61 Days of Halloween- Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment so I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest

Daniel Cerny in Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (Dimension)

After having watched Children of the Corn II:The Final Sacrifice I was considering devising a system wherein I gauged the painfulness of these films by which body part I’d rather punch repeatedly for 90 minutes than having sat through that film. Thankfully, I never got around to hatching those plans because along came Children of the Corn 3: Urban Harvest.

One thing I will say right off the bat is that this film unquestionably wins the award for the worst subtitle of any of the Children of the Corn sequels, while it is accurate it is also terrible and makes you think this film will be a lot worse than it is.

The fact of the matter is I love this film. I might even go so far as to use the annoying variant “lurve” if I could distinguish the difference in usage. Anyway, that is not to say that this one is perfect or better than the first but there’s a spark of creativity here, a flair and embracing of the concept in this one you don’t get in other films in the series. It’s also a little out there and in that way it is to an extent the Halloween 3: Season of the Witch (Yes, that review will be re-posted here) equivalent in this series.

The connection to the original film is really a chronological one, a narrative one. This film uses the same scenario as two; orphaned children in need of care and handles it so much better than the previous film it’s not even funny. Here you get a focused situation: Eli (Daniel Cerny) and his brother Joshua (Ron Melendez) come to the big city from Gatlin. The religion and the cult are on the road in a big city and are about to get a big foothold.

What also sets this sequel apart is that it features its antagonist prominently makes him someone you can understand when you hear him preach and speak but also makes him vile enough that you aren’t upset if he’s defeated. Stories from the Bible and quoting of scripture is used very effectively in the film through Eli making the cult seem like something that makes sense. If the children seem justified in their ritual of killing adults and sacrificing themselves it makes them that much more frightening. Understanding a killer’s mind can be a terrifying thing. If a horror film makes you understand that it’s a winner.

The conveyor of the message in this tale, that is more religious than most, is equally important. Daniel Cerny may not have had the longest or most prolific career as a child actor but he did find two roles he was very well suited for that are quite memorable: Eli and the Demon in Demonic Toys (Which I also want to write about). There’s something intangible about his performance. He’s just scary. He doesn’t have the widest range or convey them all emotions equally well, however, at least he can handle dialogue and he can get angry and headstrong. It’s the kind of performance that might best be labeled as great yet inconsistent.

Kills are not something you’ll hear me discuss too much in this series. The Children of the Corn series as a whole isn’t filled with creative deaths it doesn’t really fit the slasher mold. Not only does this film have some jaw-droppingly effective and creative kills but quite a few of them. Which leads to another element of a successful horror film: no one seems safe.

The tone is set early on in the teaser scene. It reveals how they were orphaned and Eli’s true nature and we know it all along and his brother doesn’t. The film carries that secret for a while but then it also is keeping from us, which it spills later on.

Another way in which this film kind of reminded me of the 3rd Halloween film is in the handling of the corn itself. Now the subplot of the corn being somewhat supernatural and malevolent. It seemingly selectively can take down the infidels. The visuals of those deaths paired with the tag at the end make it very similar but it’s also the best handling of this development in the story. After the next film this notion vanishes entirely.

In short, this is the one direct sequel (as opposed to the remake), that as soon as I was done watching it I could see myself gladly viewing again. It also proves how bad a place to watch a film basic cable is because I’ve seen parts of many of these films and the Halloweeen films there before getting the DVDs and they make the experience so much worse. This sequel truly is one worthy of its predecessor and is a blast to watch.

8/10

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61 Days of Halloween: Children of the Corn II- The Final Sacrifice

Ryan Bollman in Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice (Dimension Films)

When dealing with a series, like I am currently or have in the past, I will tend to lean towards something akin to Franchise Criticism. I will focus on the continuous narrative thread and other things pertaining to the franchise. My opinion of each individual film I will try and compartmentalize but there will be commentary along the lines mentioned above because it is necessary to gauge the franchise as a whole which I will do later on.

One thing to note with the Children of the Corn films is that there is a very distinct aspect about them which acts as a double-edged sword; it is that many times in the sequels you will see a new wrinkle, fact or other bit of information added to the mythos and you’ll think to yourself “God, I hope they don’t continue this strain.” The double-edged sword part is that they usually don’t. The good of that is that stupid subplot never rears their head anew, however, that does hurt the continuity of the series. With each installment you need really only know the basics and can walk in cold, which by my definition makes it a bad series. While there are a few occasional highlights be it a moment, performance or a whole film I cannot contradict myself there. Most of these films will receive failing grades yet it was oddly enjoyable to watch them all for two reasons: one, the basic premise is one I love and I am addicted to series. I can’t help it.

As for Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice not only does it hold the distinction of being the most premature false ending to a horror franchise but it’s also pretty darn lousy. It’s not the worse but but perhaps runner-up in the franchise pecking order.

Firstly, the film lets the cat out of the bag so to speak; the massacre in Gatlin has been discovered and it’s now on the news. This in and of itself isn’t an issue, however, the way it’s handled is. The focus of the narrative is bifurcated between reporter John Garrett (Terence Knox) and his annoyingly dysfunctional relationship with his equally annoying and whiny son Danny (Paul Scherrer) and his relationship with Lacey (Christie Clark).

Oh yeah, there’s also Micah (Ryan Bollman). He’s the new preacher and how Danny nearly gets lured into the cult is one of the few things that comes close to working in this film. The acting is terrible all around in this film it is without doubt the worst in the series. Micah is good for some random evil glares and when he gets a chance to finally be mean it’s fine but many sequels in the series put the antagonist (read the Preacher Boy) too far away from the center of it all.

The film plays at love story for quite a while and despite the fact that Lacey is in with the cult the tension surrounding their relationship is never really elevated. Michah’s involvement only increases when he’s actively trying to get Danny involved. It’s also one of the sequels that seemed to feel uncomfortable in its own skin meaning that instead of trying to lay a good foundation of drama there were times it tries too hard to be something it’s not, in this case, a star-crossed romance.

This also marks the beginning of the shifting of location of this series. The horrors in Gatlin were discovered. Many children, presumed innocent, are now orphaned and in need of foster care. Many people in Hemingford, the closest town up the road, offer to take them in. Here’s where bad writing and acting combine to really take the film down another notch: several times they refer to the orphans as a whole as “the sweet, innocent children of Gatlin, (or some such rot) there is not a time this line is uttered where it doesn’t sound insincere. I’m not speaking about audience omniscience, meaning we know they’re really evil so we chuckle, I mean the line reading itself sounds like the actor is being sarcastic or comedic so suspension of disbelief is most difficult.

One thread that does develop hear that dies hard is the notion of disease, mental or physical, is brought into the equation as a possibility, which is unforgivable because it changes the nature of the films. Essentially the film is in not so many words is trying to play the psychotic, cultist, religious zealot children off as victims. However, one thing I do appreciate later on is that it is treated as a white elephant, meaning it’s a concept so big it can’t just be dropped from the series but needs to be gradually written out. Franchises would benefit from story editors because not many changes were handled that smoothly.

Then you have the characters, yeah, those guys. Despite the efforts to develop them I don’t like them. If the audience is going to identify with anyone it’s the kids trying to run away not the father, not the way he’s written. So here you have it again the most annoying permutation of horror film you don’t really like anyone and you know that in all likelihood they’re gonna walk away at the end and you’d rather they be dead.

Few horror films, as a franchise, really survive in their most earnest form: if the villain wasn’t the protagonist to start eventually they become them because they’re who the movie is named after and the characters seem to get dumber, more disposable less identifiable, therefore what do you want to happen to them in a horror film, a piece of entertainment designed to feed on your baser instincts? Kill them. All I’m saying is few far between are the effective, affable protagonists later on in horror series. The constant gives you comfort and a twisted ending gives you pleasure from time to time.

There’s none of that here. After I saw this film I lamented on Twitter about deciding to place the original film last in my viewing order thinking it’d be all downhill until got there. This series like so many has its peaks and valleys. This is a chasm, not quite an abyss, we will get their but its rather painful to endure.

2/10