CHILDREN OF THE CORNMOVIE REVIEW
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A SIERRA NEVADA
(MICHAEL MADSEN & JOHN SAVAGE).
A clutch of folks come out of a church in the town of Gatlin. Today's sermon involves corn and a drought. The latter of which is never good news to farmers of the former.
A child's voice tells us that he is coming out of church, and so he is.
A child's voice tells us that he is the only child in church, and so he is.
He and his dad go to the local grill where the child tells us that his Dad is real worried over the health of his sister Sarah (Anne Marie McEvoy) and his Mom and wants to call them before he does anything else. Then Pop says,
"I'm going to call your Mom and sister first."
E-Freakin' gad! How On The Nose can you GET? The Merry Mishaps can't come soon enough to THIS town.
A splattering of blood from the adults & Pater and it's 3 years later.
Now we have a mischievous lass named Vicky (Linda Hamilton: TERMINATOR, KING KONG LIVES, TERMINATOR 2, DANTE'S PEAK) who surprises her sleeping fiance, Burt (Peter Horton: FADE TO BLACK, BRIMSTONE [TV]) with a birthday gift. Then she sings him a graduation song. He is a recently graduated medical student en route to his first real job at a hospital. And away we go, on the road!
Then we meet up with Sarah and her brother, narration boy aka Job (Robby Kiger: THE MONSTER SQUAD). Though it's three years after all of the adults in town were killed, Job and his sister haven't grown an inch or aged a day. Something magical must be happening around these h'yar parts!
They are helping an older boy escape town. They all talk in hushed tones of Isaac (John Franklin: CHILD'S PLAY, THE ADDAMS FAMILY [all], CHILDREN OF THE CORN 666: ISAAC'S RETURN, PYTHON) and Malachai (Courtney Gains: THE LANDLADY, KING KOBRA), who apparently run the show now and have the whole town of children in their grip.
Whatever the kids expected in killing off all of the adults didn't make things any better for them in the town of Gatlin. It made things way worse. It's like North Korea without the nightlife.
To even attempt escape you must run through the huge cornfield, and that's a heavy gamble because Malachai is magically everywhere. And Malachai, for all of his magic, cottons to a long machete type blade when it comes to matters of dispatch.
He do dispatch in the cornpatch.
Meanwhile our lovable couple of happy rubes are barreling down a backwoods road in Nebraska (Nebraskans are all about their corn! Holy crap don't get them started!), and as if a cut throat wasn't bad enough, the runner kid comes out of the corn patch, holding his bleeding throat, steps right into the only oncoming traffic of the week - courtesy of our happy couple - and things get decidedly less happy for the new trio.
One thing leads to another and the next thing the couple knows, they can't seem to escape the town of Gatlin. No matter what road they take, where they go, they keep returning to Gatlin. Burt decides the matter deserves investigation and besides, he needs to use a telephone to call someone about that roadkill.
They enter the spooky deserted "downtown" of Gatlin only to discover that it isn't quite deserted, which really just makes it all the spookier. By this time, Vicky doesn't want to do any more investigating, she just wants to get the hell out of there. Burt's response can be summed up with, "Well yeah, baby, I'd like that too. But in case you haven't noticed, we are weirdly trapped in this town!"
Eventually they seem to be making their escape when Burt sees a house, and the house has a screen door, and that screen door closes. At this point the movie gets incredibly stupid. Burt, On the Edge of Victory, stops the car and, with the excuse of "I want to use their phone." walks right into someone's house!
He Walks Right Into Someone's House!
In Texas that gets you shot, but I don't know how they play in middle of nowhere Nebraska.
The more I think about it, the less I want to know. The house is a wreck and it looks like no one has lived there for some time. Once it's made clear to Burt that there is no phone to be had, he hears a noise from upstairs. Does he say, "Sorry for intruding!"?
Does he say,
He creeps - Creeps - upstairs (you know, like a Creep!) saying, "Hello?" "Hello?"
That would get you shot in Arizona but maybe they roll different in Gatlin.
By now it's clear that Burt will walk right into someone's home like he owns the place: as if he feels entitled to avail himself of whatever they have simply because he wants it. Which means I don't like this character and I'm looking forward to seeing him get his. Which means that there is only one sympathetic character left in this movie.
AFTER acknowledging to each other that the town of Gatlin seems to be a ghost town, sparsely inhabited by various ages of somewhat sinister children -
Even more amazing, after every freaky damn thing they've been through up to this point, Vicky doesn't look her true love straight in the eyes and say,
"Are you out of your god damn f*cking MIND?!?!"
In short order Burt and a VERY reluctant Vicky pretty much hand themselves over to the evil machinations of Isaac and Malachai on a silver platter. And when people have survival skills THIS bad, holy crap do you wanna see them die!
CHILDREN OF THE CORN remains the biggest hullabaloo for director Fritz Kiersch, who went onto direct even worse with GOR and an Alan Smithee movie, FATAL CHARM (found these days under the title, Mutant Beast). For this he worked off a script by George Goldsmith who, after over 25 years has done no better.
So how did such a poorly written, poorly directed movie spawn a fleet of sequels?
Bloody great timing!
In 1983, having Stephen King's name attached to the title of a movie was still a good thing. Every year since 1980 had produced a hit (1983 produced four King hits with the addition of CUJO, THE DEAD ZONE, and CHRISTINE). CHILDREN OF THE CORN was actually the start of the downslide. Then, the year CHILDREN OF THE CORN came out on videotape, actress Linda Hamilton starred in the 1984 smash hit, THE TERMINATOR, insuring good video rentals for CORN.
The acting here is abysmal and since we've seen most of these people in other movies, we know that they are much better than how Kiersch directed them.
Also the town of Gatlin itself feels impossible. Granted it's supernatural and we have to suspend disbelief for a supernatural entity appearing in reality, but we first need the reality.
In every story and book I've ever read, and movie I've ever seen, the issue of a town's support system was addressed. Even bonkers off-the-wall Lovecraft had his Innsmouth economically functional to the outside world, even while it was a hellish place within. Innsmouth retained a façade for the travelling passerby, and its economic microcosm of the world exchange (goods, groceries, post office).
The same for the strangely isolated town in Shirley Jackson's The Lottery
When a town or city was completely cutoff from the rest of the world, everybody knew about it, as in John Carpenter's ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, or Jerome Bixby's It's A Good Life.
What happens in the town of Gatlin, where all the adults are killed off? The rest of the county, neighboring border towns, farms, the entire state of Nebraska just ignores the fact that a significant tax and vote contributing town and enormous farming community - and so major contributor to the state's economy - has just dropped off their map! Nobody is curious at the state or federal level, Nobody questions, No extended families, Nobody is concerned that the vibrant infrastructure that brought food, mail, and money in and out of this town is cut off.
It's one thing to have a story like this where a town is vacant thanks to a world calamity like disease in THE LAST MAN ON EARTH or a nuclear strike or SOME THING. But this town of Gatlin with miles upon square miles of farming community sharing fenceline with the uncursed neighboring farm communities, abruptly vanishes from the face of Nebraska and it goes unnoticed for Three Years?
No freaking way!
In the commentary, Director Kiersch mentions that the movie should be appreciated for what it is, seeing as it had such a low budget and all. But it costs nothing to have the script make some kind of mention regarding this anomaly. Also, accounting for inflation, CHILDREN OF THE CORN's $800,000 budget in 2009 dollars equals over $1.7 million. That's more than the price of SAW, CABIN FEVER, or HARD CANDY, today. That's more than twice as much as HALLOWEEN, which was made only a few years earlier. So yeah - it could have been so much better.
The problem wasn't with the budget.
So how did CHILDREN OF THE CORN get to have so many sequels? Sales strategy. For one thing, that $800,000 movie with Stephen King's name and Linda Hamilton starring, became over $14 million at the box office.
As long as you keep making low budget sequels to as popular a writer as Stephen King, you can keep attaching Stephen King's name to it, and that has value! Make them ever cheaper and direct to video - and keep Fritz the hell away from the franchise - and you get profit margins. In the land of direct to video movie distribution, you don't need a hit, you just have to beat the point spread. It's the same strategy used for Stephen King's SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK.
Some folks call CHILDREN OF THE CORN a classic. But it's no classic, it's just a quarter century old.
Still, if you are a fan of the series (and it definitely has its fanbase) you should love its current incarnation. Anchorbay Entertainment spent some bucks for the 25th Anniversary Edition. It's digitized in high definition - which means Divimax on DVD and now Hi-def BLU-RAY as well.
But I still have to rate just the movie and I can't give it more than a barely earned two Shriek Girls.