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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

CHILDREN OF THE CORN -- DVD review by porfle

I've heard the original 1984 version of this movie described as a "classic", but the only things I remember from when I saw it back in the 80s are Linda Hamilton (lookin' good) and Courtney Gains (lookin', unfortunately, like Courtney Gains). And also the fact that, for me, it seems to have been pretty unmemorable. How, then, would I react to a made-for-TV remake of this Stephen King story? Why am I asking you?

Having just watched it, I can now state unequivocally that the 2009 TV-remake of CHILDREN OF THE CORN is...okay. Looking very much like a TV-movie with extra gore and nudity added for the DVD, it begins in 1975 with Burt Stanton (David Anders) and his wife Vicki (Kandyse McClure) driving through Nebraska farm country and trying to find their way out of it. These people hate each other and are constantly arguing, which distracts Burt long enough for him to accidentally run over a little kid who darts out from the tall corn. Shocked and horrified, they discover that the boy's throat has been cut.

Burt decides to take the body to the nearest town and report the incident, but the small village of Gatlin seems deserted. Suddenly, Burt and Vicki are surrounded and attacked by hordes of creepy children who are devoted members of a religious cult led by the diminutive Isaac (Preston Bailey), whom they believe is in direct contact with the wrathful God of the Old Testament. Isaac preaches that all adults over the age of 19 are sinful and must be killed, which is why there aren't any grownups around. Burt and Vicki, naturally, become the next targets of this twisted cult and potential sacrifices to their unusually corn-centric God.

Probably the most noticeable thing about this movie at first is that Kandyse McClure's "Vicki" is one of the most insufferable characters in film history. Crabby, vindictive, self-centered, whiny, verbally sadistic (she berates Burt for being a Viet Nam vet), incessantly bitchy--and these are her good qualities--Vicki is automatically the character we most want to see die horribly.

Others, including perfidious pipsqueak Isaac and his older punk toady Malachai, will join her on that list, along with just about every other brat in the movie, but Vicki tops them all. McClure, who played Sue Snell in another Stephen King TV-remake (the much-superior CARRIE), must be credited for making this character every bit as hateworthy as written.

David Anders' "Burt" thus becomes the only person that we can root for, and the movie is at its best when the former Marine is kicking some serious little-kid butt. His wartime experience comes back to haunt him as he's being chased through the cornfields and has flashbacks in which he imagines himself eluding the Viet Cong, making the protracted chase sequence more interesting. Anders, who I found impressive in the nifty 2006 supernatural flick LEFT IN DARKNESS, does a good job as Burt and gives us just about the only reason we have to care about anything that happens in this movie.

Preston Bailey, who plays Rita's son Cody on "Dexter", tries to be forceful and imposing as cult leader "Isaac" but still looks like he belongs in a Sugar Pops commercial. The kid does manage to spout a heck of a lot of unwieldy dialogue, though, laden with Old Testament-style threats and pronouncements, so you've got to hand it to him. A homicidal fire-and-brimstone wackjob isn't the kind of character that nine-year-old actors are usually asked to portray.

The direction by Donald P. Borchers, who co-produced the original film, is competent but unexceptional. Borchers also wrote the teleplay (inspired by the unused screenplay by King for the first version), which contains some groan-worthy lines such as "Put that in your God and smoke it!" and a whole lot of faux-Biblical blather.

On the sex-and-violence front, some grievous-looking wounds are among the nice gore effects--a broken arm with protruding bone, a spurting throat gash or two, a couple of horribly mutilated victims--and there's a surprising sex scene which takes place on the altar of Isaac's church when he announces that it's time for "fertilization." The score by Jonathan Elias, who also did the music for the original version, is noisy and overbearing. Even the edits make noise.

The DVD from Anchor Bay is 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Surround 5.1 and English subtitles for the hearing-impaired. The bonus feature is an in-depth, entertaining 45-minute documentary, "Rough Cuts: Remaking 'Children of the Corn'", which is broken into four chapters--"New Directions", "Cast of the Corn", "To Live and Die in Gatlin", and "Fly on the Wall." Included are lots of behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the cast and filmmakers.

Borchers states that he'd love to hear Stephen King's opinion of the new film, in which the author chose not to participate, since it sticks much closer to his original vision. I've definitely seen worse films that enjoyed King's direct involvement. CHILDREN OF THE CORN redux isn't all that bad for a low-budget TV-movie, although I doubt if very many people will still be talking about it fifteen years from now.


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