The Series Project: Children of the Corn (Part 2)
I’m so bummed.
Like The Amityville Horror before it, I have now discovered that there aren’t any good chapters in the entire 10-film Children of the Corn series. Okay, I will grant that the first feature in the series was a little creepy and atmospheric, and featured a young Linda Hamilton, as well as a wicked, knife-wielding ginger, but that film’s fans love it, I suspect, mostly for nostalgic reasons.
Also like The Amityville Horror, the subject of ths installment of The Series Project doesn’t seem at all interested in any notions of continuity. The only thing all the films have in common is the killer children who murder adults. Sometimes they are under the influence of a Mennonite-like cult leader. At other times, they are possessed by a demon. In one film, the kid has psychic powers. In one, there doesn’t seem to be anything supernatural. With the exception of the fourth film in the series, the kids always worship a mysterious entity called He Who Walks Behind the Rows, and this beastie will change for in every film. In Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest, the monster is a giant slimy mole rat who eats people. In Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror, it’s a green eternal flame. The powers of this being seem to be variable. Sometimes it can possess children. Sometimes it can resurrect zombie scarecrows. Sometimes it can manipulate corn stalks. It also seems eternally bound to the cornfields of Nebraska. At one point in this corn trek, I fully expected the monster to be a space alien. It’s never explained what the creature is or what it wants, or, specifically, why it wants adults to die.
I haven’t read the original Stephen King short story, but the Children of the Corn movies all possess some of his recognizable trademarks; he is especially fond of hysterical killer cults. In the 2009 TV movie, some of King’s twisted sexuality also makes it in, as we’ll bear witness to some child sex. It’s really icky. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
When we last left this series, we had just taken a look at the fourth in the series (The Gathering) which was only notable for a pretty good Naomi Watts performance, and that He Who Walks Behind the Rows wasn’t mentioned. The premise of the films seemed to be that survivors from the original Gatlin massacre were spreading to nearby towns, but the next film in the series will negate that a bit.
Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror (dir. Ethan Wiley, 1998)
Ethan Wiley is known, perhaps, to certain horror fans as the mastermind behind the delirious House II: The Second Story (1987), which is in the running for goofiest horror film of all time. Children of the Corn V, then, is the only film in the series that bothers to have a sense of humor. It’s ultimately about the gore and the death and the monster, but along the way, we’re treated to some enjoyable and unexpected moments of levity. Indeed, I would go so far as to say Fields of Terror is the best film in this series. It has some interesting characters, and it tells its story well. It also has some oddball cameos, and one of the greatest single kills in any of these movies. None of this is to say that it’s a great horror movie, or even a necessarily notable one, but it stands shoulders above its brethren.
The story follows a quartet of twentysomething friends, led by the plucky Allison (Stacy Galina), and including hunk Tyrus (Greg Vaughan), prim Kir (a young Eva Mendes, credited as Eva Mendez), and goofball Greg (Alexis Arquette in full-tilt class clown mode). They are going to Divinity Falls, NE to scatter the ashes of a dead friend. Despite the grimness of this task, they are all in good spirits, and joke a lot. They are also being directed there by a string of blow-up dolls placed on road signs, left by their buddy Lazlo, who is played by Ahmet Zappa, son of Frank. In terms of character, this film is already way ahead of its peers. Lazlo and his hot Rockabilly girlfriend (Angela Jones) are murdered by some evil children, unbeknownst to our heroes.
When our heroes arrive in Divinity Falls (on foot; their car broke down, natch), they find that everyone lives in fear, and the children are up to something. There is mention of He Who Walks Behind the Rows. We slowly learn that the dead guy in the urn was once a member of the local Corn Cult, led by the creepy, supernaturally charged Ezeekiel [sic], who is played by Adam Wylie. The entire town smells like burning corn, as there has been a silo fire burning for the last few months.
We learn eventually that the silo fire is He Who Walks Behind the Rows, and the local child cultists regularly throw themselves in to keep the demon sated. Of course, if the demon is a green eternal hellfire, surely he’s not Walking Behind the Rows anymore. He Who Smolders in a Silo doesn’t have the same ring, I suppose.
Our heroes find an abandoned house (complete with furniture, linens and food) and decide to make themselves at home for the night, hoping to catch a bus the next morning. There’s a wonderful little bit when the quartet is searching the house, and find food. Alexis Arquette reaches into a cupboard and extracts a can of Spam-like food substance. He smiles big and announced proudly: “Cool! Smeat!” How the Monsanto Corporation hasn’t yet invented Smeat is beyond understanding. Our heroes find that this house, however, is occupied by a creepy old man named Luke, who is played by David Carradine. Carradine was clearly only on set for a day or two, as he never leaves his rocking chair. He intones creepy things about punishing the wicked, and offers vague instructions to Ezeekiel.
We also learn that Allison, our heroine, has some vague romantic connections to one of the local hunks, Jacob (Dave Buzzotta) who may or may not be involved with the cult. One of the cult members is played by Diva Zappa, Ahmet’s younger sister. Diva, at one point, reaches under a car to stab Alexis Arquette. She wears her hair in little lumps. It’s extraordinary. Eva Mendez also buys into some of the local cult rhetoric, and eventually, in despondency, throws herself into the silo fire. Poor gal.
Oh yeah, about that cool kill. Fred Williamson (from countless ‘70s Blaxploitation films) plays the town’s local sheriff. At one point in the film, he gets wise to Carradine’s evil, and confronts him in his attic room. When he pulls Carradine out of his chair by the lapels, Carradine begins freaking out, as if he’s dying. Just then, Carradine’s head splits open, a small snake-like thing pops out of his neck-hole, and breathes a fireball right through Williamson’s face. As I was trudging through this mediocrity, I was bored. When the Carradine neck-hole snake breathed a fireball through Fred Williamson’s face, it was all worth it.
Eventually Allison figures that all she needs to do is burn down the silo, and everyone will be free. Which she does. The end.
Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror was clearly not meant to be a canonical chapter; it feels too much like the loving work of a b-movie auteur. Which indeed it is. If you are only going to see one of these things, make it this one. Of course, my recommendation may be based on a lowered standard.
There was, in fact, only one proper, canonical sequel in the Children of the Corn series. Let’s look at…
Children of the Corn 666: Isaac’s Return (dir. Kari Skogland, 1999)
This is the only film in the series to involve any of the characters from any of the past films. I suppose Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice did link to the events of the first, but every subsequent chapter up until this one is an autonomous unit. As the title implies, this film will feature the return of Isaac (John Franklin) the boy cult leader from the 1984 film. It will also feature Rachael (Nancy Allen), one of the girls from the 1984 film. It will also be the first film to return to Gatlin, NE. Otherwise, a lot of the premises have now changed.
So the last time we saw Isaac, he was tied to a cross made of corn, when a demonic force possessed his body and launched him high into the air. It turns out that experience put him into a coma, and he’s been convalescing in the Gatlin hospital ever since. I was under the impression that Gatlin was completely wiped of adults, and that the town was (after the events of The Final Sacrifice) totally abandoned. Evidently not, as there are groups of kids still running about talking about He Who Walks Behind the Rows, and there are many adults who recall the massacre. Um… To remind you, movie, the massacre took place a full year before the events of the first film. That means you were hiding out in fear, right? Well, not really. So now Gatlin as a plucky sheriff named Cora (Alix Koromzay), a cynical doctor (Stacy Keach), and a local hunk named Jake (William Prael).
The heroine of the film is the lovely and empty-eyed Hannah (Natalie Ramsay) who has returned to Gatlin to find her birth mother, Rachael. She knows about the cult and the killings, so it’s a little baffling that she was surprised by the local weirdness. Her arrival seems to spark something in the comatose Isaac, and he awakens. Cora comforts him, and tells him that he’s now an adult, and that the cult needs a new leader. The Corn Cult, while still dressed in the robes of Mennonites, is now, evidently, obsessed with producing a new heir to the throne. This was never an issue before, but now Isaac’s plan is not to kill adults, but to impregnate Hannah, using the son of another cultist, Jake. The new child will actually have psychic powers. This is all new to the series. I’m guessing this new heir will be something like Eli from Urban Harvest. A cute-faced assh*le kid who can turn corn into bugs and stuff.
Seeing as the villain’s evil plot revolves entirely around f*cking, there’s a lot of sexual tension between Jake and Hannah, and the question as to whether or not they’ll get it on hangs in the air for two thirds of the movie. When they finally do shag, it’s one of the ickiest sex scenes imaginable. This is a series, mind you, that has been largely sexless. This is the first extended sex scene in the series (well, there was a quickie in Fields of Terror, and some bikini necking in The Final Sacrifice, but that’s hardly worth mentioning). Hannah and Jake find themselves locked in a barn, and, to clean off, hose each other down. One stands in a horse stall, and the other pokes the hose through the bars. They alternately get all shiny, and their white shirts get all see-though. They get coated in hay and filth and horse offal. You can smell the farm musk on this sex scene. It’s dirty and gross and oddly fetishistic.
Eventually, it’s revealed that Jake is actually the real cult leader, and that Isaac was long ago forgotten about by the Corn Kids. Jake turns evil, and reveals that he can, like, fly and stuff. He also kisses another boy on the mouth. This kiss scene took place immediately after the horse-scented sex scene, so my mind was still reeling, and I may have forgotten the details, but I think the boy he kissed was his brother. Um… ‘kay. Jake has also, for more reasons I can’t recall, kidnapped Nancy Allen. Hannah will eventually rescue her mom, I think, and flee from Jake, who blows himself up with his magic powers. Is that wrong? I think so. Much of the film escaped me.
I do admire that the film tried to finally continue the series in some significant way, and actually tried to expand on the Children of the Corn myth (such as it is), but it’s too bad that Children of the Corn 666 was so sloppy and forgettable. And what a waste of Stacy Keach. He does so little for the film. I’ve been watching this series for so long, it almost feels like I am on the 666th part.
The next one will be the first of these films to feature nudity. Check out…
Children of the Corn: Revelation (dir. Guy Magar, 2001)
This is the best looking of the Children of the Corn series to be sure. The sets are all complex and well-decorated. The photography is much better than any of the previous entries, and the film manages to conjure an effective little atmosphere. Sadly, this is also the least eventful of the series, as its heroine spends the bulk of the film wandering around a creepy apartment building and along empty city streets, all while murders and violence occurs well out of her field of vision. Seriously, our heroine doesn’t witness any of the violence. It just sort of happens around her.
Our heroine is a city mouse named Jamie (Claudette Mink), a comely and cosmopolitan gal who wears big shoulder pads. She has trekked into the outskirts of Omaha, NE to find her grandmother who has become abruptly incommunicado. Jamie moves into her grandmother’s old apartment, which is an awesome and well-built hardwood wonder. The characters keep referring to it as a dump, but I know New Yorkers who would commit acts of violence for an apartment that large. Jamie tries to befriend a few people in the building, and strikes up conversations with Tiffany (Crystal Lowe), the local stripper (who has no problems undressing right in front of Jamie, providing us with the only breasts in this entire damn series so far), and Stan (Michael Rogers) who has a grow room in the apartment’s basement. The grow room is not used to grow marijuana, however, but tomatoes. Grown from corn. Um… ‘kay.
Yes, there are the requisite evil children wandering around, mostly represented by a pair of towheaded twins who stare creepily at adults, and occasionally play violent video games. There is also the requisite corn field, located right next to the central apartment building. The evil children do spend their time killing some of the supporting characters in supernatural ways (they kill Tiffany by dumping corn kernels in her bathtub, and letting the evil living cornstalk that results drown her). They also throw Stan off of the roof. They also push a guy in a wheelchair down a staircase. All the bodies are taken to the cornfield, and the corn eats the bodies. The corn then gets bigger.
There is an evil preacher boy too, this time named Abel (Sean Smith), and the children are opposed by a nameless priest played by Michael Ironside. Jamie has dreams that tell her all about this stuff, and receives more information about her missing gramma from the local cop Armbrister (Kyle Cassie). “Armbrister” sounds like a long-forgotten metal band to me. The kids may or may not be ghosts. They seem to have the ability to teleport, and are wispy and pale like ghosts. Later in the movie they’ll only be visible on film or through night vision goggles.
Jamie eventually comes to conclusion that these kids are the ghosts of the various cult members who have died in the Korn Kidz Kult over the years, and that the little girl is actually the ghost of her grandmother. Fun. There’s a big confrontation, and Jamie ends up setting all the important stuff on fire. The film’s end features a really cool-looking scene wherein the ghosts, now freed from their Earthly prison, drift away. Their elongated ghost faces rising up eerily from the corn is an awesome haunted house image.
Haunted house. This is a haunted house picture. With corn in it. And tomatoes. And a few tits. On any given Saturday night when I was 16 or so, this film would have done me well. As it stands, it’s interesting to look at, uneventful, and largely forgettable.
And sadly, this is not the lowest point. We have two more films to get through, including one remake, and they’re both not very good.
Children of the Corn (dir. Donald P. Borchers, 2009)
So it had been eight years since the last Children of the Corn film, and since 2001, the Horror Remake subgenre sprang up. Thanks to Michael Bay, all horror films were ripe for remake, and the remakes had to offer a grittier, higher octane version of the original. There was now more violence, more screaming, more edits, and more boobs. The Bay remake machine gave birth to classic horror movies, disgustingly transformed into brutal and not-at-all-scary bank ins on name recognition. Oddly, through all this, even Children of the Corn wasn’t safe. By 2009, when all the biggies and most of the smallies had been remade, it was time to stoop this far. Now we have a high-octane version of Children of the Corn. Children of the Ethanol, if you will.
So the story is the same as the 1984 original: Vicky and Burt, while moving across the country, accidentally run over a young boy who had his throat slit. They pile the body into the trunk and head to nearby Gatlin, where they find all the adults have been killed, and the children are now all members of a wicked cult that has burned the New Testament, and replaced it with an even more wrathful version of the Old, including blood sacrifice. It is still led by Isaac (now played by the very young Preston Bailey), and still enforced by Malachai (Daniel Newman), still a wicked ginger.
In this version, though, the outlook is far bleaker. There doesn’t seem to be a supernatural entity here, but just a lot of mad children who have been convinced by Isaac that murder is a good idea. The stabs are bloodier, the conversations louder, and the chances for our heroes are very slim. Indeed, the film is so depressing, it seems that the filmmakers felt the need to add a post-credit cookie (which runs a full four minutes) offering a slightly more uplifting end to things.
The notable differences between the original and this made-for-cable remake is that Vicky (Kandyce McClure) is now black, and Burt (David Anders) is now a twitchy Vietnam vet suffering from PTSD. Vicky and Burt also argue more than any other couple in history; she objects to his career as a soldier, and they constantly accuse one another of being bad spouses. They snipe and condescend and say pointedly hurtful things. They are angry and hate-able people. Vicky dies early on in this version, and, while it’s a surprise to see the heroine be taken out so easily, it was kind of a relief, as we wouldn’t have to hear the two of them arguing anymore.
Come to think of it, most of their arguments were based on the fact that he fought in Vietnam. When he’s left alone in a cornfield, fighting off evil children with scythes, he clicks into soldier mode, and begins killing again, feeling like he’s once again in the jungle. He even hallucinates Vietnamese soldiers in the corn. I haven’t read the original story, but maybe it was intended to be a Vietnam metaphor. That this generation of soldiers was so long absent, and so psychically removed from their decent home, that their abandoned children naturally became just as violent as they from afar. The word of the day is now intergenerational violence, as the children have no authority to teach them otherwise.
Or perhaps I’m just BS-ing. It’s hard to defend this Vietnam theme when you’re treated to a typically Stephen King-flavored child orgy. Seriously. There’s a scene near the end of the film wherein a pair of teenagers have a kind of noisy tantric sex on an alter in front of hundreds of onlooking kidlets. Bare buttocks and breasts abound. Child cornography. Some clever editing made sure the kids didn’t really see the simulated sex, but the scene is icky and seems to tap into King’s own imagination more than anything. I have read King’s novel It, and that book featured a disturbing scene of numerous 10-year-old boys having sex with a 10-year-old girl in a sewer pipe. I’m guessing this sex scene was part of the original short story.
The film ends with Burt discovering that Vicky had been killed and crucified out in a corn field, and then him suffering the same fate. All the children that Burt killed are piled together and set on fire. Then the kids walk away. Whee. The film ends with a warning piece of scripture from the book of John, warning one away from idols and idolatry. The post-credits cookie, however, features a scene where one of the girls of the cult, previously unheard from, lashes out against the cult and against all the death she has just witnessed. We see that she has a fantasy of burning down the corn field. I guess that’s the consolation we’re offered. Someone’s going to stop all this eventually. Vicky and Burt, however, are most assuredly toast.
I hate the tone of this film. It’s brutal and dumb and clunky. The filmmakers make the common mistake of confusing loud music and quiet, knife-like *sniks* on the soundtrack with actual atmosphere and genuine tension. This film has no tension. Just a lot of hopeless violence. When did B-movies become so depressing? Wasn’t there a time when the violence was a bit unreal, and there were a bunch of boobies, and we actually had a good time watching slashers and shoot-‘em-ups? The current trend of depressing remakes and increased brutality in B-movies is a cultural discussion for another time.
The remake, however, wasn’t the last we’d see of these kids.
Children of the Corn: Genesis (dir. Joel Soisson, 2011)
Revelation, then Genesis? You guys got that backwards. What’s next? Children of the Corn: Deuteronomy? I’d love to see Children of the Corn: Leviticus, myself. Genesis was already reviewed in the pages of CraveOnline, so I’ll try to be brief.
This is easily the dumbest in the series. I suspect this is the final word on Children of the Corn, and I earnestly think that the proposed second remake (heart-rending sigh) will never get off the ground. If Genesis is as well as the series can do now, after seven previous features, a remake, and a short, then we’re about ready to let the corn rot, and move onto another grain.
Genesis follows (all together now) a young couple traveling by car to the big city. They also (together again!) suffer a breakdown, forcing them to the closest creepy town (in this case Gatlin), which was the site of a child cult. Genesis, however, takes place well outside of Gatlin. Our heroes, Tim (Tim Rock) and Allie (Karen Coleman) are pregnant, and seek help from Billy Drago and his hot-to-trot Ukrainian mail-order bride. (Barbara Nedeljakova). The bulk of the film takes place in their little shack, where the young couple finds they are being held prisoner by an evil telekinetic force that may be coming from a young boy out on the barn. There’s certainly something going on: when a cop comes to investigate, he is unexpectedly (and rather hilariously) launched into the air. He won’t come down until after the credits. Poor dolt.
One thing I did like about Genesis: When Tim is presented with a problem, macabre or otherwise, he actually responds with calm and pragmatic solutions. There’s less screaming and bickering in this film, and that’s always a relief.
Eventually our couple escapes, and drives right into a scene from Bad Boys II. Rather literally. They are taken out in a car crash, and the crashing cars are stock footage from Michael Bay’s 2003 sequel. Given that the bulk of the film was quiet and cheap, this is a tonal shifting of gears that grinds the entire transmission down to a nub.
And yes, the boy was telekinetic. Although the role Drago and Nedeljakova played in his life is uncertain.
The film is cheap, stupid, and has little going for it. But in a series of unconnected and dub horror conceits, this one is not too much dumber than the others.
The Children of the Corn series can be rated in the following order:
Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror
Children of the Corn (1984)
Disciples of the Crow
Children of the Corn 666: Isaac’s Return
Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest
Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice
Children of the Corn: Revelation (the seventh)
Children of the Corn: The Gathering (the fourth)
Children of the Corn: Genesis (the eighth)
Children of the Corn (2009)
The general lesson from these films is to avoid idolatry, and, more importantly, to stay the hell within city limits. I don’t know the cinematic origin of the “wicked bumpkin” but I suspect it was in 1972 with Jonathan Boorman’s Deliverance. It was most certainly compounded by the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Ever since then, all city folk who travel to the country are instantly going to be eaten, raped, or sacrificed by the inbred and evil backwoods folk. The reverse sometimes happens; wherein an innocent country gal is seduced and killed by an urban serial killer, but those movies tend to be structured as crime procedurals and not eerie horror flicks.
Children of the Corn is a mixture of the wicked bumpkin genre and, as I indicated last week, the killer child genre. But strained with Stephen King’s varied interests. I am baffled as how this idea for a story warranted not one but 9 feature films and a short. My feeling is this: When we finally saw He Who Walks Behind the Rows in Urban Harvest, and it was that giant slug rodent, the series was officially off the rails. There would be no repairing it. Only part 666 tried.
And why corn? I’ve walked through a corn fields before, and I must say, I wasn’t very scared. Corn is a funny word. Corn corn corn. Corny. Corn Nut.
I think I’m going to get some Corn Nuts. Excuse me.
(Witney Seibold be back next week with another installment of The Series Project.)