Sunday, February 12, 2012

Movie Review: "Children of the Corn" (2009)

Here's a review I wrote of the Children of the Corn remake for Loaded Couch Potatoes back in 2009.

It's -- um... -- harsh.

Let me establish some credentials right up front:

I’m sure you can guess by the simple fact that I’m writing a Stephen King-related column that I’m, well, a Stephen King fan.  I have been since roughly 1987, and I’m primarily a fan of his written work.

That said, I also take a big-time interest in the movies, to the extent that I own every single one of them on DVD … except for the last couple of seasons of The Dead Zone, and those only because I keep forgetting about them. 

Heck, I even own the movies that are only tangentially part of King’s canon, such as The Mangler Reborn and Sometimes They Come Back For More and Creepshow III (still haven’t been able to force myself to actually watch that one).  Those movies are so far removed from King’s source material that it makes The Lawnmower Man look like the model of fidelity.

From all that, you can probably surmise that yes, in fact, I do own the entire Children of the Corn series.  Every last gobsmackin’ one of ‘em.  They’re all terrible, from the original right up to Revelation, but they’re all sitting right there on my shelf nevertheless, and I even watch them once every five years or so.

I do not say this lightly: the remake of Children of the Corn may even worse than the rest of the series.

It’s definitely worse than the original, and I can think of a couple of the sequels I may have enjoyed more, and frankly, there’s not a single one of the sequels I can immediately disqualify from contention as being better.

This thing is fucking awful.

This is no surprise, of course, but I’d hoped that somehow, some way, just maybe it could at least be passable.  Nope.  Not even vaguely.

The remake is directed by a fellow named Donald P. Borchers, who produced the original Children of the Corn as well as other such luminous titles as Meatballs 4 and Leprechaun 2

As a director, Borchers’ only other work consists of the Paul LeMat film Grave Secrets and Perfect Fit, which co-starred David Greico, who I am going to assume is Richard Greico’s shiftless brother.

Borchers “co-wrote” the screenplay with Stephen King himself; apparently, this collaboration consisted of Borchers revising King’s never-used screenplay for his own short story.  Hopefully, this was a heavy revision, as most, if not all, of the dialogue is awful.

The original story, of course, is not necessarily a classic, but it’s got style and tone going for it.  This movie has none of those things.  What it has is a lame attempt at social relevancy, coming via a poorly-considered Vietnam allegory which clearly wants to be an Iraq allegory.  However, since Borchers also wanted to be able to claim on DVD bonus features that this film was more faithful to the story than the original film, he insists on setting the film circa 1975, complete with ’00s-style interracial marriage and ’00s-style sundress.

Speaking of that sundress, it is occupied by Kandyse McClure, a greatly attractive woman who did some good work on the television series Battlestar Galactica.  She also played Sue in the underrated television remake of Carrie, so she’s hardly a stranger to appearing in King-related films made by people just because they owned remake rights.

McClure is stupendously awful in this movie, and as much as I want to lay sole blame for that at the feet of Borchers, I just can’t do it.  Even if he and his editor purposefully picked only McClure’s worst takes to use, it’d be on her to explain how she could be this bad in a movie.

To be fair, her character is written to be as unpleasantly shrill a woman who has ever existed on-screen.  And to be even more fair, this comes directly from King’s original story.

The key to making this sort of unpleasant marriage seem realistic onscreen is to … well, to play it realistically.  McClure fails miserably at this goal.  Her co-star, David Anders, fails, too, but not quite as miserably; this may be due only to not having to be as shrill as McClure is called upon to be.

Instead, he gets saddled with what surely must be one of THE worst lines of dialogue ever written: “Put that in your God and smoke it,” he says at one point.  It’s been too long since I’ve read the King story to remember if this comes from it, and I have no way of knowing if — should that not be the case — King might still have penned it as part of his original screenplay.  I really, really hope not.  Can we please get some sort of verification that this was a Borchers line?

Even worse, if you can believe that, is the portrayal of Isaac, the juvenile prophet and leader of the cult of children.  He is played here by Preston Bailey, whom you might recognize as Cody on Dexter.  (Then again, you might not.  I didn’t; IMDB helped me out there.)  Bailey is beyond awful.  Watching him in this movie is like what I imagine watching a production of the screenplay at your son’s elementary school to be like.  He’s that bad.  I don’t blame Bailey for this.  No child ought to ever be held accountable for his performance in a movie; that is something the director is in charge of sculpting, and Borchers clearly has no idea how to do so.

And somehow, Bailey isn’t the worst of the bunch!  There are other kids who sound as if they could get their lines out only by repeating what Borchers — or, more likely, some hapless and unpaid PA — was whispering to them from slightly off-camera.

The only cast member whose performance almost works is Daniel Newman, who plays Malachi.  He’s about a decade too old for the role, and he’s not good, but he’s passable, and in this movie, that qualifies as a legitimate achievement; so I assume, using the transitive property, that he must be a talent to look out for.

There is not one single scare in this movie, nor does one single creepy thing happen during the entire film.  I would, in fact, go so far as to say that there is not one single moment that works, even within the microcosm of the singular moment in which it is taking place.

In a world in which The Mangler Reborn exists, I cannot honestly say that it is THE worst King-related film ever made … but it’s close.

Movies really don’t get much worse than this one.

(Review originally appeared here.)


  1. It's too bad that the endless supply of sequels in this series has turned 'Children of the Corn' into a punchline (or maybe not, it's certainly well deserved), but the original short story is still quite spooky and effective. The idea of a pre-christian deity, or an Old Testament Christ existing in this sleepy town and demanding sacrifices is a strong premise, and I think King executed it quite well.

    1. It's been a while since I read the story, but yeah, from what I remember I would definitely agree. The movie didn't capture it well at all, nor did this remake (to say nothing of the sequels).