Anchor Bay // 2009 // 92 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // October 6th, 2009
Yet another blow in the war against why high fructose corn syrup is bad for kids...
Donald Borchers helped produce the original 1984 cult horror flick Children of the Corn and decided it was time to apologize to Stephen King. The B-movie producer wanted to fashion a more faithful adaptation this time out, including elements taken out of the first film. So, 25 years later we get a second helping of corn fields and psycho kids. It is more faithful in spirit, but could it possibly work as well as this story did back in 1984?
Burt (David Anders, Heroes) and Vicki (Kandyse McClure, Battlestar Galactica) Stanton are a couple who fight and bicker constantly, as they scream their way across the country. While taking the back roads yelling at each other, they end up hitting a small boy. Burt quickly realizes the child already had his throat slit and is dying anyway. With the body in the trunk, the couple goes down the road to the next town. Gatlin, Nebraska is where they end up -- a town where children have formed a strange religious cult, nobody lives over the age of 19, and they all follow the word of a small eight year old prophet named Issac (Preston Bailey, Dexter).
I'm not opposed to a remake of Children of the Corn, since the original movie was never all that effective capturing Stephen King's true creep factor. The 1984 project certainly is not sacred cinematic ground. Unlike the original Halloween or The Omen, it had a lot of room for improvement, especially in its final act. Unfortunately, this made-for-television SyFy Channel movie follows in the tradition of small screen remakes like The Shining and Carrie. We get a "more faithful to the source script," but it looks like a small budget attempt with TV actors standing in less expensive corn fields. I will give it this, though -- the remake has more gore and bleak moments than the original.
Stephen King's name is all over this project. From the film credits we get the impression the famed author sat down with director Donald Borchers and wrote the update, which would make sense given he did the same with other television remakes. The truth is Borchers is only giving King credit because he's working from the author's original script and quoting lines from the short story. Stephen King did not read this script, nor did he get the slightest bit involved. In fact, producers received a nasty letter from King's legal team stating he wanted nothing to do with it, having no faith or interest in the project. His name is only there for legal reasons, and an awesome marketing angle. Donald Borchers doesn't even know if King has seen the film, so his presence is not as close as some would have you believe. That makes me feel a little better, when I tell you it may be more faithful, but far less effective.
One of the main reasons the new telling doesn't work is that you hate the lead couple. David Anders and Kandyse McClure work with dialogue straight from the short story, which had a couple near the end of their bad marriage. It's all one note arguments and they never get to play anything with a hint of variety. The problem is these actors are too young to play unhappy, and they come off as nothing more than screechy and whiney. With no emotional investment in the perilous heroes, the story has no impact. You start to miss Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton, a great pair who actually seemed to like each other. You'll root for the kids to rip out their eyes and insert corn husks...although that's not easy to do, given the toddlers' new look and presence.
These kids are not nearly as creepy as the original cast, so the threat doesn't feel daunting. In this update, they all wear Amish outfits, making them blend together in a sea of black and white. They are younger and cast age appropriately, which lessens the horror. Watching five year olds wield pitch forks doesn't seem all that dangerous. Part of the charm of the first film was the older actors who could play kids like John Franklin with a Growth Hormone Deficiency condition. It gave everything a more creepy vibe. These children of the corn are indistinguishable and far too cherubic, like being attacked by the Cabbage Patch Kids. In fact, eight year old Issac, played by Preston Bailey, wears this huge black hat that makes him look far too much like Rick Moranis as Dark Helmet in Space Balls rather than a serious religious zealot.
The DVD presentation is actually quite good, and they do the smart thing by adding extra footage and plenty of featurettes to combat the "I'll just watch this on cable" mentality. According to the box, this is an uncut version of the film with additional gore and sex. The end result only adds seconds to the proceedings, but true horror hounds will appreciate the extra blood. The widescreen anamorphic image is crisp and clean, even with its stylistically altered digital coloring. Surround sound is workable with some nice atmospherics in the corn row showdowns. Extras revolve around four featurettes which actually make up a forty-five minute look behind-the-scenes. We get cast and crew talking about why this project was so appealing and what they sought to do. In an odd way, I had far more respect for the intentions of the film after seeing this, so it's a nice enhancement to the viewing experience.
Even if I was let down by this remake, there are some moments that work. Sending the story back to the '70s allows Burt to be a Vietnam vet fresh from a tour of duty, and keeps the overall lack of technology a little more feasible. The scenes where he imagines the children as Viet Cong is a bit over the top, but then we are watching toddlers kill people in a corn field. Subtlety will never be a strong point. I appreciated the darker touches, such as the extreme gore inflicted on several children, the extra sex scene to explain reproduction of the kids, and the dark-as-hell ending. The last act works far better than the "killer gopher" featured in the original. You have to sit through the credits to see the extra beat tacked onto the ending. "He Who Walks Behind the Rows" is a little more mysterious here, no longer seeming quite as goofy.
This second version of Children of the Corn is not an improvement over the '80s cult classic, even if it does owe more to the short story. The leads, a group we care little about, are not presented well. The titular children are not scary, having ordered outfits from the Amish World catalogue. The climax is better, making me wish they could somehow go back and reshoot the 1984 version with this conclusion. This one may only be fun as a footnote, but it's better than the endless Corn sequels we got on home video.
Now for the shocking twist...the harvest may not be over.
After the original, seven sequels, and now the remake, there is talk Dimension Films is developing one more version for the big screen. Word is Ehren Kruger who penned Scream 3 has been approached to write a new treatment. This is all still rumors, at the time of this writing, but one thing is certain: as long as there is cash in the cornfield, Hollywood will keep coming back for more. It sems we'll all be "bringing in the sheaves" for a long time to come.
Too shrill and silly to top the original, this remake is not the crop fans
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated