When I was asked to review this film, the 9th, YES THE 9TH film in The Children of The Corn franchise, I first of all decided to revisit the original 1984 film adaption of this Stephen King short story.
I remembered loving this film when I watched it on VHS as a teen back in the 90s, and to be honest, apart from some dicey visual effects, the film still holds up pretty well, and is a solid favourite of horror movie fans. The ‘child’ cult leader Isaac and his second in command Malakai are genuinely creepy, and ‘He who walks behind the rows’ is an invisible and ominous force which controls the children of Gatlin Nebraska, ordering them to murder any adult that steps foot in the town.
‘He who walks’
In this latest telling of this tale, Isaac and Malakai have been replaced with 12-year-old Eden Edwards (Kate Moyer) and ‘He who walks behind the rows’ is now ‘He who walks’. And he doesn’t really walk. He stomps. Loudly.
We open on the cornfields, and a token spooky scarecrow. This will not be the first time director Kurt Wimmer throws in a horror trope, idea, or plot line which he then fails to develop.
Eden is pretending to ride a pony outside the Rylstone Children’s home. We know it’s the children’s home because there is a tiny sign outside the door telling us. A worse-for-wear looking young teenage boy (Boyd) played by Rory Potter emerges from the corn field and proceeds to arm himself with a knife before heading straight into the children’s home to murder some adults. The audience are left outside with Eden, only able to hear the massacre which is occurring inside. The power of suggestion can be very effective in horror. In this case it is not. The screams of the adults from within the home sound comedic and cheap, not convincing at all.
The Sheriff’s men know exactly how to gain control in this situation. Pump the children’s home full of ‘cow gas’, a bovine anaesthetic, to take Boyd down. Unsurprisingly, they end up killing everyone inside.
Including the children.
These people are dumb.
Eden is mighty pissed off.
Pushed to its limits
As the opening credits roll we are taken through the streets of Rylstone, a town which has been pushed to its limits. The source of income for the town is corn, but their corn is dying. Because of their dire situation, all of the adults of this small Nebraskan town have turned into complete assholes. Adultery, domestic violence, greed, and general dick-headedness are rife. (Oh, and did I mention. The townsfolk are dumb.)
Hungry for revenge
But if you think the adults are bad, wait until you get to know young Eden a little better. This all American, pigtailed, cowgirl boot wearing nightmare child is 100% psychopath and is hungry for revenge. Kate Moyer’s performance is probably the highlight of the movie. She oozes spoiled brat vibes, and has some incredible nonchalant smirks and facial expressions, and just like her idol, the Red Queen from Alice In Wonderland, she doesn’t even wince when dishing out the orders to put any adults that challenge her to their death. Another character that stood out was Pastor Penney. When I wasn’t gripped by the action on screen, my mind kept wandering, as I tried to work out – who is that guy, and where do I recognise his face from? Then it clicked! It’s The Gyro captain (Bruce Spence) from Mad Max 2:The Road Warrior. Anyway, I digress.
After the credits, we are back in the cornfield. Here we are introduced to siblings Cecil played by Jayden McGinlay and Boleyn (Bo) played by Elena Kampouris. Cecil finds a maze puzzle on the floor and points out how weird he thinks it is that the words maize and maze sound the same. It’s not weird. There are maize mazes. They exist, they are a thing. Cecil is dumb.
Bo follows this by dropping a huge plot dump explaining how she warned the townsfolk they were killing the corn, how crop dust can be dangerous and can even cause hallucinations just like in the Salem Witch trials. This lazy, throw away storytelling continues throughout the film.
It’s A Good Life
Wimmer even includes clips from the iconic 1961 Twilight Zone episode It’s A Good Life, (if you haven’t seen this episode of The Twilight Zone you MUST watch it). It’s the one in which 6-year-old Bill Mumy, plays Anthony Fremont, holds his family and the inhabitants of a small Ohio town called Peaksville in a grip of terror, sending any adult who disagrees with him or makes him angry to the cornfields with the power of his mind. It’s almost like Wimmer is saying, ‘this is what I want my film to be, but I’m not sure how to do it’.
There are clear parallels between It’s A Good Life and this adaptation of Children of The Corn, such as evil adult-killing kids and cornfields, but there are also differences. The main one being that this Twilight Zone episode was terrifying, thanks to excellent script, direction and acting. This adaptation of Children of The Corn is not terrifying. At all.
If I haven’t made it clear already, this film is not a masterpiece. It’s a mixed up film that’s not sure whether its a monster movie, slasher or folk horror. It borrows from all of these sub-genres, but fails to commit to any of them. It attempts to weave social and moral messages into the film’s narrative, including generational blame, environmental issues and child abuse. All of these serious issues are clunkily shoved into the plot. There is no home for serious socio-political messages in a film where you have a giant corn monster and a Stetson wearing, weapon-wielding 12 year old and her pals running amuck in a small American town.
Even the climax of the film falls flat. What should be the ‘Carrie’s hand bursting from the grave’ moment is completely botched. The last line, which I think was meant to leave the audience shocked, is so distorted by audio effects that it is undecipherable, even closed caption couldn’t figure it out. Unforgivable! A bad end to a pretty bad film.
Frustratingly, if the filmmakers had embraced the ridiculousness and delivered a movie with its tongue firmly in its cheek, this film could have been a blast.
Great grizzly set pieces
There are some great grizzly set pieces including some gory eye-gouging, and this film might just scrape into the ‘so bad that it’s good’ category of horror. If you’re after an easy watch with a ridiculous and unrealistic plot, a bad CGI monster, and if like me you enjoy watching idiots being lead to the slaughter, you have an hour and a half to kill, and your soul is already a dead and empty husk, then give this movie a watch. If you are after a scary and intellectual horror movie that delivers a message in a subtle and intelligent manner. Don’t bother.