MAY 19, 2011
I never really gave it much thought, but Children Of The Corn is somehow the only Stephen King film franchise. Some of his adaptations got sequels that he had nothing to do with (The Rage: Carrie 2, for example), but the Corn series kept on going, with seven sequels (and counting) plus a remake, all spawned from a not particularly successful film based on one of his shortest short stories. But I suspect if Children Of The Corn III: Urban Harvest hadn’t turned out so reasonably decent that it all would have stopped there.
Not that Dimension knows when to stop, but I can’t imagine any of these movies sold as well as the DTV Hellraisers or Prophecy sequels, as the Corn series lacked the name stars or interesting mythology that the others had. But they managed to actually make a decent DTV movie on their first try, plus they were probably cheaper than those others because there wasn’t a Doug Bradley or Christopher Walken to pay, and so the series went on and on, though based on the sequels I’ve seen and remember (I missed part 6, though it’s on the way, and I don’t recall much about part II) it never managed to turn out as well as this one.
Now, it’s not some lost classic or anything, don’t get me wrong. But it’s enjoyable, never boring, and the change in scenery does wonders for the thin concept. Rather than have yet another car full of travelers arrive in Gatlin (or whatever other Midwest town the Children were terrorizing in that particular entry), the kids are taken to Chicago, played here by Los Angeles and some stock footage. I don’t know what it is about LA architecture, but even though I’ve never set foot in Chicago (didn’t I just say that yesterday?), I knew that the house where the kids lived couldn’t be a real Chicago house, and was probably Los Angeles somewhere. But I’ll give them credit, apart from a shot of some mountains, I didn’t notice any truly obvious giveaways (i.e. palm trees, blue street signs). A for effort in that department.
But regardless of where it was shot, the change up allows for new elements that were absent from the previous films. Instead of maybe one lone kid who didn’t shine to the others’ habits of killing folks, our villain Eli is the fish out of water; even his older brother would rather play basketball and mack on the girl next door. It takes a bit too long to explain that they weren’t really brothers, however – I was spending the first 40 minutes or so wondering how the OLDER brother managed to somehow escape being a disciple of He Who Walks Behind The Rows (it actually still doesn’t make a lot of sense since they lived in the town; did he just not notice all the other kids his age were into corn gods?). But it makes for a nice dynamic, with the older brother wanting to be brotherly and not abandon him now that he’s been taken away from his home, but he also, well, wants to play basketball and bang the neighbor. Certainly more interesting than the usual protagonist in these movies, who is usually just someone trying to escape the town.
I also enjoyed the amount of crazy deaths. Screamin’ Mad George did the FX here, and they’re pretty awesome for the most part; a guy getting torn up and stuffed like a scarecrow, another one gets his head (still attached to spine) pulled about ten feet up from the torso, and so on. We even get a real look at He Who Walks..., who turns out to be a sort of Lovecraftian beast with insect like features and some tentacles for good measure (one of which “invades” a young Charlize Theron, in her first role, and even though she never says anything you know the director/editor realized how goddamn beautiful she was since they keep cutting to her). Not all of the FX hold up (especially on the higher resolution Blu-ray), but they are miles better than the stuff you see even in a few of Dimension’s theatrical features (i.e. Halloween 6). Plus, it looked like they used stop-motion for the monster (which was a miniature – check out the doll as a “human” victim), and that’s always a bonus for me.
It’s also paced well; Eli doesn’t waste too much time before planting some corn and claiming a victim (some homeless dude), and then there’s another death every 10 minutes or so, with Eli killing anyone who discovers his makeshift cornfield (he grows it in an abandoned factory that’s conveniently located next door to their house), including his foster mom, a 2nd act surprise that I just spoiled (the movie’s 16 years old!). They gloss over one major part of his plan though; he starts recruiting local kids into his cult, but we never really see that start to develop – all of a sudden a non-turned character bemoans how no one’s around anymore because everyone is following Eli, and the only response from an audience should be “When the hell did this happen?” I also would have liked to have seen Eli interacting with the kids in his own class; I have to assume they didn’t think much of his Amish clothing and strange behavior, but instead we just see older students pick on him, which is kind of weird. Sounds weird to say, but DTV movie about a kid killing people with evil corn could have benefited from being longer.
The music was also pretty enjoyable, with composer Daniel Licht sort of blending The Omen with Carl Orff’s familiar Carmina Burana cues. Licht also composed the second film, a rare instance of anyone being involved with more than one movie in the series; the only other one I know of is the Isaac character who returned for part 6. Speaking of ties, it actually incorporates some footage from the first two movies, as the movie’s priest character has nightmares about what happened there, but he never springs into action for some reason. I kept thinking maybe he would join with the older brother and figure out what Eli was up to, but he gets killed before he gets the chance. So it’s a bit clunky, but at least they were trying; again, excepting Isaac’s return, there’s no continuity whatsoever in the future films if memory serves (one of them doesn’t even have He Who Walks!). Figures, the one time I allow myself to watch a series out of order and they actually refer to events from the previous film! Now I’ll have to find a copy of II, which I think I saw back in the day (I thought I saw this one too but not a single thing registered; maybe I rented it and fell asleep without ever watching the rest? Or my memory has just gotten that bad, which is kind of upsetting). Apparently it was released as a double feature with this one, not sure how I goofed on my screener request and missed it.
Bizarrely, this is the only stand-alone Blu-ray I got from Echo Bridge; everything else was a double feature. They also seemingly didn’t get the rights to the 4th film, which is odd. At any rate, like the others, it’s not exactly a stellar transfer, but it’s fine. It’s the first time the movie has been released anamorphically, I think, and for a DTV movie it looks pretty good. Again, some of the CGI shots look lousy (there’s one that resembles 16mm being projected on a wall more than 35mm film), but that’s expected. Black levels are a bit crushed (everything looks gray instead), but luckily it’s a fairly “light” movie, so it’s not much of an issue. As with the others, there’s only a 2.0 soundtrack, but as this wasn’t originally a theatrical feature with 5.1 sound, it’s forgivable. No extras, no shock there.
Maybe it takes seeing the other, mostly lousy Corn movies to appreciate this one, so keep that in mind if you are new to the series and figure this is a good place to start. “The best Children of the Corn sequel” isn’t really saying much, but it’s certainly worth noting, and it’s a shame that the next couple just went right back to the Midwest/cornfields instead of continuing to explore other areas (the ending of this one suggests the evil corn is spreading worldwide). Hell, maybe they could have even pulled off going to space.
What say you?