The Movie Waffler New Release Review - CHILDREN OF THE CORN | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - CHILDREN OF THE CORN

Children of the Corn review
A high schooler rebels when the children of her town slaughter the adults.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Kurt Wimmer

Starring: Elena Kampouris, Kate Moyer, Callan Mulvey, Bruce Spence

Children of the Corn poster

When it comes to the Children of the Corn franchise we've all got our rankings: do we prioritise the road trip gone wrong couples' nightmare of the first, the urban Chicago setting of part three, or 6(66)'s attempt at overarching narrative cohesion..? Only joking of course, as even within the niche loyalties and wide-ranging personal passions of the horror community it is rare to find anyone who really cares about Children of the Corn, and instead the ongoing series seems to abide as an in-joke among fans, who use the constant permutations of this, the most unlikely of enduring franchises (12 films and counting) with its disparate central elements and unlinked narratives, as a genre punchline. Let's see if we're still laughing at the end of this one, yeah?

Children of the Corn review

The first Children of the Corn film was released in 1984, the era where Stephen King's name was first used as a marketing device. The five initial cinematic adaptations of King's work were and are, of course, imperial; not just the best King adaptations, nor yet some of the better horror films, either: for some people, Carrie, The Shining et al are among the greatest films ever. And so, the poster for 1983's Cujo boasted that it was from a Stephen King story, while The Dead Zone later that year graduated to being "Stephen King's The Dead Zone." King's name was business, a pre-sold seal of creepy quality, and production companies scrambled to pick up his properties with Children of the Corn being the first full length adaptation of one (in a start-as-we-mean-to-go-on barrel scrape) of the master's short stories (following Creepshow of a couple of years earlier portmanteauing a few). Out went the careful curation of auteur product (I love it when a serious filmmaker understands and, within their own characteristic style, explores King's deeply felt characters, which was always the main draw) and in came quickie "moron films" (I'm not being bitchy -for once, etc- as that was King's own sobriquet for the subgenre of film he placed his self-directed Maximum Overdrive (1985) within).

This heralded the Dino De Laurentis era of King (which, as a Constant Reader forever and always, means just as much to me as the Corman/Poe cycle does to others), characterised by smaller outfits making/distributing product quick and fast, with New World Pictures (Corman again) picking up Children of the Corn (later selling the rights to New Line). On close reflection it makes a business sense that of all the King properties, Children of the Corn is the one that continues to walk among the rows (of low budget streaming content). Production costs are ostensibly cheap, with the in-built Americana spectacle of corn fields an abiding, available franchise location (although not always), and the otherwise rudiments of the film are permissively nebulous and inconsistent: something about a pagan god, cults, kids with scythes (although, again, not always). It's not like, say, The Shining, where remakes have to involve a hotel and a mad man with an axe, or the prohibitive budgets of The Stand: the only consistencies are the title, with its poetic connotations of rural threat and religion gone wrong, and the tenuous link to King. The loosely defined nature of Children of the Corn means that rights holders can apply the elusive tropes and recognised branding to any old slasher style script...

Children of the Corn review

And so perhaps these films are unloved because they are made with such a lack of love. Hollywood veteran Kurt Wimmer's Children of the Corn (a do-over entry) initially shucks the lacklustre trend, however. This 2020 version at least has a coherence and a seeming ambition to tap into the unsettling group mentality of alienated adolescence, along with a sense of enthusiasm for its archetypes, with some passable effects work to boot. Ultimately, though, any corn heads hoping for bumper produce after years of desultory yield may well be disappointed. It all goes tits up from the start really, where we see an angel-with-dirtied-face lad emerge from the ominous sway of the cornfield (mmmmm, always so cinematic: imagine if Terrence Malick did a "Corn"...), pick up a dirk's not really clear what happens tbh, I had to rewind the scene twice to figure out that kid enacts some sort of hostage situation at the local children's home (?- in a rural area, where everyone is family? I jest) which the authorities decide to deal with by pumping the orphanage full of animal anaesthetic (?) promptly killing all 15 kids inside (double ?). Rather than actually seeing this happen, all of it is instead confusingly communicated to us in voiceover via laconic police dispatch and by characters holding their phones up to camera to communicate expository, after-the-fact news reports. We do, however, witness the poignant upshot of the kids lying dead on the home's floor: mystifyingly, in the melee, one has somehow nonetheless managed to grab her soft toy which she clings to in death because she is innocent.

"There goes my re-election," the good ol' boy sheriff intones, feet up on the desk and establishing the adult/child, innocence/exploitation dynamics which power the franchise. The clichés continue (not necessarily a bad thing in films of this ilk, as they can contribute to the genre comforts) with protagonist Boleyn (Elena Kampouris - this entry's future Charlize Theron, Naomi Watts?) being a late teen suddenly about to leave town to do a university degree (just like that) with her father having to sell the family farm due to lack of funds. There is another girl who is the sole survivor of the kids' home massacre, Eden (Kate Moyer), who is mental and, in one of the film's sole concessions to idiosyncrasy, models herself on the Red Queen from Lewis Carroll. The film establishes her in a Lord of the Flies scenario wherein her and her kiddie cronies enact a kangaroo court walk-the-plank scenario, involving a water tower, a bale of hay and a quivering victim. It's a standout sequence, weird and quite beautifully filmed (although the town burnout, annoyed at Eden dancing on his car, interrupts the proceedings with a barrage of inane pre-watershed profanity - frick, effing, dumbass- which just sounds bizarre). Make the most of it, though, because despite the dreamy allusions to Who Can Kill a Child style jejune strangeness, what happens over the next hour is about as much fun as babysitting...

Children of the Corn review

Buoyed by the malign, supernatural influence of He Who Walks (and possibly Greta Thunberg), the eco kids take on the town people whom they blame for ruining crops with ill-advised chemical fertiliser, and who (in another absurdist moment) laugh at the kids in an especially OTT manner for interrupting a town meeting. The kids pick them off in broadly spaced out, suspense-free CGI splatters, until the film ends. Along the way we meet a reasonably effective computer generated He Who Walks (to which the wag you are watching with will quip, "He Who Groots, more like") and there are moments of deliciously creepy horror such as some little tots painting corn stalks with the blood of a stuck hog - yikes. But it is flashes like this which disappoint more, because they hint at a better, more reliably interesting film, not the same old. As established by the news flashes at the start, the area has internet - is there scope to examine its centrality to youth/influencer culture, juxtaposing technology and The Old Ways? The town is economically disadvantaged, surely there is room for an exploration of the misguided MAGA support which proliferates in the so-called flyover states? It's not so outlandish: screenwriter George Goldsmith maintains that the story of his 1984 original was "a metaphor for the Iranian Revolution," after all... In a franchise in which attention to established details are not a priority, costs are low and marketing is built around a vague familiarity with the pedigree, and where anything could conceivably go, why just harvest the same old crop?

Children of the Corn is on UK/ROI VOD from July 31st.

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