I’m assuming you’re familiar with the old question that if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a noise? Well, here’s a variation for you: if a Stephen King movie is remade for television, does it even count?
It’s not such a random conundrum when you realise that that the 2009 Syfy remake of King’s killer kid movie, Children Of The Corn, isn’t the first time the small screen has taken a crack at redoing a previous attempt at filming the authors vast body of work with a virtually forgotten Carrie remake surfacing in 2002 and even much maligned Maximum Overdrive got reworked as Trucks as far back as 1997.
And yet, despite the fact that a lot of the franchise’s more irritating issues had been ironed out in favour of following King’s original short story closer than ever before, you’ll be lucky to find people who are even aware this version exists – so what went wrong?
It’s 1975 and feuding couple Brad and Vicky driving through Nebraska as they’re supposed to be planning their second honeymoon, but their relationship has turned toxic since Brad has returned from the conflict in Vietnam and anti-war protester Vicky has turned on him after hearing about the atrocities that went on over there. However, their continuous acts of spitefully hollering at each other gain added fuel when the couple plough through a small child who emerges from the cornfields and runs right in front of their car leading to them shifting from screaming at each other about their relationship to screaming about what to do next.
However, matters take a sinister turn when Brad notices that the mangled little boy has had his throat slashed and that his short, sharp meeting with their car bumper had only hastened along an inevitable death at the hands of an unknown assassin. Wrapping the body up in a blanket and sticking it in their trunk, Brad and Vicky agree to drive to Gatlin, and report the fatality to the local authorities, but upon finding the town utterly deserted, they realise they are in far deeper shit than they ever could have imagined.
It seems that twelve years earlier, all of Gatlin’s children under the age of nineteen murdered all the adults under the command of Isaac, a boy preacher who claims to worship an old testament god from the Canaanite era known as He Who Walks Behind The Rows.
As the arguing couple have to tangle with a youthful cult who genuinely believe they’ve been deviled to them for sacrifice by their bloodthirsty deity, their already tenuous relationship is tested more than shitty couples therapy. Can the two possibly hope to get on the same page before the children send them to meet their god face to face.
To start with some positives – something that’s been absent from the franchises for a painfully long time – the move back to King’s original story lends a credibility that’s been missing for absolutely ages and not only gives this entry a much needed focus, but even gives us characters that finally features more dimension that your average cardboard cutout. The reason for this is director Donald P. Borchers who was a producer on the 1984 original who always thought that version was a bit too “Hollywood” with its hopeful ending and sweet lead couple and so he comes at this forgotten, made for TV remake with a renewed sense of nihilism.
The good news is that a lot of it works, the bad news however is that it works on paper and instead the finished product is sort of a mixed bag that hews closer to King’s original vision closer than ever before, but also sort of reveals exactly why the story plays far better in writing than in film. To be brutally honest, I’ve never been overly fond of the first movie or the short story, finding them to be far less engrossing than a lot of other tales from the unfeasibly prolific author and all the issues Childten Of The Corn has floats to the surface for all to see.
The first problem is that if your main characters are a married couple who hate each others guts, you’re immediately going to lose a lot of empathy for them as the time you spend in their company is thick with verbal cheap shots and uncut bitterness. Simply put, they’re tough to like and while Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton may have been sweetly boring back in 1984, at you felt a little bad for what was happening to them. In the defence of the 2009 version of Burt and Vicky, David Anders and Kandyse McClure, they dont give necessarily bad performances, but if their characters openly dont give a shit about one another, why should we?
On the side of the titular children, Borchers actually chooses to cast actual children instead of going the sequel route of stacking up the villains with sneer-faced teens, however, most of them are too adorable to be legitimate threats and its tough to take Isaac 2.0 seriously when he squeaks out old testament threats from under the widest brimmed hat I’ve seen since the Three Amigos. However, weirdly enough, the one character how does benefit from this redo is the much mocked, ginger heavy, Malachai, who actually gets some backstory this time round and even – at times – even stands as a credible threat. Who’d have thunk it?
The movie is obviously trying to say something about a Vietnam vet being forced to suprisingly graphically slaughter children to survive, but I’ll be damned if I know what it is. Is it supposed to be ironic? Is it a damning indictment of the inhumane horrors that occured during the Vietnam war? If so, it succeeds in clashing awkwardly with King’s typical swipes at tyrannical blind faith leaving all the film’s attempted themes in complete disarray.
However, to give He Who Walks Behind The Rows his due, even though the finished result is noticably muddled and more than an a little drab, it’s still the best the franchise has delivered since 1995 and despite its many flaws and bad dialogue (at one point somebody actually shouts “Why don’t you put that in your god and smoke it!?”), it’s nice to see the short story so closely adapted, right down to the downbeat finale.
Modern remakes are usally supposed to be an attempted revitalization of a moribund series, however, a slight rise in quality still doesn’t stop one of horror’s most endlessly dull franchise still being unable to graduate from the hellish kindergarten it’s been stuck in for decades.
I kid you not.