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 (1984)

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 (1984)

John Franklin in Children of the Corn (New World Pictures)

In my opinion this is a great film and here’s why: Even before we see anything we feel that the score will be of great importance in this film. Aside from a slightly electronic new wave 80s score provided by Jonathan Elias the film is also scored by a children’s choir appropriate and both chilling in tandem with the events that occur onscreen and with the theme of the film.

Like in many horror films we begin in flashback to prior event that led to current unusual circumstances with voice over narration of Job (Robbie Kiger) who is the older brother of Sarah (AnneMarie McAoy). Throughout the film these two are involved in simple activities which are banned under the rules but because of Sarah’s gift they generally are allowed to do what they wish.

What separates this film from most in the 80s is that it’s not necessarily into gore. We get dead bodies and the after-affect of the massacres. The obsession of needing to see the blade or bullet, whatever it may be, pierce the skin is absolutely eliminated and the result is even more frightening.

Joseph (Jonas Marlowe), a child displeased with the ways Isaac has placed upon the town of Gatlin, tries to escape but he is caught. All we see when he dies is a few drops of blood falling on a suitcase he was going to take with him on the road.

Film is a medium that is at times binding to the imagination. When any director, Fritz Kiersch, in this instance allows the audience to imagine what may have been done to these people it deserves notice. Another example of this being the massacre three years prior that kicks off the film we hear a mother’s death over the phone and see a father’s blood splatter over a son’s face. A lot of what makes this film great is the mounting tension that is created when we see these two trying to get around this seemingly abandoned town.

One of the most effective techniques Kiersch uses to heighten tension while the film was progressing is the use of shots from an anonymous yet subjective POV after we know the children were already out to get them. There’s a shot through broken glass that’s been stained brown, a shot of someone peering over a garbage can, low-angle shots of the corn when Joseph’s being chased. He also employs time to his advantage because the young couple does not enter the town of Gatlin where all the horrors will occur until the 39th minute of the film and even when there things creep along slowly.

There is a great use of wide-angle shots throughout to demonstrate the emptiness of the town. The audio and visual effects of this film are absolutely breathtaking, except maybe for one notable one at the very end (You know which I mean). There’s a great use of what appears to be time lapse footage coupled with the audio effect of gushing wind to signify the wrath of God. Near the conclusion of the film we hear the greatest demonic voices in the history of film (In my humble opinion). They’re deep, raspy and frightening without going overboard. And just when we think the most psychotic of all the town’s children is going to walk away from this Isaac speaks to him in that voice and delivers a line that helps make that voice: “He wants you too, Malachai. He wants you too.” The escalating horror of the climax continues when there is a gorgeous fiery apparition in the sky and later an obviously processed flame beneath it which we assume is supernatural but to say more would be giving it away.

The end of Children of the Corn is wonderful the very last scene gives you a fright which is conceivable and doesn’t seem fake at all due to some crafty editing. It takes away that artificial happy ending feeling. The happy ending in any horror movie is absolutely false because we know the characters usually have been through a harrowing experience and it’ll be hard for them to walk away smiling. Watch for the sound of the crickets and the return of a choir, this ending will run a chill through you all over again!

This film is also steeped in religious commentary. First, there is Horton and Hamilton in the car listening to a televangelist and mocking him and showing very good comedic interplay. They find a cross made of corn and Horton says in an offhand and stunned way “Jesus Christ” to which Hamilton responds “Not in my book.”

We witness a mass of those who worship He Who Walks Behind the Rows and see the irony of their words screaming at us. All the names of the children in this town Isaac, Malachai (Though spelled differently in the story), Job and Sarah are biblical figures. These are the children of God-fearing people who have twisted the scripture to suit the needs of a few sick souls who are power hungry those who stand against the clan generally have no chance. Vicky is kidnapped and hung from a cross made of corn, biblical passages are written in blood on church walls the same church where a desecrated portrait of Jesus hangs.

There is but one point where the film climbs towards the didactic and even so it’s but a moment and almost necessary because it shows how insane Malachai’s followers have gone. One other thing that make this film is unique is that we get inside the cult and see the way Isaac and Malachi differ. In what makes horror films fun we get to side with one of them over the other because if we were involved with them in any way he’s the one we’d prefer. There is much infighting with these two and it adds to the tension and adds a wallop to the climax.

9/10