Children of the Corn: Runaway (2018)

MARCH 21, 2018


Dimension lost Halloween a while back, but they're still holding on to their Hellraiser and Children of the Corn licenses, and just as they did in 2011 with Revelation and Genesis, respectively, they extended their hold by making new entries more or less simultaneously (and once again making me wonder if they'll ever throw their hands up and just do a "Versus" film). And as with Hellraiser: Judgment, Children of the Corn: Runaway is better than you'd expect or that it even needed to be - maybe they are now required to not just make a movie, but make it decent? In fact it's probably one of the best of the Corn films, and while I know that isn't exactly a huge hurdle to clear, it's still worth noting, especially since it's the tenth film in a franchise launched from a lesser Stephen King short story.

When they hired John Gulager to direct this one (he also edited, for the record) I thought it was a great choice, and as a fan of Gulager's work I saw it as a win-win kind of situation. If the movie was bad, then it's not really anything to be ashamed about - the historical record has shown time and time again that it's apparently very hard to make a good movie out of this scenario, as even the best films in this series (the original, Urban Harvest, and the remake) aren't without sizable flaws. And if it was good, then it just shows that he's got some talent and maybe deserves better than VOD sequels to Dimension movies. Luckily it's the latter scenario, on par with those aforementioned "worth watching" entries (and also consistently satisfying than Hellraiser: Judgment, for what it's worth) and in fact is a perfectly enjoyable movie on its own accord - the Corn references are so minimal they could be trimmed out and it would barely affect the runtime.

That said, it's actually a direct sequel to the remake, which surprised me since that one wasn't a Dimension production. Our protagonist is Ruth, who was introduced in that film (played by Alexa Nikolas there; Marci Miller here) and had a vision of herself setting fire to the corn - turns out she really did it and escaped while pregnant, determined to raise her child as far away (but still in the Midwest) as from the group. Because of her unusual past she has trouble finding steady income or a place to live, and it turns out the cult messed up her brain pretty good, so it isn't easy for her, but things start to finally turn around when she gets a gig as a mechanic and is allowed to stay in a vacant home that is currently in legal limbo. Alas, she starts seeing a strange little girl who may or may not be really there, and before long the bodies start piling up. Is the girl a cult member? Is she cracking up and killing these people herself? Or is it her son, who starts acting strange?

The answers will not be surprising to anyone who has seen a few horror movies before, but what was NOT expected was to see this kind of thing in a Corn film OR from Gulager, whose other films revel in bad taste and midnight movie insanity. It's possibly the most relatively classy film in the series, if anything, as the body count isn't particularly high (the diner flashback accounts for most of the violence) and there isn't a drop of dark humor to be found. It's not even supernaturally-driven like the others; most of the film focuses on Ruth and her struggles to make a normal life for her and her son - for example, he wants to go to school, but she can't enroll him because she doesn't have a fixed address. Even if you stripped out the horror stuff, you'd be left with a decent character drama about a woman who was trying to escape a terrible, mind-breaking past, with the sun-drenched Oklahoma landscape and Gulager's widescreen visuals making it nice to look at as well. The kill scenes aren't that bad either; there's a good one inside a garage that is unnerving (partly because it's when I figured out the film's twist) and drawn out just enough to have hope for the victim's survival chances. It would have been expected/easy for the guy who made the Feast films to relish in a movie about evil kids, but by focusing on the adults and going for something more psychologically driven, the film really sticks out as a minor gem for both its franchise and its filmmaker.

But if you're a fan of his work, you'll still recognize some of his trademarks - there's some Super 8 footage (which he shot himself), and both his wife Diane and father Clu (yay!) show up in smaller roles. It's also a nice showcase for Miller, who looks nothing like Alexa Nikolas but *does* resemble Amy Steel a bit, which is fine by me. Steel reportedly wanted to reprise her F13 Part 2 character of Ginny in a sequel set at a mental institute, which we never got, so it's kind of like a consolation prize to get someone who resembles her going crazy after a different horror movie ordeal. She really sells the shitty situation she's in, which you have to recall isn't her fault - she was a kid when she got roped into the cult, not an adult who chose to join one like that one Hollywood-friendly religion. When folks try to escape that I'm usually like "Well, glad you made the right call eventually, but you're still a dumbass", but I sympathize with Ruth, and genuinely felt sorry for her whenever another setback came her way. Even better, she doesn't give excuses - she hides her past for the obvious reasons, so she doesn't try to get anyone else to feel sorry for her in hopes they'll cut her a break.

The only thing that didn't really work was a late-movie development where someone else turned out to be a cult member. If you think about how that character is introduced in the story and how our heroes came to befriend him/her, it's a giant coincidence that they turn out to be actively searching for Ruth and her son, so I wish they had been given a slightly reworked introduction that rang a bit truer. Or if it never happened at all - Ruth's own psychological scars were built up enough that she could have rejoined the cult and/or led her son down that path all on her own, so they didn't really need this third party nudging that along. It's not a crippling flaw or anything like that, but it switches the focus at a crucial point in the movie and kind of lessens the impact of the twist to a degree. Also, in one of the few scenes with the titular Children, we see one who has seemingly risen through the ranks fairly quickly, and it kind of made me want to see a Corn sequel using a mob movie template, with a new recruit rising to the top and then losing it all (except at the end of a sickle instead of a bullet), because I instantly started wondering how they became such a big deal and what sort of shit they had to do in order to get to that level. Y'all gotta arm-wrestle He Who Walks Behind The Rows or...?

It's kind of funny - if there's such a thing as a die-hard Children of the Corn franchise fan, they're probably not going to like this one all that much. There's barely any evil kid stuff, He Who Walks... is mostly left out of it (sit through the credits for his most prominent appearance!), and it's following up on a plot thread from the remake, which was largely dismissed (though I personally find it superior to the 1984 one, though not by much). It'll play better to those who have little to no interest in the series (I should stress that there is zero need to see any of them, even the one it's directly following, as they explain the backstory via flashbacks), but of course the title means they won't exactly be driving to every Redbox in town looking for a copy. That said, I hope it finds the audience of people who can appreciate the attempt at making it more interesting than anyone could have reasonably assumed it would be, and that it's not considered a failure by whatever measures they use to determine wins and losses for these things. As someone who is seemingly cursed with seeing (and reviewing) all of these movies until the end of time, I'd hate for them to go back to "normal" (read: traditionally forgettable/lousy) Corn territory with the next entry just because this one didn't make as big of a splash as the films must make, somehow (why else would they keep spending money to keep the brand going?). Especially now that they're actually doing direct sequels - can Gulager and co. follow up on Urban Harvest's magic corn that was being shipped all over the world?

That'd rule. What say you?

P.S. Unless you own all the others and want to keep that train going, there's not much need to buy this disc. The movie's pretty good but nothing you'll watch over and over, and the lone extra feature is a deleted scene of no interest. A shame since Gulager has done commentaries for most of his other films and they tend to be pretty fun.


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