Final Girl Film Club time! Haven't done one of these in a while.
Only upon reading about this version did I learn that the 1984 Children of the Corn (reviewed here) doesn't entirely follow the plot of Stephen King's short story. It was pretty much given a "good triumphs evil" ending, whereas the original tale and this made-for-television film both finish on a downer. Closer to the source material + more depressing = a good thing, I thought.
Well, sometimes King's short stories work as feature length adaptations (Shawshank! Stand By Me!) sometimes they don't (this!). The sins of the 80s original are sadly repeated here: with pacing which makes minutes feel like hours and boredom taking the place of really any of the emotions you want from a horror movie. It's a shame, because who doesn't love brainwashed cult children killing adults in small-town rural America? That sounds just delicious and a whole lot of fun.
This film is neither of those things. Womp womp.
This may also be the least scary horror film opener I've ever seen. A group of children look gormless in a tent while some heavy handed scene setting goes down. It's NINETEEN SIXTY-THREE people, and we're in GATLIN, NEBRASKA. The death cult theme is introduced and we learn that adults are sinners, and the town's being punished by a cornfield-lurking Old Testament God because of this. So the kids are to kill all the grown ups - no one is to live above the age of nineteen.
The ranting child prophet is dressed as a cowboy, by the way.
Twelve years on brings more shitty dialogue badly acted, and not one but two more mentions that we're in GATLIN, NEBRASKA. Bickering married couple Burt and Vicky are road tripping and end up here after accidentally running over a child, as he hotfooted it out of a cornfield.
Wait, where are we again? I forget...
"Come take a look! So you can tell all your NRA buddies what you bagged in NEBRASKA!".
Upon closer inspection they discover the kid was bleeding out from a slit throat anyway. What a spot of luck! That doesn't stop the incessant bloody arguing between the two though. Vicky wonders aloud how she ever ended up married to Vietnam veteran Burt, whilst we ponder likewise. But this isn't a depiction of a vulnerable marriage like in, I dunno, The Shining; it's merely aggravating having to listen to a couple going on and on and ON at one another. If I wanted to listen to couples pointlessly arguing, I'd turn off the TV and eavesdrop on my neighbours.
They load the kid in the trunk and head off to find Gatlin police, to report the accident.
Unfortunately for them, this is the Gatlin police dept.
Then this happens.
This is my favourite part of the film, this shot.
Preston Bailey plays prophet and leader, Isaac. You may recognise him as Dexter's son, from the popular TV show! Here he spouts scripture and delivers lines with exceedingly repetitive parrot-fashion intonations, to the extent that I couldn't concentrate on what he was saying, half the time. Exposition in this movie is a choice between adults yelling, or children talking nonsense.
Big hats: not generally scary. But at the least the corn's in shot.
I much preferred the weird young-old looking Isaac from the first one (John Franklin). He may have been an adult playing a child, but at least he was creepy.
It is an age old trick, using kids and kiddie-related stuff to ratchet up the creepiness in a narrative; yet somehow the casting of actual children in this does nothing for the sinister feel of the movie. They went to all that trouble of employing mostly under-agers (whereas the '84 version did not) but it only really pays off in the more explicit scenes, which I'll talk about in a little while.
The pace picks up finally, when Burt goes to investigate a church, leaving Vicky in the car. She is ambushed by the children and despite what must have been a hell of a lot of noise in an otherwise dead silent town, it takes Burt ages to go back outside and try to help his wife.
Um, spoiler... he fails.
This confrontation with the little religious zealots appears to kick off some 'Nam flashbacks in Burt, who spends his remaining screen time killing or maiming children and slowly losing his mind - illustrated by some sweet visual effects which look like they belong in a music video. Because horror needs more of those.
Ultimately the corn god gets bored waiting for the kids to kill Burt, so he does it himself. Then we're given a looong post credit sequence of ginger sergeant-at-arms Malachi saying goodbye to his knocked up lady love Ruth, because he's reached the age he must offer himself up as a sacrifice.
This film... it kind of baffled me. On the one hand, it's not very good and the acting stinks (best performance by far? Alexa Nikolas as Ruth, her faith shaken). Nothing much happens for stretches of it, the dialogue during the dialogue heavy sequences... just awful. Yes, it was made for TV and I'm not too sure what the caliber of work is on the SyFy Channel - wasn't Sharknado from there? - but this is dire and yet strangely explicit, at the same time? It depicts graphic (compared to mainstream films) child death and young adult T&A.
The scene goes on for some time on the uncut DVD version, too.
Clearly some of the more intense stuff was not aired on TV, but that just makes the uncut version play disjointedly like exactly what it is: a weak TV movie with some graphic stuff thrown in to shift the DVD release. Personally I'd rather it picked a side and stayed there.
Visually speaking it's interesting to note that like the 1984 version, I found there to be some lovely shot compositions in amongst everything. The image of the dead boy in the foreground and car behind, for one. Here it is again, if you can't be bothered to scroll up.
Big juicy high-res version here.
Another is this one.
I'd be fine with someone taking a sickle to everything but these two visuals, and build it up anew from there.