Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Constant Reader

Welcome to CONSTANT READER, the Stephen King online column that dares to answer the question: Who goes there?

Any King fan readily knows Derry and Castle Rock, Maine. However, what of desolate Gatlin, Nebraska? Why, it’s nothing but a small town run by a zealous lot of religious children who bloodthirstily kill their elders. Sounds like quite the vacation spot, huh?
In 1978, CHILDREN OF THE CORN appeared in Stephen King’s collection of short stories: NIGHT SHIFT. It was a compendium that gathers most of King’s earliest and best outings.

One noted King critic wrote a long essay that paralleled CHILDREN OF THE CORN to the then Vietnam conflict. Shocked, King refuted this claim. The story was just what it was: a story.
But CHILDREN OF THE CORN was soon to become more than that. Six years later, in 1984, a film adaptation of the story appeared on the big screen. Anchored by Peter Horton and a pre-TERMINATOR Linda Hamilton, the film wasn’t too bad. For one that read the story, it left a lot to be desired. And I won’t even fathom the awful F/X that masked He Who Walks Behind The Rows.
Though the film wasn’t a major success, it still managed to spawn a rash of sequels. Now, I’ll admit that I liked the first of these, but the rest are simple abominations.
And now, in 2009, we have the remake.

Is it as bad as those aforementioned sequels? Well, I think if this film had been called CHILDREN OF THE CORN ON THE COB things would have worked out a lot better. The movie debuted on the SyFy Channel (another sign that things are going to hell), and reared its head on DVD on October 6, 2009.
How does it stack up in this franchise?
It’s heads above the awful sequels (yes, even the Part 2 that I enjoyed), but runs into trouble when compared to the original. So that’s something which needs avoided.
CHILDREN OF THE CORN 2009 runs more akin to the King short story. It’s set in 1975, giving lead character Burt (brought to life by David Anders) room to move into Vietnam flashbacks as he confronts the children. His wife, Vicky (played by Kandyse McClure), is along for the ride as an obnoxious set-piece.
Anders and McClure argue so much that you have no sympathy for these characters. Honestly, you want them both to be decapitated by a rusty scythe early in the going. And that’s not a good sign.
We all know the rest of the story. Burt accidentally runs down a small child in the road. When he investigates, he learns that the child was already suffering from a slit throat. Against McClure’s nagging wish that they boogie on down the road, Anders is stern that he wants to turn the body over to the next police station they run upon. And wouldn’t you know that the next town would be Gatlin, Nebraska?
Here’s where we get to the guts of the story. It’s those creepy children we’ve invested our time in meeting, so what’s it like when we meet the inhabitants of Gatlin?
For the most part, it’s rather ridiculous.
The religious cult’s leader, Isaac, is played by 8-year-old Preston Bailey. When you’re not rolling your eyes at his cardboard acting, or the stale way he pleas his lines, you’re laughing at the LARGE hat he’s wearing. I mean this sucker is BIG. It brings to mind Rick Moranis as Dark Helmet in SPACEBALLS.
And the children he leads are laughable at best. These kids are all decked out in the latest fashions from Amish Monthly. They really are a face of one. Plus, what are you supposed to do when a 4-year-old with a Cabbage Patch Kid cherubic face confronts you with a pitchfork? I guess that’s enough to force you into a Vietnam flashback, I suppose.
Even though the film follows the short story more faithfully, there really isn’t a lot here to recommend. One plus, however, is He Who Walks Behind The Rows. In the first film, the creation appears like some weak-watered F/X version of a gopher. In this remake, there’s more of a mysterious feel to it. It’s one thing in favor of giving this one a chance.
There’s also the fact that Stephen King’s name is plastered all over this thing. Given the film’s credits, one would think that King sat down with director Donald Borchers and cranked this sucker out. I mean, he’s done it for several other of his properties. However, that’s far from the truth.
The fact is that Borchers is only working from King’s original screenplay and quoting lines from the short story. Stephen King had no part in this. There’s no way to know whether he’s ever read the script or seen the finished product. I would seriously doubt he has, though. It’s rumored that King’s legal team got into the action and stated that the famed author had no interest or faith in the product. And that’s fine and Jim Dandy. But, nonetheless, it worked as a favorable marketing tool by slapping King’s name on there for legal reasons.
Before I leave Gatlin, Nebraska, I need to tell you to stay past the final credits. I’ll avoid spoilers, but it’s really something you need to see to “complete” the film.
Extras on the disc, though aplenty (running roughly 45 minutes), aren’t too much to write home about. It’s mostly director Borchers telling how his film is heads-and-shoulders above the original release. It’s strange that he would say this considering he was the producer on the first CHILDREN OF THE CORN.
There are also rumblings that we’ll be getting another remake soon. This one is supposed to be getting a theatrical release, so one will have to cross their fingers that it’s worth the wait. Unfortunately, my expectations for it are pretty low. There are only so many times you can go to the well.
My advice would be to stick to the Linda Hamilton outing. She’s pretty sexy in that non-TERMINATOR way; not the crazed string-bean she would become in TERMINATOR 2.
I’d also like to mention that when I first saw the trailer for the 1984 CHILDREN OF THE CORN, I felt a cold finger tickle my spine. The poster had much the same affect on me. That sickle raised above a blood red sky with the eerie eyes peering out of the cornfield. I have it hanging here in my office.
I’m now leaving Gatlin, Nebraska.
On a final note, check out Stephen King’s official website:
If you’re a Dark Tower addict (as are most of us King fans) you’ll find a nifty video awaiting you. The rumors are starting to speculate on what awaits Roland and his ka-tet. Is there another book awaiting us? We’ve already got another 30 DARK TOWER issues coming from Marvel Comics in 2010. So what more could await us?
And don’t forget November 10 with the release of the 1000+ pages of UNDER THE DOME. That day also sees the release of AC/DC’s box-set BACKTRACKS. It’s a well known fact that Sai King is a fan of the Thunder from Down Under, so I thought it only natural to mention it.
That’s enough of me for one month. I’ll see you in 30 with an interesting interview with… well, just wait and see.
Long days and pleasant nights, constant readers…

--Trever Palmer
(Trever Palmer has had short stories appear in various magazines and is the author of the recent short story collection SMELLS LIKE FISH. He's been an avid fan of Stephen King for over 30 years, and is prouder than punch to be writing CONSTANT READER. He only hopes that you enjoy it as much as he enjoys writing it.)