This sixth installment of the bafflingly resilient Stephen King franchise may have the most accurate title of them all – after all thanks to the never ending stream of sequels, it certainly feels like we’re up to the six hundredth and sixty six movie in the series as Dimension Films continued to milk the title until it was a dried up husk.
However, this time the filmmakers would have you believe that there was a legitimate reason to go back to a world of corn rows and creepy little Amish-looking dudes as this instalment decided to bring back the original movie’s chief antagonist – Isaac.
“But wait,” – I hear you cry – “The franchise is called Children Of The Corn. Wouldn’t the diminutive villain be in he thirties by now?”
Well, actually you couldn’t be more wrong, smart guy… He was forty.
Hannah, a young woman tormented by her mysterious past and who is blessed with all the driving skills of George Michael, roars into the town where she was born in order to discover who her mother was and why she abandoned her in order to make her life make some semblance of sense. Things would be emotionally charged enough, but Hannah was born in the original Gatlin, Nebraska cult that worshiped a corn-dwelling deity named He Who Walks Behind The Rows that caused all the children in town to murder the adults – something I’m sure they’ve left off the town’s internet page.
After an inauspicious start that sees Hannah hallucinating dead birds and creepy, disappearing preachers, she crashes her car and is escorted into town by sheriff Cora. There she is examined by the local doctor and discovers that Isaac, the leader of the original cult, is not only still alive, but has been laid up in a coma for nineteen years and has been watched over by the sheriff, the doc and an enigmatic, young, volunteer by the name of Gabriel who all mutter under their breaths about Hannah being involved in some sort of prophecy. As Hannah explores the town in order to discover more facts about her mother, she discovers that all the teens populating the near-deserted shithole are all children of the original cult members, one of whom, Matt, is inexplicably Isaac’s son.
Speaking of Isaac, the fun-sized cult leader has awoken, seemingly refreshed, from his coma and immediately gets back to his old tricks, stirring up the remaining townsfolk with lots of bible-thumping babble about He Who Walks Behind The Rows and demands that Hannah be brought before him in order to spawn a new master race.
However, Isaac may have underestimated his importance to his beloved God, as the mysterious Gabriel reveals that his helping of Hannah masks more sinister motivations.
I’m not entirely sure what the filmmakers were expecting to happen by bringing back John Franklin back to the fold of a franchise that was never that great to begin with, but not to be too harsh on the actor’s comeback as Isaac, the fact that he actually co-wrote this installment makes it feel like the world’s most depressing vanity project. Don’t get me wrong, the fact that we actually have a Children Of The Corn sequel that directly connects in some way to the original has to count for something, but I don’t think anyone was genuinely desperate for him – let alone the series – to return and the result carries the bitter aftertaste of someone trying to relive their glory days. It certainly doesn’t help that as he approaches his middle age, Isaac now looks like a Cabbage Patch Doll with a sixty-a-day smoking habit and crippling alimony payments and it also doesn’t make a lot of sense within the admittedly rickety rules of the series. Last time we saw Issac, he had become a scabby-faced, flesh receptical after being possessed by his god, but after sleeping off the after-effects of a violent, demon insertion for nearly a double decade, the fact that he immediately wins the hearts and minds of the town’s children simply doesn’t hold water seeing as he is now blatantly a short, angry, fully grown man.
Further complicating matters is the thread the movie throws out involving a new generation of murderous kids who all are children of the original generation of pre-pubescent cultists which includes Isaac’s son, Matt. I’m sorry, when exactly did Issac take time out of his busy coma schedule to father a child – and while we’re on the subject, when the hell were these other kids conceived, and by who? If the movie actually chose to explain any of this, I either wasn’t listening due to boredom or the exposition was so bad by brain purged it from my memory the instant I heard it emerge from the lips of any one of the slumming character actors employed to move this rubbish along.
Take Nancy Allen, for example, who wanders throughout proceedings with a haunted look on her face that presumably comes less from the supernatural goings on and more like she’s wondering how she went from being one of the prolific genre actresses from the 80’s to being cast in this shite. Elsewhere, Stacey Keach merely gets on with the business at hand with the air of someone who’ll quite happily act in anything, yet still looks visibly relieved after his death scene involves him soaking up a couple of thousand volts for his troubles.
However, probably the most confusing aspect of the movie is the character of Gabriel, a smug hunk with shadowy allegiances who woos Helen while laying claim to being He Who Walks Behind The Rows’ new golden boy and boasts some funky levitation powers, not to mention some skull crushing super strength and some wince-worthy dialogue like: “How dare you castrate my words you fuck!”. While I’m guessing this revelation was supposed to be something of a twist, it ends up making the ill-defined story even more confusing while chucking in a few plot holes for no extra charge – after Helen is repeatedly told that she’s been lured back to town in order to bear an unholy child, why on earth would she quite happily bang Gabriel mere hours later?
Since her dalliance in the corn, Canadian director Kari Skogland has risen to prominence in the world of TV (she directed all six episodes of Marvel’s Falcon And The Winter Soldier), but you wouldn’t know it here as important story points are rendered mush by clumsy blocking and murky cinematography that even bestows its daytime exteriors with all the clarity of someone throwing Lucozade into a cataract.
Still, despite all of this, the Children Of The Corn still managed to flourish (well, maybe flourish is a mite strong) with many more sequel still to come, each all of them as forgettable as one another. I guess it proves that He Who Walks Behind The Rows really does have an unholy influence, if only on bored horror fans willing to watch anything.