During the eighties, Donald P. Borchers was affiliated with New World Pictures, and produced a number of the company’s best-known titles, including Two Moon Junction (1989), Vamp (1986), Tuff Turf (1985), and the first film version of Stephen King’s short story, Children of the Corn, in 1984, with Fritz Kiersch in the director’s chair.
In an interview, Borchers claims the desire to take a second whack at the story had been seething for years, because characters, scenes and elements were changed for a more ‘Hollywoodized’ version. For the 2009 film, originally produced for Fox TV, Borchers wanted to make a bold personal statement on how religion has been misused by people in recent years for self-righteous self-gain and personal aggrandizement.
Sequels and remakes exist for economic rather than creative reasons, and most likely Corn 2.0 came to fruition to build on a franchise that already had seven pictures in the can, if not give the franchise a reboot via the DVD market. 2009 also marks the 25th anniversary of the first feature film, so why not take advantage of existing attention among fans, and make a version closer to King’s original storyline?
Although King is credited as co-writer in the opening titles, director Borchers confesses that King never read the director’s script (probably for legal reasons, if not disinterest), but the dialogue is very faithful to King’s style – and that may be the film’s biggest flaw.
The small town locations are excellent, and the mood of a dried out world where the adults were routed out 13 years ago is spot-on, but King’s dialogue within a filmic or TV realm just doesn’t work because it’s a mix of stilted, elliptical prose that lacks the dramatic beats and directness needed to keep whole scenes moving, and meaningful.
It’s a serious problem because it’s rendered a number of films and mini-series dramatically dreary, such as The Langoliers (1995), Storm of the Century (1999), and Dreamcatcher (2003).
Vestiges of that style are present in Borchers’ adaptation, and his fidelity to the material also meant the film’s first third consists of two people bitching nonstop in a car. The scenes are supposed to cover the disintegration of a marriage between a Viet Nam vet and his wife, but much of their shouting is just bad, unfocused dialogue.
Moreover, by casting child actors closer to the short story’s design, the acting is variable; as the group’s sermonizing leader Isaac, Preston Bailey can’t nail the determination and rage in his voice and facial gestures, and in a pivotal scene, he looks plain silly standing atop a building, twirling his hand like a Harry Potter fan, guiding his murderous flock to surround the couple’s car before exacting ‘salvation’ on Vicki Stanton (Battlestar Galactica’s Kandyse McClure).
Husband Burton (Heroes’ David Anders) is also a bit of an idiot; he’s well aware something bad is going on, and yet twice he ignores his wife’s signals to return to the car because of an impending danger. He’s ultimately responsible for her fate (as well as the tragic destruction of a beautiful, vintage Ford Thunderbird), and although he uses his ‘Nam skills to stay alive one night in the corn fields, one wonders why he doesn’t just flee beyond the town perimeters and evade the kids, since none of them drive and prefer to walk and surround their prey.
There’s also an inconsistency among the couple’s fears: at various points one half fears some kind of doom-laden event while other regards it as nonsense, and then their positions flip-flop. Borchers has the two trade stances even though logically both should come to an agreement that the small town of Gatlin is messed up, and they should get the hell out, and fast.
Equally problematic is the finale, which may be faithful to King’s original gloomy ending, but it moves the film from a realist stance to pure supernatural. The surreal, trippy hallucination that precedes Burton’s downfall means Isaac is correct in ridding the world of adults – the mighty Corn God really does exist - and that obliterates Borchers’ argument about the misuse of religion.
Anchor Bay’s DVD features an uncut version of the film teleplay, but the gore is fairly minimal, and there’s perfunctory nudity in a copulation scene. The sound mix is aggressive when Borchers resorts to clichéd fast-cuts and loud music stabs, and the score by Nathanial Morgan makes use of original Corn themes by Jonathan Elias, but it’s largely unremarkable.
The extras include a quartet of interview, special effects, and location featurettes, and the transfer is clean, with nicely balanced colours.
Fans of King might enjoy seeing a more faithful version of his story, but Borchers may have missed a very important clue perhaps not present in King’s short story: corn isn’t scary, and the more it’s shown throughout the film, it’s either a lot of vegetables, or handycraft paraphernalia.
The full run of the franchise includes Children of the Corn (1984), Children of the Corn II: The Finale Sacrifice (1992), Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (1995), Children of the Corn: The Gathering (1996), Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror (1998), Children of the Corn 666: Isaac’s Return (1999), Children of the Corn: Revelation (2001), and Children of the Corn (2009).
© 2009 Mark R. Hasan