not designed for the more restrained and believable performances of “Children of the Corn (2009)“. There are some interesting ideas, like how Burt is a Vietnam vet and the cornfields trigger his PTSD, causing him to re-experience his time in the war. I liked when he started rampaging during the climax, but once again, this becomes tedious because it goes on for too long. You can only see him pounce on a kid so many times before it starts to get monotonous. Borcher’s sense of pacing sucks so badly, but he isn’t necessarily a terrible director. The tone was a lot more consistent, so even though the score is very reminiscent of the original, the arrangement is much more subtle and spookier…or at least it wasn’t cheesy this time around…The director and his cinematographer craft some chilling and attractive visuals. There is even some suspense, with “Children of the Corn (2009)” having a lot more of a ‘bite’ than the original, thanks to the superior build-up and bleaker tone. Unfortunately, a lot of tension was deflated by misguided attempts at style, such as those goofy smash zooms. The ending was also complete shit, as it’s pretty much how the short story ends, but without the climactic reveal. This was another problem with being too faithful to the source material, as King’s ending requires special effects that this adaptation simply cannot afford. They work around it in the most unsatisfying way imaginable. “Children of the Corn (2009)” is still an interesting alternative to “Children of the Corn (1984)“, as this one is edgier, a better adaptation and has improved acting from the younger cast, but the original had flashier production values, superior performances from the older cast and boasted some camp appeal. What is better or worse depends on what you want out of a “Children of the Corn” flick. I would prefer this one…except the arguments between the two protagonists made this kind of unwatchable. All of its strengths and weaknesses are overshadowed by Burt and Vickie being among the most unlikable characters to ever grace the genre. “Children of the Corn (1984)” might be more openly bad, but at least its versions of Burt and Vickie are nice, bland people who you can endure for an hour and a half. If you took those characters and transplanted them into this movie, I think the franchise would be back on track. Instead, it ended up being released on the scyfy channel…
CHILDREN OF THE CORN: GENESIS (2011)
(Written and Directed by Joel Soisson)
(Starring Kelen Coleman, Tim Rock and Billy Drago)
“Children of the Corn: Genesis” had me mentally bracing myself, for it has the dubious honor of being regarded as the WORST. ENTRY. IN. THIS. FRANCHISE and considering the quality up until now, that is actually kind of impressive. So I guess I wasn’t mentally bracing myself as much as I was eagerly awaiting to indulge in my masochistic urges…and predictably, “Genesis” drew blood, but did not completely satisfy my desire for pain. Does it deserve its maligned reputation? Yes…I say that with a certain amount of hesitation, because it does have some merit and arguably even achieves its goals more effectively than the majority of its predecessors…but I implore you to remember that I still said ‘yes’. I think we can all agree that even if “Genesis” isn’t the worst, it is at least the cheapest of all the sequels, as 90% of the screen-time takes place in a f@cking barn. The story surrounds a young couple (Kelen Coleman and Tim Rock), whose car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, forcing them to seek shelter in the home of Preacher (Billy Drago) and his wife (Barbara Nedeljakova). To the credit of writer and director Joel Soisson…and this will be the only compliment he will get from me…”Genesis” is pretty good at playing up the awkward tension between the two couples. He drags out the long pauses and the uncomfortable stares just long enough to become unsettling, but not so long that they become tedious. While the acting and dialogue are mostly subpar, Billy Drago was a perfectly casted here. He’s creepy, mysterious, intimidating, pathetic and you’re not entirely sure whether he’s an antagonist or just misunderstood. I mean, sure, the movie is called “Children of the Corn: Genesis” and it’s a little strange that there is only one child…and he’s not in a cornfield…and despite having a subtitle called “Genesis“, there is no origins story…but being trapped in such a confined location with Billy Drago scares me more than bad child actors trying to look menacing.
Unfortunately, I think “Genesis” sucks mostly BECAUSE of its connections to the “Children of the Corn” saga. There is an opening scene where murderous children terrorize a soldier returning from the Vietnam War, who MIGHT be Billy Drago’s character? He references being away in the military during the events of the first film, so I assumed he was supposed to be the same guy, but didn’t the first movie take place in the 1980’s? Pretty sure the war ended in 1975…Later on, there is a dream sequence where our heroine is harassed by children in a cornfield, but it feels like the scene was only added to justify using the title. The references to the rest of the franchise only make the story more confusing and it was already pretty f@cking confusing. There are a lot of in-story theories and accusations thrown at various characters, but nothing is ever answered and while I normally like ambiguity, the information we get starts to contradict itself. Considering that the 2nd half of the movie is mostly comprised of explaining, I should not be so confused. The characters are all f@cking morons, who will do the most idiotic things imaginable just to create conflict and this is because the filmmakers can’t afford any real effects. We will find out that the hero might’ve cheated on his wife, or that the heroine might’ve secretly had an abortion behind her husbands back, but we don’t get any real pay-off to these set-ups. They only seem there so that the couple can argue for a few minutes, because the filmmakers can’t afford to take the action outside of the farm…or even make any action to begin with…Just a lot of yelling, awkward interactions and explaining…Most movies- including all of the previous films- usually pick up the pace for the final 30 minutes, but even with only 15 minutes to go, “Genesis” was still dragging its feet, offering no excitement or thrills. There are some ‘jump scares’, but they’re so predictable that you’ll see them coming in advance. I guess the cinematography wasn’t that bad and the rustic farmhouse looks kind of creepy, but the editing is a f@cking joke. There are some baffling continuity errors, like how a character is shown about to fall down the stairs, but it cuts to him falling out of a window instead. The final 5 minutes finally gives us some action, but…they f@cking stole footage from “Bad Boys II“…and I am not exaggerating! They took clips from a highway chase scene from “Bad Boys II” and forced it into a “Children of the Corn” sequel…That is kind of amazing… I don’t hate “Children of the Corn: Genesis” anymore than I do the last few shitty sequels, but I can definitely understand why people despise it as the ‘worst’. As a sequel, it’s unsatisfying because of the lack of children and corn, while the references to the original film will alienate everyone else..assuming the garbage quality hasn’t already done that! On its own, it’s a cheap, poorly edited mess where very little actually happens, but at least Billy Drago was good.
I’m still trying to figure out why “Children of the Corn“…endured…for so long, as it’s certainly not because these movies were ever good and it’s not like there was a whole lot of room for exploring this concept. The villains and the location are part of the title, so what else can be done with it? How many times can you see creepy kids lurking in cornfields before the gimmick grows stale? The only thing they could’ve done is take ‘He Who Walks Behind The Rows’ to space and…okay, now I really want a “Children of the Space Corn“…I would like to imagine that Space Isaac would wield a laser sickle, but that is what the filmmakers behind this series seem to be lacking! Laser sickles and imagination! They ran out of ideas after “Children of the Corn 3” and they probably should’ve just ended it there, as it would’ve concluded the story and ended the saga on a high-ish note. I guess “Children of the Corn 4” was competent enough, but that was also the point when the sequels started to distance themselves from the cornfields, which I think were integral to the identity of this franchise. The setting differentiated it from the rest of the ‘evil children’ subgenre of horror. Eventually, the sequels even started to distance themselves from the children, which is a problem when your franchise is called “Children of the Corn“. But I can’t really blame the filmmakers that much, because as I said, audiences got used to the children and the cornfields early on, so what else can they have done? Besides “Children of the Space Corn“? I will give credit to all the filmmakers- from the writers to the directors- for trying to do more with very little to work with. “Children of the Corn 5” and “Children of the Corn 6” sucked, but I did notice some effort and “Children of the Corn (2009)” did try to put respectability back into the brand…even if it backfired and made me hate the brand even more. Hell, even “Children of the Corn: Genesis” seemed like it could’ve been OK, if it didn’t feel like it was converted into a sequel in post-production…and had enough money to not steal footage from “Bad Boys 2“. Yet for all of this talk about the crappy sequels, I think the original 1984 flick was pretty bad too, so the follow-ups never had any reason to rise above it. I will say this though, none of the sequels ever reached the depths of cinematic hell that the “Puppet Master“, “Gamera: The Showa Era” or “Howling” franchises did. There might not have been any entry that I considered to be ‘good’, but none of them met my criteria for ‘unwatchable’.
Still, this brings me back to my original point- why is “Children of the Corn” a franchise? “Curse of the Puppet Master” might make “Children of the Corn: Genesis” look like “Jaws“, but it has a purpose for existing, if only to pay the bills of Charles Band. “Children of the Corn” has been backed by prominent studios, not just a washed up individual and while I have to assume these movies are making money, are they really so profitable that they’re worth the time, effort and money to make? I would’ve assumed that these profits were pennies compared to everything else ‘Dimension Studios’ puts out there. In the end, this franchise sucks because the movies were never good to begin with, the concept never had a lot of room for creativity and the studio kept churning them out without consideration for their name value. I actually believe that the success of this series even lead to a backlash against Stephen King, for the films based on his books gained a bad reputation for awhile after 1984. He might be going through a revival now, but there used to be a stigma accompanying his adaptations and I suspect that the success of “Children of the Corn (1984)” showed studios that they didn’t have to try very hard to lure audiences into a Stephen King movie. The sequels certainly cheapened his name value, even though he had nothing to do with any of them. The franchise was, is and probably always will be kind of dull because it only works as a short story and even though other franchises may have done worse, they were usually much more interesting experiences because they had franchise potential (an actor, character or effect to build their brand around). “Children of the Corn: Runaway” is set to be released in 2018, but I have no reason to believe it will offer anything than either the same ole shit that we grew tired of or the same ole shit that we had grown tired of even before we grew tired of the other same ole shit.
But I would still totally embrace a “Children of the Space Corn“. Just saying.