The endless influx of direct to DVD sequels that assaulted video stores during the 90’s led to many a drab, bland entry that kept numerous franchises on awkward life support long after they should have been pushing up daisies – or corn.
Yep, one of the most persistent beneficiaries of this 90’s phenomenon was the Children Of The Corn series, a bunch of progressively unrelated flicks that spun out from the 80’s Stephen King adaptation that featured just as much freaky children as it lacked genuine scares. However, even the most lowly, pointless, money grubbing franchises have an entry that inexplicably stands out as being so odd and bizarre, it traverses regular concepts of good and bad and ends up being perversely watchable purely on the grounds of eyebrow raising lunacy and certainly not because the franchise had suddenly achieved any sense of cinematic excellence – that film is Urban Harvest. Buckle the fuck up.
Creepy kids Joshua and his adopted brother Eli are placed into the care of Chicago foster couple William and Amanda Porter after their abusive father mysteriously vanishes and while the older Joshua slowly bonds with the 90’s, urban stereotypes that go to the school they attend thanks to a bout of cringe inducing basketball (turns out white guys can jump apparently), the younger, adopted Eli, still fiercely clings to his Amish-wannabe fashions and fire and brimstone attitude that comfortably marks him out as an outsider.
However, there’s a reason for Eli’s strange demeanor and that’s because he’s a fully paid up acolyte of He Who Walks Behind The Rows, an ancient god whose likes include summer walks, sipping margaritas by the pool and brainwashing children with its demonic influence, and it’s using Eli to grow more malevolent corn in that ensnares any children who eat it under the creature’s thrall.
As Eli recruits more kids under his evil banner, the school weirdly seems to enjoy having a bunch of students that’s actually acting subdued and calm, but Joshua and his new buddies Maria and Malcolm soon realise something is amiss.
Not only is the new corn field Eli planted in a nearby warehouse killing anyone who tries to screw with it with stabbing vines and grabbing leaves, but it’s discovered that Eli originally hails from Gaitlin, Nebraska and hasn’t aged since 1964 and has a horcrux-style connection with a bible that proves to be his connection with He Who Walks Behind The Rows.
With people all around him either dropping like flies or succumbing to the evil corn, Joshua, Maria and Malcolm try to stop the evil before William Porter uses his business contact to ship the corn worldwide.
Now, let’s not fucking kid ourselves here, this is not a “good” movie by any stretch of the imagination. The performances are precisely what you’d expect from low budget, direct to video Children Of The Corn sequel and the direction by James Hickox (brother of Waxwork director, Anthony), while certainly energetic, has all the restraint and subtlety of a first year film student with an I.V. full of Red Bull hooked up to their veins. However, despite all this and a nonsensical plot to boot, Children Of The Corn III: Urban Harvest proves to be an incredibly watchable husk I’d trash thanks almost solely to three, disparate words. Screaming. Mad. George.
For those unfamiliar with the unforgettable output of the man born Joji Tani, here’s a quick bio – a special effects artist whose style usually veers into the realms of the nightmarish surreal, George supplied movies with such unforgettable images as the cockroach transformation from Nightmare On Elm Street 4, some of the results of Herbert West’s doodling in the climax of Bride Of Re-Animator and, most memorably, everything that occurs in the unforgettable last half hour of Society. Simply put, the presence of this truly unique talent in special effects results in some genuinely weird sequences that’ll no doubt have you rushing to check the expiration date of any medication you’ve happened to take recently.
Undoubtedly the Czar of trippy gore, George’s creations frequently give what could have been a run of the mill, killer kid flick a morbid boot up the arse at regular intervals.
Sure, a lot of these sequences are about a logical as a fever dream after mocking a pint of absinthe, but that makes the movie even more wildly unpredictable. Why have Joshua’s shitty father simply killed when you can have him crucified with his arms partially torn out of his sockets with vines sewing his eyes and mouth shut and then later have him inexplicably morph into a killer scarecrow filled with straw? Why merely have one of Joshua’s friends be choked to death by more vines when you can have them pull his head literally off his shoulders and then keep pulling until his head and spine protrude nearly ten feet away from his body? It’s this desire to shoot for the moon with the fantasy sequences that makes the movie rise above its crappy roots and turn an otherwise forgettable exercise into something that draws genuine cheers from loyal gorehounds the chemically addled.
Yes, Screaming Mad George’s reach sometimes exceeds the bridget’s grasp, but the fact that doesn’t let that slow his roll make things even more appealing and the movie even goes full monster movie when He Who Walks Behind The Rows reveals itself in the finale as a giant, malformed monster that looks like a massive tumour made out of corn that tears people apart with its vine tentacles and recklessly flings scythes around like lethal batarangs. The fact that it’s merely an elaborate hand puppet against a blue screen becomes horribly evident when the lead actress is lifted up to its maw and blatantly – and amusingly – becomes a scale model dolly in the next shot; but they’re genuinely trying, damn it, which is something a lot of other similar movies of it’s time simply never bothered to do.
Elsewhere, the movie also contains a bunch of blink-and-you’ll-miss-them Hollywood debuts such as Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s Nicholas Brendan and legitimate Hollywood royalty, Charlize Theron that amusingly all went on to have careers while the actual leads instantly vanished into obscurity.
Taking the usual aspects of a Children Of The Corn movie such as slapable kid villains, Omen-style chantings on the score and lots of screechy sermonizing in a pre-puberty voice, Urban Harvest actually manages to bloom by aiming its sights at the lowest common denominator, wisely pushing its outlandish kill scenes to the forefront and making its special effects maestro the star of the show.
A good Children Of The Corn movie? Aw shucks, it’s damn close.