Much like the closing moments of a horror film, we thought it was all over… only to be proved horribly wrong when the terror started all over again. To what am I referring – why The Children Of The Corn franchise, of course; the series of films that grew out from Stephen King’s short story like a malevolent tumour and never stopped metastasizing until 2011’s entry, Genesis. It truly seemed that this endless string of killer kid movies had finally succumbed to its decades of fail harvests until the one thing that can shock a dead franchise back to life reared its ugly head – the rights of a famous title lapsing.
Dimension Films, the genre arm to Miramax, had been both a gift and a detriment to the horror genre for years, shamelessly bleeding franchises dry until they became dried up husks like the Hellraiser movies, however, instead of just letting the rights lapse and letting characters like Pinhead and He Who Walks Behind The Rows the chance to die with dignity, Bob Weinstein commanded that new, cheapjack sequels be made to inexplicably keep a stranglehold on properties that had long since lost their original vigour. Thus, produced alongside Hellraiser: Judgement, came Children Of The Corn: Runaway – something of an ironic title for a series we seemingly couldn’t escape…
Ruth was one of the OG members of the wave of kids who slaughtered their way through the adult population of Gatlin, Nebraska under the religious thrall of a mysterious, bloodthirsty god dubbed He Who Walks Behind The Rows. However, after becoming pregnant, the fanatical haze began to lift and in an act of preservation for her unborn child, she set the local cornfield ablaze with all her murderous colleagues trapped within.
We catch up with her thirteen years later, constantly on the move like a bad taco as she strives keep the evil that once ensnared her firmly in her rearview mirror indefinitely, but after having her trunk impounded in a small town, Ruth figures that it might be good for her son, Aaron, to lay some roots down, even for a little while.
While Ruth scores a job as a mechanic thanks to the lame owner of a local garage takes pity on them both, Aaron spends time at the local diner, bonding with mischievous waitress Sarah who likes tormenting her elderly customers whenever they complain. However, this slight semblance of a normal life starts to be imperilled by not only Ruth suddenly having flashbacks and visions of her cult years when she sent her own family on a lifelong vacation to deadsville, but the presence of a scowling little girl in a yellow dress who turns up anytime a gruesome death is about to occur.
Ruth, sensing that the population of this godfearing town is starting to turn on her and Aaron, realizes that the darkness that fueled the orginal cult can’t be far away and realises that she should take the appropriate steps to protect her son from the evil that once claimed her.
Bizarrely, the most shocking thing about Children Of The Corn: Runaway, is that, for all its faults and the fact it has an incredibly mercenary reason for existing in the first place, it’s actually something of a minor step up from the usually bilge this wretched franchise has to offer. While you understandably reel from this unbelievable news, I’d like to remind you that at no point did I say that Runaway was actually good, however, it genuinely seems that the filmmakers are trying to craft something coherent and interesting, rather than still try and maintain that hollow eyed kids in bare feet are still a short cut to producing cinematic heebie jeebies. A congratulatory “nice try” nod seems in order for director John Gulager (son of cult actor Clu Gulager and helmer of the Feast trilogy and Piranha 3DD), scripter Joel Soisson (too many direct to video Dimesion sequels to mention) and lead actress Marci Miller who actually does a decent job of avoiding making yet another lead of this franchise be as one dimensional as a stick figure scrawled on a sheet of paper.
The plot is admittedly over familiar as the series has dealt with matters concerning women on the run from an ancient evil and tormented characters trying to come to terms with their culty histories before, but the opening act tries to put some real meat on the bones of a woman who has decided to try the Sarah Connor school of parenting and drag her hapless kid all over every dusty, thick town in creation to keep them safe. For someone who has apparently spent thirteen years living in their truck, both Ruth and Aaron look pretty good all things considering, but the movie actually takes the time to explore them a little before flashbacks and murders start striking the script with the haphazard randomness of a lightning storm.
The frustrating thing is, that despite crafting a solid female lead and an intriguing premise, Culager and Soisson then proceed to do nothing with it, instead it whittles away its promise on a muddled conspiracy that doesn’t scan particularly well and a bunch of drawn out murders at the hands of a vicious little brat who’s origin is never truly explained. Yes, some of the scattered imagery actually manages to connect – take the truly upsetting vision of a bunch of kids eating from the carcass of a dead animal – but it rarely feels connected to the movie as a whole.
Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Culager seems to be far more comfortable in the extreme comedy/horror sandbox (Feast, for example, literally couldn’t be further from this movie’s tone if you tried), or maybe the frenzied rush it must have taken to get this film into production in order secure the bafflingly valuable rights to the series meant much needed rewrites and polishes were presumably off the table. Still, while the journey to the twist ending isn’t exactly inspired, it’s still pretty effective and the end credits, shot on a jittery super-8 film, is admittedly eerie.
The Children Of The Corn series has been in worst places, but it’s still somewhat alarming that an installment rushed out under such circumstances plays better than the lion’s share of the entire franchise and the question has to be asked: what the hell is it about this brand that made Dimension bend over backwards so much to make inferior installments to keep the series’s pilot light on. Is Stephen King’s name still such a draw that fans will ignore bundles of inferior follow ups in the unlikely event the ninth installment will utterly rock? The mind boggles.
Far better than a movie made under these conditions has any right to be, Children Of The Corn: Runaway is still yet another inferior entry in a franchise that was never that great to begin with and you truly have to wonder: what exactly would it take to finally put these corn obsessed kids away for an eternal time out once and for all.