Sunday, July 10, 2016

CHILDREN OF THE CORN Franchise Retrospective Part 2: Urban Harvest & The Gathering

Before I get in to the next two chapters of the CHILDREN OF THE CORN SERIES let me admit that I'll be writing about Urban Harvest on memories close to two months old. I watched the movie in anticipation of writing this entry into the franchise retrospective and simply forgot to write about it. I honestly don't want to sit through the movie again this soon after having just watched it.

Eli and Joshua who know nothing but life on the farm are adopted by a couple from Chicago after the death of their father at the hands of Eli and have a hard time adjusting to life around the big city, especially the younger brother. They dress weird and talk weird and even packed a suitcase full of corn to bring a taste of home to their new family. During his first night at the new house Eli sneaks out of the house to an abandoned factory on the other side of the fence and plants corn seeds while praying to He Who Walks Behind The Rows. Almost instantly a field of corn has grown which gathers the attention William, his adopted father, for the massive profits it could bring. Unfortunately for William this corn will turn any child who eats it into brainless followers of He Who Walks Behind The Rows and they turn on the adults of the school which would be bad enough but then He Who Walks Behind The Rows rises from the soil of the cornfield in the form of a giant monster that looks like a giant deformed penis and it's up to Joshua and the remaining normal kids to destroy the monster and send him back to where he came from.

CHILDREN OF THE CORN III: URBAN HARVEST was released in 1995 and was the first film in the series to be produced by Dimension films and Mirimax and is largely a dud. While there are some unintentionally funny moments including the reveal of a suitcase full of corn and the mom thinking her Eli is not only a bratty little bastard but also a weird kid she wants nothing to do with and I do think the monster was a nice change for the series that up to now has only had unseen forces paired up with the killer children to do the evil. Yes, the giant dick shape that it's head has gave me the chuckles because sometimes I'm still a 12 year old boy who thinks farts and dicks are hilarious, but it was actually a well designed creature that didn't look cheap or fake which is no surprise since Screaming Mad George (Nightmare On Elm Street 3, Society) worked on the special effects and makeup. The imposing monster is easily the best thing about the movie because otherwise it is dull, full of cookie cutter characters and offers little in the way of anything redeeming. It's worth noting that this film is the debut feature film for Charlize Theron who plays one of Eli's followers.

Late edit: After viewing the end monster battle again I have to say that if the whole movie was as entertaining as that 10 minutes this movie would be fucking awesome. It's a death filled, giant monster video game boss battle and it's a lot of fun to watch. Too bad the rest of the movie stinks.

1996 brought CHILDREN OF THE CORN IV: THE GATHERING, the first in the series to go straight to video. The film centers around Grace Rhodes (Naomi Watts in her starring role debut), a pretty young college student who returns home to help her mother June (Karen Black) who suffers from Agoraphobia take care of her younger brother and sister. June has been stricken with nightmares of being attacked by children and her condition is only getting worse. While home Grace takes on her old job as the assistant to the local doctor and a serious and widespread illness has hit the children of the town, giving them dangerously high fevers and their teeth falling out, similar to June's nightmares. The children all begin calling themselves different names - all dead children of the town's past. The children seem to be following a decades old child preacher named Josiah who was murdered by the townsfolk and now Josiah is using the blood offerings of the children to regain power and life.

THE GATHERING actually surprised me. I found myself engaged in the movie, caring about Grace and her family, and being mildly entertained. The movie has its shortcomings including questionable effects and plenty of overacting but it also expands on the mythos of He Who Walks Behind The Rows in a manner that is believable (believable in the Children of the Corn universe anyways) and carries a mean spirit to it as we watch the kids degrade from normal happy go lucky kids to near death with their fevers reaching 105 degrees and higher and then finally seeing their teeth fall out before they finally become servants of Josiah.

The fourth entry of the series rivals part 2 as being the most violent as there's no shortage of farm equipment flying around impaling people here. Unfortunately much of the violence happens just off screen and we only see the aftermath. THE GATHERING is a darker film, making the violence feel more intense than part 2 however, where much of the violence, while entertaining, feels corny (ha!) and humorous as opposed to scary or horrifying. There's also a serious Freddy Krueger and Nightmare On Elm Street influence on this movie as there are more than a couple of scenes involving special effects makeup that strongly resembles Freddy's burns and the entire plot line that Josiah haunts June's dreams. It's not a direct rip off but there's a strong influence.

And it's not that the fourth entry into the CHILDREN OF THE CORN series isn't also cheesy because it definitely is. Karen Black doesn't exactly turn in the same award winning performance that she did for Five Easy Pieces and a young Naomi Watts doesn't seem comfortable in her own shoes carrying the picture but she gets the job done. There's nothing stylish or overly imaginative about the direction or design of the film but that probably shouldn't be expected from the fourth entry of a mediocre horror franchise, especially when it is the first to not get any sort of theatrical run.

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