Friday, October 31, 2014

Children of the Corn: Episode IX

It's always a surreal moment when we finally catch up to the almost-present in a long series of horror films. How have things changed in the 28 years (sheesh!) that this series has been active? Apparently there is rumor of another Children of the Corn remake, although there's rightful doubt it will get off the ground. To me, that sums up this whole enterprise: there's no direction this series can go, just the replaying of its most basic elements over and over in diluted sequels or pointless retreads.

Anyway, let's get this over with. Children of the Corn: Genesis. Wow, thanks for the 2nd most-generic horror subtitle ever. We start in 1973, where a Nam vet returns home to Gatlin right after the kids have arisen to kill their adult overlords. Ambiguous things happen. Cut to the present, where a couple is stranded on the side of the road in the hot, hot sun, their car broken down. Another couple, another fear-of-the-rural trope. Tim is an ineffectual weenis constantly belittled by his preggers wife, Allie, who has the temperament of a rabies-bloated rat terrier with added condescension. Man, what lovable guys! Why do shitty horror movies try to build tension around the most unlikable people? At least Allie has some sweet boobs.

The bickering couple arrive at the home of....*snicker*...oh goodie....Billy Drago. Despite their establishing very quickly that he is criminally insane because he's Billy Drago, they accept his leering, creepy, languid, disturbing hospitality. Oh, and he has a 20-something wife freshly imported from The Ukraine who is also creepy and likes grabbing Tim's wiener. Firmly established in a weird, stupid situation, the couple experiences even weirder things. Allie explores the surrounding farm to find a weird place a worship and what appears to be an imprisoned child in a shed. They manage to call the police, but the cop who investigates flies comically up into the air and won't fall down until the credits. Um...that's actually kind of hilarious. Stupid, but hilarious. Oh, and some telekinetic force that may be the kid is trapping Allie and Tim in the house.

I'd cut the story short, but I'm actually not sure what the plot is. Drago says something about the corny cult needing baby-mamas...the kid may be He Who Pop-n-Locks Behind the Rows...but who knows, or wants to know? The couple escape, but the kid uses his evil-kinesis to crash their car using...oh fuck...stock footage from Bad Boys II!?!? Now that's a travesty. Allie is brought back to the kid. Roll credits. Cop falls hilariously to the ground. Roll more credits. What a pointless pile of dicks.

The Gaffer's Rating: 1 Candy Corn out of 4.

Jesus. This was rough. In trying to pin down why exactly why I hated this series, I think it comes down to a basic element: none of this was particularly fun. Children of the Corn is stern, bleary, dull, and repetitive. While the umpteen films of other horror franchises like The Howling or Hellraiser certainly have worse films than anything in CotC, many of those films still maintain a sense of outrageousness or camp that temper their poor quality. Except for Part II and a handful of moments in Parts III and V, there wasn't any fun to be had here, certainly none worth slogging through the boredom and ineptitude of these 9½ clunkers. It's far better to be bad than ordinary, which this franchise was every step of the way.

There's also a noticeable lack of familiar tropes that kept other flagships afloat, like a main villain. I mean, yeah, we had He Who Dougies Behind the Rows, which began as a neat archetypal concept, but it was so inconsistently portrayed or stupidly elaborated upon that it hardly counts. Other tropes? Uh, murder-kids with farm equipment. And a grain crop. There was almost no attempt at establishing a series mythology, save for the paltry efforts of Part VI, which was like sprinkling corn into a turd that already has corn in it. Boo.

Ultimately, the most we can critique from this series are some familiar elements of American horror: we are scared of the rural and the religious. Fair point, moving on. That's it for Franchise Follies this year. Let's hope next year brings us a better crop. Yeeaaah.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Children of the Corn: Episode VIII

The era of the remake - oh boy! Around this time, executives and producers decided hitting the reset button was way easier than trying to create a new idea, and Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes was recasting horror flagships with amped up violence and even more amped up editing (to pointless effect, usually). Meanwhile, Stephen King franchises were getting their own person do-overs as Made-for-TV flotsam. The time was sort-of...kinda-not-really ripe for some corn on the SyFy Channel!

Well, apparently even Stephen King didn't want anything to do with this bullshit (although who is he to be high and mighty re: "The Langoliers"?), so it was up to 1984 film producer Donald Borchers to bring this project together as the public so desperately craved. And the results? Sigh. Maybe I'm shell-shocked at this point, but Children of the Corn (2009) wasn't that bad. Was it good? Oh my no, but by going back to the beginning we've managed to slough off all the peripheral nonsense that ever glommed to the premise by the time of the first sequel. When there's nowhere to go but backward, your franchise really sucks.

One smart move was altering and/or specifying the time period: the film begins in 1960s Gatlin, where the chillins are starting their revolt - and hey, this time they're actually children! Ok, good. Then we cut to 12 years later, 1975. This version of Burt and Vicky follows the original story - they're attempting a second honeymoon even though they hate one another with the most bitter and vile acrimony in an onscreen couple this side of Martha and George in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? They spend the first half of the film (in which nothing happens) bickering to the point that it's a logical disconnect when neither just murders the other.  We never get a good context for where the tension is coming from, so we don't really care. Burt is a Nam vet, another sensible change in the story, but it doesn't really establish much either except his inevitable ability to beat cultist children to death; I guess it also provides for some interesting flashback sequences when he's running through corn, confusing Vietcong foot soldiers with Mennonite children...

Anyway, we've seen this before. B & V run over a kid, discover the kid had already been gutted, bicker, then roll into the mysteriously deserted Gatlin to find all sorts of creepy mischief and no townsfolk. This part played out decently, again, because of its resemblance to those 14 "Twilight Zone" episodes with abandoned landscapes, but it unfurled at the speed of erosion and was punctuated by Vicki's pointless rancor towards Burt. It's a relief when a kiddie mob shows up and Isaac's ginger enforcer does away with her. Burt comes to grips with what's going on and uses his soldierly skills to murder a few of the children in one of those uncomfortable when-the-worm-turns moments. Isaac toes a fine line between creepy (being an actual child) and annoying. Burt gets chased into the corn, where he is lost for approximately 30 minutes in another unforgivable plot lag while the kids wander off and have some weird ceremony ending with the surprisingly graphic coitus of two teenagers on an altar. Damn, SyFy! Must've been for the uncut DVD release. Burt finds Vicki's body and then gets gobbled up by an unseen force anticlimactically.

This was a surprisingly lean remake that sticks closer to the original source than the 1984 version and, I'd say, is probably better for it. The short story (short, damnit) King provided can ultimately only sustain a 45-or-so minute narrative unless you make clunky changes (as with the original), so this flick really dragged its ass from start to finish. Ultimately the small tweaks to the story gave this Children of the Corn an interesting twist, shifting the focus from a coven of religious zealots hiding out in the midst of a developed nation (and reminding us of our roots as a fringe wilderness society) to the would-be victims. In other words, the film seems less concerned with the existence of a supernatural cult of children than Burt's ability to butcher them, even if in self-defense. Frankly, I've always felt like this franchise never took advantage of depicting comical violence to 8-year-olds. We also never really get to see He Who Planks Behind the Rows, although His presence is implicit in the denouement. A distancing from the supernatural in artistry is usually a smart move, but who are you kidding, Children of the Corn? Ingmar Bergman you ain't, and I wanted to see a damn demon! Anyway, there are positive things to say about this entry, strangely, but ultimately there's not enough material in the inception here to warrant the effort. Not that it more, dear god.

The Gaffer's Rating: 2 Cornholios out of 4.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Children of the Corn: Episode VII

Well, you know we've gotten to the aughts when shit stops getting a number and starts to get the most cliched colon-generic-horror-title treatment! Oh boy! I'm shocked there was/is no Children of the Corn: Resurrection, but I should probably knock on wood. What does the industry have against numbers now, anyway? With horror titles, it's best to wear one's lack of dignity on one's sleeve, but unfortunately Children of the Corn: Revelation wants to be super serial, y'all.

Picking up where no one and nothing left off, we're introduced to sexy Jamie, who I think is the sauciest leading lady we've seen so far. Sorry, NayNay. Jamie's in town (which I'm told is quasi-Omaha) because her granny has gone missing, and she's gonna Nancy Drew like a sexy minx, ooh yeah! Sorry, but I have to find amusement somewhere in this dreck. Granny lived in what is evidently a corn-tenement, what with a cornfield growing next door for no reason. Jamie moves in and befriends a wacky assortment of neighbors: an affable stripper, a brutally-insane man in a wheelchair who screams every word he speaks, a prepper, and a stoner. She is, of course, menaced at every turn by obnoxious children wearing clown-white while being aided by an ineffectual cop with a broad buttchin - man, there have been a lot of buttchins in these movies...that could've been a drinking game. 

Um, I'm actually struggling for plot synopsis on this one. The kids hurl stoner off the roof, and he is eaten by the cornfield and regurgitated as a Mennonite child. Prepper is similarly dispatched and the kids throw wheelchair-Tourrettes-man down a shaft, ha. The corn itself grabs stripper from the bathtub - that was fun. Uh, meanwhile, Jamie learns that this nonsense is happening because, oh lord, another evil boy preacher named Abel self-immolated a tent-full of cult members, of whom Granny was the only survivor. The corn-tenement is built on the site of the fire. Michael Ironside shows up pointlessly as a priest who says cryptic things and intimates that He Who Macarenas Behind the Rows is THE Devil and not just a devil, which is a logical (I guess) but stupid development. Sexy Jamie is very lazily attacked by the corn-kids, all forcibly reincarnated from the previous murders. Jamie burns the building down and is then saved from grabby cornstalks by Detective Buttchin. The end, damnit.

Revelation is definitely not the worst of this lot, but it somehow felt like the most pointless. It lacked the malignantly pointlessness and boredom of its predecessors, but it was still pretty useless. At this point, every single element of the original story has been played out 4 or 5 times. Like most franchise flagships, the last bit of depth has been titrated out through sequels that could just as easily have any other name or modus operandi. Nobody wants to see Children of the Corn anymore - it's a stillborn series whose only staying power is wearied name recognition. I think that after Revelation the atrophy finally started to set in, because it would be a decade before the next "sequel" and eight years before the next installment - wouldn't you know it, a goddamn remake. Blarg.

The Gaffer's Rating: 1.5 White Lightnings out of 4.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Children of the Corn: Episode VI

And finally we say goodbye to the 90s. I'm actually fine with that. Once this series took itself exclusively to rental stores, things have been getting darker (in texture, I mean, not edgier or more disturbing) and more boring. I had hoped that Children of the Corn 666: Isaac's Return was signalling a positive shift (relatively,ok?). We haven't had a strong effort toward continuity (eliding Part II's weak attempt) since now, nor have we had a franchise "player" return, although the revolving door of future-whoms was pretty fun. Let's do this, Part VI.

Then those hopes fizzled out like a fart in the shower. What a grainy, bleak, pointless, boring piece of shit this was. It felt like one of the SciFi Originals you might waste an afternoon on, except maybe with a pair of gory scenes and some swearsies, but not enough to warrant wasting your time when you could be playing Canasta with grandma. With The Howling, I had absolutely no idea what insanity to expect from film to film, but Children of the Corn has offered a grim rebuttal: here's children, here's some corn - now eat it, you prick! It's worth reminding that this is a franchise of nine-and-a-half films that has somehow spawned from one single short story. There wasn't a lot there to begin with: crops, kids, a demon, unwary bystanders. And I refuse to believe the first film was such a runaway success that legions of fans demanded to see more. WTF.

But I digress; let's get this over with. PoutyLips is driving cross-country in a shitty T-Bird to scenic Gatlin, Nebraska (wow, this is our first trip back to that little hamlet). And I swear, she is not two millimeters inside city limits before phantoms, demons, crazy people, and all manner of Bad Foreboding implore her to get the fuck out of there, but she won't. Hooper-Dee-Doo! PoutyLips, you see, is on a mission to find her mama, who we discover is Nancy Allen and an original character from the first film. The knocked-up one, I guess? I don't remember, and neither should you. But seriously, nothing happens in the first 45 minutes here, other than PoutyLips being scared and harassed by local oddjobs, at whom she gapes like an idiot. Gatlin doesn't seem to have any civic infrastructure, but by god they have a fully-housed insane asylum with one doctor and a few other rotting buildings (and cornfields, natch). 

It turns out that, shocker, the original herald of the corn, Isaac, is still alive despite being rocketed through the air and turned into a floury zombie in Numero Uno, though he was comatose until PoutyLips rolled into town. Apparently the corn culties, who are more like twenty-somethings of the corn, have a really confusing issue to deal with: Is Isaac their leader now that he's awake? Or are they putting their efforts into revealing a new corn messiah, the first-born of the original children? I don't know, and neither will you. Isaac apparently had a son while he was comatose (ew), so naturally we assume this is the aforementioned firstborn and not some kind of red herring. Hannah, meanwhile, meets some dude we'll call Hunky Studlove, who pops his leather collar and offers her help, because he's definitely not the real bad guy and we definitely need to keep fiddlefarting in the cornfields and pretend there's a real mystery at hand, right!?

This one was awful. I had prematurely assigned it to the bottom rung of an already-terrible franchise before a pair of amusing moments in the closing half hour almost redeem it - a girl gets scythed completely in half (top-down) by cranky cultists, then the girl's boyfriend self-scythes in an unrelated gesture. Hannah and Hunky Studlove have really inadvisable sex in a horse stall in a barn. A horse stall!! Nothing gets me randy like the smell of offal and the feeling of hay needles poking my bare ass. Woo! He Who Plows Behind the Rows, amirite fellas?? Swish! Oh, and I couldn't make this up, but a cuckoo clock pops out right at the moment of orgasm! I guess this was because of some yada about a prophecy of a child being conceived at midnight, but I think it works better out of context. So, Hunky Studlove IS He Who Hollas Behind the Rows, and he uses telekinesis powers to kill folks, including Isaac before he....deep breath....randomly makes out with an insane man and then blows up. Hannah and her mom escape, although Hannah is knocked up with demonseed...

So, like I said, the last few minutes of this one are quite a ride. But really, what was the point here in returning to Gatlin and Isaac? There was a fight over the cult's leadership, which we've already seen, and the plot revolved around some child of prophecy horseshit. What exactly was this Chosen Corn-One going to do? Use telekinesis and be a crazy prophet-monster, maybe? Exactly like we saw in Parts II, III, IV, AND V ALREADY!? I will say good day to you, movie.

The Gaffer's Rating: 1 Cornbread out of 4.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Children of the Corn: Episode V

Eva Mendes!? Ahahahahahahaha. Maybe she heard that Charlize and Naomi got their big breaks in this franchise and signed up! Actually, Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror is relatively star-studded compared to its predecessors: Ms. Mendes, David Carradine, and Fred Williamson, the Duke of Blaxploitation and star of such films as....this. (Please do not open that link at work or within earshot of anyone. Actually, don't open it at all.) So, yessiree, we should be in store for some fun.

Eh, sort of. Part V is definitely more upbeat and goofy than the previous installment, but it's still grounded in the same exact subject matter we've seen corn nauseum up until now with almost no variation. This whole series is one of the most repetitive I've seen, with nothing but facile changes from film to film, like whether the monster is a huge toothy worm or Bugs Bunny or just a malevolent spirit. In this installment He Who Laffy Taffies Behind the Rows is a...a green fireball. Ok, no questions, just accept. Said fireball engulfs that ginger kid with the huge ears from "Picket Fences" and voila, he is the new avatar of corn who can use telekinesis to kill some guy once but apparently never again! Go with it.

Next, we're introduced to four characters I'll call Eva, Buttchin, BowlcutBiglips, and Sexy Golf Pants, who are driving cross-country for reasons and end up stranded in Divinity Falls, Nebraska, where they run afoul of Ginger Bigears (or Ezeekial, as they are running out of Bible names) and his corn-crΓΌ, who have already killed one of the Zappa children. Turns out that the kids have seized the cornfields for their cultish machinations and are, we guess, under the supervision of a David Carradine who is himself clearly under the influence of some kind of barbiturates. The kids fail to convince Sheriff Fred Williamson that they did not accidentally liquefy their friends in a thresher but who were instead murdered by the cornies. Then they decide to bed down in an abandoned house just because. Go with it.

In the house, Sexy Golf Pants realizes she has a brother who totally joined the corn-cult, and now she has to find him! Eva realizes she has a Latina stereotype to fulfill and has sex with Buttchin for no reason. The kids learn the corn-cult is centering their rituals on a perma-burning corn silo, which houses the eternal green fire of He Who Sweats to the Oldies Behind the Rows. Periodically the children sacrifice themselves by leaping into the flame/monster. Eva does this for no discernible reason. BowlcutBiglips gratuitously explodes himself battling cultists. Buttchin gets stabbed, or something forgettable. Sexy Golf Pants escapes with her brother's widow after dumping fertilizer in the silo. But in the most WTF-moment of the entire series thus far, Fred Williamson's head is hollowed out by a fireball emitted by a split-asunder David Carradine head...because he was a zombie or something? Go with it.

I really don't understand what is going on at this point. Aside from a noticeable surge in stupid details, the same blueprint is playing out over and over for no real payoff in terms of continuity or story arch. Part V is a decent uptick in amusement over the last one, but I seriously feel like I am slogging through the corn-meal at this point. When will it end?!

The Gaffer's Rating: 1.5 Orvilles out of 4.