Children of the Corn (2009, Donald P. Borchers version)

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Summary: I have always liked the concept behind Children of the Corn, a 1976 short story by Stephen King that combines near-Lovecraftian elements with a Flannery O'Connor earthiness, a Shirley Jackson foreboding, and King's own concern for the everyday horror blended with supernatural things. HE WHO WALKS BEHIND THE ROWS is back, again, this time with a new set of kids at His behest (or, well, new children playing the old children, if that makes sense), and Burt's back in the corn.

Tuesday, 08 June 2010

(12:29:55 CDT)

Children of the Corn (2009, Donald P. Borchers version)

Why there were something like seven or eight movies in the original "franchise"1, I don't know. The initial concept of the short story was neat: a married couple at the cusp of divorce find a forgotten corner of Nebraska where He Who Walks Behind the Rows is the local god and where all the practitioners of His violent religion are children. It is Innsmouth's Shadow set in the Heartland, the Cult Mysterious swathed in Christian iconography and corn, "The Lottery" where adulthood ends with an automatic dot, a literalization of the "baby-killer" epithet heaped on Vietnam vets, and reductio ad absurdum of the now-known-as Red States wearing of the Old Testament like a badge. The 1984 Fritz Kiersch original theatrical version starring Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton glossed over a lot of the lesser elements, and added some new, so there was room for a return to the source.

Donald Borchers' 2009 version, starring David Anders and Kandyse McClure, was originally a SyFy movie and then expanded, "uncut", and released on DVD through Anchor Bay. The plan was to more closely follow the original plot of the short story. We get new scenes to fill in some gaps of time and plot and some expanded dialogue between Burt and Vicky to see more of the marriage; and some non-story scenes amongst the children to delve deeper into their cult. Nearly all scenes are expanded from what an actual direct adapation would have brought about. For instance, the scene where Burt goes into the corn to see the blood the near beginning, a brief paragraph in the original, is now several minutes of screen time with inter-cuts back to Vicky and the car (rather than Vicky near the body, as in the original). Another example his first fight with the children, now involving a conversation with Isaac and a hand-to-hand fight with two kids instead of just one "red headed boy".

Vicky and Burt Arguing

If all of the extensions were just longer takes to build up a horror mood, then it might have worked. Most of the extra scenes with the children are beneficial to the story: interweaving glimpses of Christian normalcy and blood thirsty rules following. Borchers, though, regularly explodes rather than extends, and we get Burt breaking a kids arm until the bone sticks out and later snapping a four year old's neck with blood gushing through a presumably bone-caused gash. Rather than a dozen bitchy lines, Vicky shrews on for about half of the movie's run time, bouncing back and forth from sneering attacks on Burt's masculinity to feable, hastily delivered apologies. Rather, though, than tap into some latent male-versus-female archetypes with deep anger and gender-inequality, it comes across as shallow play acting: as though this couple desperately trying to figure out why to stay married is actually a woman recently denied some trivial thing and turned temporarily sour against her slightly emotionally stunted husband2. I don't feel for Vicky and Burt, I am mostly annoyed by them. Likewise, most of the violence is played off as inconsequential. A man is turning violent on children who turned even more violent on him, and we are not given room to savor what this really means.

Two excesses are above and beyond for when it comes to stapling new scenes to the story without adding to its quality. The first "Cornfields of Vietnam" chapter, where Burt has flashbacks to his military days while being chased in the corn, and proceeds to attack and kill several children while being helped by his hallucinatory army buddies. The other is the "Time of Fertilization" scene, with two "teens" in a sweaty, five-minute love making while other children stand around and hop up and down excitedly. The only point this latter scene has is to show Isaac as a cold husk of a human while the others react more normally, while the former is possibly put there just in case you forgot about the whole "baby-killer" thing.

Burt holding a dead child after attacking him...

Fans of the original story will possibly like the loyalty to the original ending and the fact that much of the dialogue is taken more or less from King's prose.3 Fans who preferred the original movie to the story probably won't like it much at all. The corn feels more like a character here, though underused, which is a plus (and minus) in its favor, while Isaac's delivery, a strange rasping high pitched sermon, is going to be the big divider. When he atones justification for another round of killing, it chills you, but then some squeaky innocence bubbles out and the mood ends up shattered. I have a feeling that original TV version, which would have toned down some of the excess by the nature of the medium, might actually have worked for me.

The Unrated gets Meh, and I'll set the score at -1.2. I appreciate what they were trying to do, but somehow the original plan seems to have gotten buried under the corn.

Si Vales, Valeo

1: Like most horror franchises, there were a couple of digressions and re-looks and half-re-starts and such, but at least three or four of the sequels are meant to be sequels in the definite sense of the word.

2: Burt's biggest chastisement comes from "Vietnam" scene later, presenting him as not only slightly stunted emotionally, but possibly mentally broken by what happened to him. In other words, Vicky may have some cause for anger. However, for the first half of the movie, you have to work to not develop a deep seated hatred of her.

3: Some of the dialogue comes directly from the descriptive or internal monologue passages except that it has been rewritten to be more fitted to being said outloud. The effectiveness varies, but is largely passable as a result.

file under Horror

Written by Doug Bolden

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