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Children of the Corn (1984) (Blu-ray)

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Children of the Corn

Children of the CornStarring Peter Horton, Linda Hamilton, Courtney Gains, John Franklin

Directed by Fritz Kiersch

Distributed by Arrow Video


While IT (2017) is currently steamrolling box office records on its way to becoming the highest grossing horror film of all time (not adjusted for inflation; The Exorcist (1973) will never be topped in that regard), you had better believe studio heads are feverishly looking to greenlight every possible Stephen King property for modern audiences. To their advantage, King’s work has famously produced more cinematic duds than classics (like this summer’s waste of talent, The Dark Tower), and there are a number of been-done features ripe for a remake. One that I would suggest be tackled is “Children of the Corn”, a 1977 short story King wrote that first appeared in Penthouse (see, sometimes the articles are worth reading) and later found a permanent home in Night Shift, a collection of his shorter works. In 1984, the story was commissioned for a feature film, with King himself writing the first draft of the script, though it was eventually discarded for a draft done by George Goldsmith. Although the film has a strong cult following and is responsible for spawning nine sequels/remakes/whatever-they-are, it strays so far from King’s disturbing, dark original story that the property is ripe for reworking – and before anyone says ”They did that with the 2009 version”… try watching it again and get back to me.

In the small Midwestern town of Gatlin, NE all of the local children have fallen under the spell of Isaac (John Franklin), a self-proclaimed prophet who orders the murder of every adult in town (specifically, anyone over the age of 19) as a sacrifice to He Who Walks Behind the Rows. Cut to three years later and Gatlin is a virtual ghost town, surrounded by fields of corn and bereft of adult supervision. Burt (Peter Horton) and Vicky (Linda Hamilton) are traveling cross country to Seattle, where newly-minted doctor Burt will begin his practice. As the couple approaches Gatlin Burt, distracted while driving, hits a young boy who was in the road. Closer inspection reveals the boy’s throat had been cut prior to the accident. Burt and Vicky head to the only service station near town and find an old man (R.G. Armstrong) who implores them to avoid Gatlin and head up the highway to the next town.

Despite the old man’s advice, all roads seem to lead to Gatlin and Burt finally relents and enters the city limits. There, he and Vicky meet Job (Robby Kiger) and Sarah (Anne Marie McEvoy), two of the only children in town who refused to participate in Isaac’s bloodshed. Job is adept at sneaking around but Sarah has the true gift, able to see visions of future events through her dreams. Vicky remains behind with Sarah while Burt heads off into town in search of help, finding nothing but empty homes and savage youths. The children operate under the ruthless guidance of Malachai (Courtney Gains), Isaac’s “muscle” who is even more sadistic than the diminutive deacon. With Burt off on his own tangent, the children kidnap Vicky as an intended sacrifice to He Who Walks Behind the Rows, setting up a showdown between Burt and a horde of brainwashed kids.

The original short story got under my skin when I read it… oh, twenty years ago or so. There are passages in that little tale that have stuck with me, all these years later. King has a way of describing deaths so succinctly, yet also in such a way that your mind ruminates on the methods of dispatch long after you have finished his works. He provides just enough detail to chill, but not so much you feel like you’re reading Saw: The Book or something. Now, don’t get me wrong I love me some 1984 Corn Kids, but part of me has always been a little bummed the film didn’t venture into unconventional filmmaking territory.

Linda Hamilton makes her feature debut here, a mere six months before the release of her watershed classic, The Terminator (1984). Of the two leading adults – R.G. Armstrong doesn’t exactly count, given his one-day-of-shooting role – Hamilton emotes and out-acts her beau, Peter Horton, who just falls flat in the leading man category. Hamilton is mostly sidelined until she becomes the typical damsel in distress but she sells the role well enough. Horton has always been a bit too lifeless for me.

The real meaty work here is done by the kids, especially Franklin and Gains. The sermons given by Franklin are chock full of hellfire and brimstone, portending unimaginable agony for those who would defy the word of He Who Walks Behind the Rows. Although only a boy of twelve, Franklin looks older (he was 23 at the time of filming, but a growth hormone disorder left him looking and sounding like an adult/child hybrid) and speaks like a seasoned preacher. His scene chewing is only surpassed by Gains as Malachai, Isaac’s right-hand man who is all-too-eager to shed blood. Here’s a fun drinking game: take a shot every time Malachai howls ”Outlander!”. Actually, don’t because you’ll probably get alcohol poisoning. Gains, with his brooding looks and fiery red hair, brings a savagery and apathy to Malachai that has helped him endure as one of the film’s true highlights.

Let me throw some praise over to composer Jonathan Elias, too, whose chanting child choir compositions are on par with such celebrated Satanic soundtracks as The Omen (1976) and Rosemary’s Baby (1968). Elias is a classically trained musician who began his career in film music by composing for trailers, like Alien (1979), before finally writing the score for his first feature, which was this film.

Blame it on nostalgia, but I still have a soft spot for director Fritz Kiersch’s interpretation of King’s short story all these years later despite its lack of bite and deviation from superior source material. Maybe it’s the austere Midwestern setting or just the general notion of a cult of children murdering adults and worshiping some… thing that dwells within the cornfield. Speaking of which, that was handled poorly… He Who Walks Behind the Rows turned out to be He Who Looks Like Someone Spilled a Highlighter. Didn’t they finally show it in the third film? Fourth? Who can remember? I do have a weakness for ‘90s horror. Maybe it’s time to revisit this series’ forgotten sequels…

Go ahead and toss that old Anchor Bay Blu-ray in the trash (ditto for the Image release) because the new 2K scan on Arrow Video’s 1.85:1 1080p image is a clear upgrade over past U.S. editions. There may be some debate by video purists between this version and the 88 Films version released in the U.K. but that is a discussion I’m not going to entertain. Also, I don’t own that edition for the sake of comparison. This release tightens up contrast and delivers an image that is moody and bleak. Some of the wheat-emblazoned brightness has been toned down but not to such a degree that faithful color timing is compromised. The picture Arrow presents is crystal clear in the daylight, with smooth, natural film grain, and nicely saturated colors. The palette has always hewed toward lighter Fall colors and that Midwestern appearance remains here. Black levels are mostly stable, with only a few scenes at night faltering toward hazy. The only time the image dips much, if at all, is during the nighttime stuff when some interior shots waver on tight contrast and film grain spikes a touch. This is definitely the best I have ever seen the film look in over 30 years of watching it, though, and that makes Arrow’s Blu-ray a clear winner.

Audio is presented with an English LPCM 2.0 stereo or DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound track. The film was originally mixed in mono and I found the best audible experience came from the stereo track, although the multi-channel isn’t a slouch by any means. Effects get a bit more breathing room there but nothing about the expanded mix will impress on a sound system. Jonathan Elias’ score sounds utterly chilling in lossless, contributing, like, 85% of the film’s tension. Dialogue comes through clear and free of issues. Subtitles are available in English.

There are two audio commentary tracks – the first, a returning track featuring director Fritz Kiersch, producer Terrence Kirby, and actors John Franklin & Courtney Gains; the second, a new track with horror journalist Justin Beahm & Children of the Corn historian John Sullivan.

“Harvesting Horror” – This is a newly-shot retrospective piece, featuring interviews with Kiersch, Gains, and Franklin looking back on the production and delivering some interesting anecdotes.

“It Was the Eighties!” – A legacy interview with actress Linda Hamilton, this appeared on the previous Anchor Bay release.

“…And a Child Shall Lead Them” – An interview with actors Julie Maddalena (Rachel) and John Philbin (Amos), this piece runs for nearly an hour and covers a lot of ground.

“Field of Nightmares” – Writer George Goldsmith sits down to discuss how he got attached to the project, taking over for King, and more.

“Stephen King on a Shoestring” – This is an interview with producer Donald P. Borchers, who discusses his own long history with this property.

“Welcome to Gatlin” – This dual interview (conducted separately) features production designer Craig Stearns and composer Jonathan Elias discussing the sights & sounds of the sparse town.

“Return to Gatlin” – Take a trip back to the locations seen in the film, hosted by John Sullivan.

“Cut from the Cornfield” – Actor Rich Kleinberg, who portrayed “The Blue Man” talks about his infamous deleted scene which has only appeared in a single lobby card and is thought lost.

A storyboard gallery and a (rough) trailer are also included.

Finally, tucked away at the end of the features list is this cool bonus: Disciples of the Crow (1983), a short film based on King’s story made one year before production began on the full feature. It runs close to 20 minutes and is a very welcomed addition to this already-stacked package.

Additionally, this release includes a slick booklet filled with writings, production photos, and technical specs on the disc. There is also a double-sided poster, featuring new artwork created by Ghoulish Gary Pullin, as well as the original key art. A sexy slipcover is included on first pressings and the cover artwork on the disc is reversible.

Special Features:

  • Brand new 2K restoration from the original negative
  • Original Mono and 5.1 Audio Options
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Brand new audio commentary with John Sullivan of childrenofthecornmovie.com and horror journalist Justin Beahm
  • Audio commentary with director Fritz Kiersch, producer Terrence Kirby and actors John Franklin and Courtney Gains
  • Harvesting Horror: The Making of Children of the Corn – retrospective piece featuring interviews with director Fritz Kiersch and actors John Franklin and Courtney Gains
  • It Was the Eighties! – an interview with actress Linda Hamilton
  • Return to Gatlin – brand new featurette revisiting the film’s original Iowa shooting locations
  • Stephen King on a Shoestring – an interview with producer Donald Borchers
  • Welcome to Gatlin: The Sights and Sounds of Children of the Corn – an interview with production designer Craig Stearns and composer Jonathan Elias
  • Feeling Blue – an interview with the actor who played “The Blue Man” in the fabled excised sequence
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin
  • First pressing only: Collectors booklet featuring new writing in the film

BUY IT NOW!

  • Children of the Corn
  • Special Features
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Beyond the Seventh Door DVD Review – No-Budget S.O.V. Canuxploitation At Its Finest!

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Beyond the 7th DoorStarring Lazar Rockwood, Bonnie Beck, Gary Freedman

Directed by B.D. Benedikt

Distributed by Severin Films/Intervision


Two people trapped within a labyrinthine complex. Booby traps. Rigged doors. Death lurking around every corner. And a mysterious voice communicating clues every step of the way via recorded tapes. No, this isn’t the latest Saw film but a Canuxploitation entry from the shot-on-video market, 1987’s Beyond the Seventh Door. Oozing ambition and bolstered by a truly bravado performance from newcomer Lazar Rockwood – a man who looks like the love child of Tommy Wiseau and Billy Drago – this no-budget Canadian shocker delivers just as many twists and turns as Lionsgate’s dead-horse franchise. The main difference being that instead of having to mutilate yours or someone else’s body, the protagonists here are forced to solve obtuse riddles in order to move on to the next room; failure means death. Intervision has been crushing it throughout 2017 – and this release may be the best yet.

Boris (Lazar Rockwood) is a career thief and recent ex-con who is trying to turn his life around when Wendy (Bonnie Beck), a former flame, comes back into his life. She now works for a rich paraplegic, Lord Breston (Gary Freedman), who lives in an actual castle just outside of town. Desperate for “one more job” and a big payday, Boris begs for a gig and Wendy delivers; the plan is for the two of them to break into the basement of Breston’s castle and steal whatever treasures he has socked away, all while her boss is busy entertaining guests at his costume party. The next night, the plan is enacted and the duo clandestinely slip into the castle’s lower level, when suddenly the door locks behind them and a tape recorder begins to play. Breston’s voice is heard, welcoming the thieves into his home and offering up a challenge: use scant clues (or sometimes, none at all) and uncover a way out of each of the six rooms linked together down here. Succeed and a briefcase of money awaits; fail and you die. Truly motivating.

Going into this film blind is my best recommendation, and so for that reason no other plot points will be revealed here. Besides, the real motivation for watching this movie is to witness the raw acting prowess of Lazar Rockwood. Glad in a denim jacket and rocking the ubiquitous ‘80s bandana headband, Rockwood has the delivery of a porno actor stammering lines between sex scenes. His accent is impenetrably thick and the range of his acting could fit within a matchbox, but dammit the man is weirdly magnetic on screen. He’s clearly throwing everything in his arsenal onto the screen with tremendous bravado. Modesty must be a scarce commodity when you have a name that would go perfectly alongside Dirk Diggler on an adult theater marquee in the ‘70s. My favorite line in the entire film is when Wendy is trying to solve the first clue, which has something to do with rings. When she’s rifling through possibilities and says, “Lord of the Rings?” Boris replies with, “Lord of the ring… who the hell is that guy?” said with equal parts confusion and annoyance. The kicker is viewers will believe that query could have come from either Boris or Lazar.

The rooms aren’t likely to impress viewers with their intricacy or set design, but each has a clever solution that is often a stretch to imagine our leads managing to solve within the allotted time. The clues provided by Lord Breston are esoteric and Boris isn’t exactly the erudite type, but working together with Wendy they are able to move ahead, often with mere seconds to spare. Evidence of past would-be thieves’ unlucky attempts are glimpsed, including one room where a body remains. NON-SPOILER: I completely expected the body to in actuality be Lord Breston, “checking up” on his unwanted guests much like John Kramer in Saw (2004), especially since you can clearly see the actor breathing, but this is not the case. Instead, the he’s-clearly-not-dead guy is played by a local eccentric, whose life is briefly chronicled in the bonus features.

Viewers will already be hooked on Beyond the Seventh Door by the time the climax arrives, but the final twists are what drive this S.O.V. thriller over the edge and into the cult territory it so richly deserves. It’s crazy to think this film went virtually unseen for years, being impossible to acquire on VHS and never receiving the proper home video release until now. Director B.D. Benedikt offers up further proof that strong ideas can be realized on any budget, and fans of films like Saw or Cube (1997) will enjoy this “store brand” version of those bigger budgeted hits.

The video quality review for every Intervision title could probably be a copy/paste job since each one is shot on video, always with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The quality here is comparable to a remastered VHS tape. There is a slight jerkiness to the opening but that passes quickly. Colors appear accurate and contrast is about as strong as can be. The picture is often soft which, again, is just something inherent to shooting on video. Film grain is minimized as much as possible; don’t expect a noisy mess just because this isn’t shot on film.

The English Dolby Digital 2.0 track plays with no obvious issues. Dialogue is clean and free from hissing and pops. The score is another awesomely cheesy ‘80s keyboard love-fest, with the three (!) composers – Michael Clive, Brock Fricker, and Philip Strong – getting plenty of mileage out of the main theme, which sounds like it would be the in-store demo default keyboard setting. No subtitles are included.

There is an audio commentary with writer/director B.D. Benedikt & actor Lazar Rockwood, moderated by Paul Corupe of Canuxploitation.com.

“Beyond Beyond the 7th Door features new interviews with Benedikt, Rockwood, and Corupe.

“The King of Cayenne” – Focusing on “legendary Toronto eccentric Ben Kerr”, a street performer who played the role of “dead guy in that one room”.

Special Features:

  • Audio Commentary with Writer/Director BD Benedikt and Actor Lazar Rockwood, moderated by Paul Corupe (Canuxploitation.com)
  • Beyond Beyond the 7th Door: Interviews with Writer/Director BD Benedikt, Actor Lazar Rockwood, and Canuxploitation.com’s Paul Corupe
  • The King of Cayenne: An Appreciation of Legendary Toronto Eccentric Ben Kerr
  • Beyond the Seventh Door
  • Special Features
3.5

Summary

Virtually lost for nearly three decades, Beyond the Seventh Door deserves a wider audience and Intervision’s DVD should bring it. The then-novel plot and sheer ambition should be enough to get most viewers hooked, but if not the Yugoslavian wonder Lazar Rockwood will handily have them glued to the screen.

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The Crucifixion Review – Should’ve Left This One Nailed to the Cross

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Starring Sophie Cookson, Corneliu Ulici, Ada Lupu

Directed by Xavier Gens


Claiming to be inspired by actual events, director Xavier Gens’ The Crucifixion forgoes the affecting shocks and awes, and instead beats its audience into the ground with a laundry-list of ho-hum dialogue and lesser-than-stellar instances…forget the priest, I need a friggin’ Red Bull.

A 2005 case is spotlighted, and it revolves around a psychotically damaged woman of the cloth (nun for all you laymen) who priests believed was inhabited by ol’ Satan himself. With one rogue priest in command who firmly believed that this was the work of something satanic, the nun was subject to a horrific exorcism in which she was chained to a cross and basically left to die, which ultimately resulted in the priest being stripped of his collar and rosary…how tragic. Enter an overzealous New York reporter (Cookson) who is intently focused upon traveling to Romania to get the scoop on the botched undertaking. After her arrival, the only point of view that seems to keep sticking with interviewees is that the man who sat close to the lord killed a helpless, innocent and stricken woman, that is until she meets up with another nun and a village priest – and their claims are of something much more sinister.

From there, the battle between good and evil rages…well, let me rephrase that: it doesn’t exactly “rage” – instead, it simmers but never boils. Unfortunately for those who came looking for some serious Father Karras action will more than likely be disappointed. The performances border on labored with cursory characters, and outside of some beautiful cinematography, this one failed to chew out of its five-point restraints.

I’d normally prattle on and on about this and that, just to keep my word limit at a bit of a stretch, but with this particular presentation, there just isn’t much to bore you all with (see what I just did there). Gens certainly had the right idea when constructing this film according to blueprints…but it’s like one of those pieces of Wal-Mart furniture that when you open the box, all you can find are the instructions that aren’t in your language – wing and a prayer…but we all know what prayers get you, don’t we, Father?

My advice to all who come seeking some hellacious activity – stick to The Exorcist and you’ll never be let down.

  • Film
2

Summary

The Crucifixion is one of those films that needs the help of the man above in order to raise its faith, but I think he might have been out to lunch when this one came around.

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Black Christmas Blu-ray Review – Making Its U.K. Debut From 101 Films

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Starring Keir Dullea, Olivia Hussey, John Saxon, Art Hindle

Directed by Bob Clark

Distributed by 101 Films


There is only one Bob Clark Christmas movie I watch each year and it doesn’t feature Ralphie and his Red Ryder fantasies.

The endurance of Clark’s 1974 legendary slasher, Black Christmas, can be chalked up to a number of factors but the greatest is this: it is a disturbing film. I frequently come across horror message board topics asking for genuinely scary titles devoid of jump scares and excessive gore, but oddly enough Black Christmas doesn’t get many mentions. Maybe because it has been relegated to the “seasonal viewing only” heap? Regardless, fans will agree that the unsettling events portrayed don’t diminish with repeat viewings; if anything, subsequent watching serves to reinforce that it is a standout among a sea of imitators. The film is also a noted influence on John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) – arguably the granddaddy of slasher films – adding a bit of prestige to its legacy.

The girls of Pi Kappa Sig are throwing a holiday party before the Christmas break when, toward the end of the night, they receive a phone call from a man they’ve been calling “The Moaner”, who has a habit of calling and making unusual noises. Jess (Olivia Hussey) initially accepts the call but also allows her other sisters to listen in, prompting outspoken Barb (Margot Kidder) to jump on the line and goad this mystery man. She and Phyllis (Andrea Martin) argue over the possibility this guy may be more threatening than anyone realizes. Unbeknownst to the ladies partying downstairs, however, moments before the phone call came through an unidentified person (very likely this same caller) snuck up the side of the house and into the attic. And once the party wraps up that same person is found hiding in Claire’s (Lynne Griffin) closet, whereupon she is strangled and placed in a rocking chair in the attic.

The next day Claire’s father comes to the campus to meet her and is understandably stood up. He heads to the sorority house and reports her missing, at which point the girls and their housemother, Mrs. Mac (Marian Waldman), agree to help him locate her. The file a report with the police, led by Lt. Fuller (John Saxon), and Jess also wrangles in Claire’s semi-boyfriend, Chris (Art Hindle), who helps bolster the search by raising hell at the station. Jess, meanwhile, is having problems of her own after confessing to her boyfriend, Peter (Keir Dullea), she is pregnant. She wants an abortion; he is vehemently against it. Claire’s absence grows more concerning when another missing girl is found dead in a nearby park, prompting the cops to ramp up their efforts. The girls are being picked off one by one as the unseen assailant remains hidden in the attic, continuing his phone calls that come after each murder. The cops suspect Peter may be a person of interest, as his interactions with Jess have become increasingly aggressive, but everyone is in for a shock when a tap on the line reveals the true source of the calls – they are coming from within the house.

With the film having been around for over forty years, and fans having been sold one “upgraded” home video version after the next, I suspect most readers are more interested in how Scream Factory’s Blu-ray stacks up against similar editions – which is basically my way of saying this review is a bit glib. For the uninitiated, however, let me say that I cannot overstate how exceptional Clark’s film is – never giving the killer an identity, an entire subplot concerning abortion, a palpable sense of grief for Claire’s father, a cast of interesting, unique people who don’t ever feel like archetypes, and a potentially downer of an ending. Some of his moviemaking tricks are brilliant, like the decision to create Billy’s voice from a combination of three different people (one a woman) and using interchangeable actors to portray the killer so you’re never quite sure who is in the attic. Carl Zittrer’s score is disorienting and minimal, making use of odd instrumentation to add extra unease; it also appears infrequently, giving the movie more of a real life quality. Black Christmas was a reasonable success upon release, more so commercially than critically, but time has been kind to this old gem and many now view it as an outright horror classic.

Hell, it was Elvis’ favorite Christmas movie.

Cult label 101 Films is giving the film its U.K. debut, presenting a transfer that is nearly identical to the remastered version Scream Factory released last year in North America. That 1.85:1 1080p picture is very likely the best this film can and will ever look. Black Christmas has a long home video history of looking very grainy, murky, dulled, and soft. I can’t say the new disc’s results are far off that mark but there are clear improvements. For one, grain has been resolved in a tighter field that looks less “noisy” and more “grindhouse-y”; do not expect an image clear as a crystal unicorn by any means. There is still softness to many faces and objects though detail looks far better here than it ever has before. Colors are more vibrant, too. Black levels run on the hazy side but they’re more stable than ever. The only noticeable difference between the Scream Factory and 101 Films versions are the latter is a touch brighter, allowing for a little more detail to filter through.

Audio is available via an English LPCM 5.1 surround sound track or a 2.0 stereo option. The multi-channel effort grants the unsettling soundtrack and Billy’s insane vocalizations more room to breathe, ratcheting up the creepiness thanks to the sense of immersion. Unlike the Scream Factory edition, the original mono track is not included.

Only a handful of extra features have been included, all of which can be found on the Scream Factory edition, too.

“Film and Furs: Remembering Black Christmas with Art Hindle” – Hindle, who still owns that jacket, talks about being a working actor in Canada when there wasn’t much work, as well as how he wound up auditioning for Clark for a different role.

“Victims and Virgins: Remembering Black Christmas with Lynne Griffin” – The actress who is most famous for having a plastic bag over her head tells a few tales from the set.

“Black Christmas Legacy” – This is a lot of interviews from the film’s actors and notable fans. I found it to be a bit tedious.

A handful of original TV and radio spots have been included, along with the “40th Anniversary Reunion Panel: Fan Expo Canada 2014”.

The package also includes a fold-out poster, reversible cover art, and a DVD copy.

Special Features:

  • Film and Furs: Remembering Black Christmas with Art Hindle
  • Victims and Virgins: Remembering Black Christmas with Lynne Griffin
  • Black Christmas Legacy
  • Original TV and Radio spots
  • 40th Anniversary Reunion Panel: Fan Expo Canada 2014
  • Black Christmas
  • Special Features
4.0

Summary

This is an easy recommendation for purchase if you live in the U.K., since this is the film’s Blu-ray debut. Stateside readers may find this region-free version attractive due to the price, but know that it does contain significantly fewer extras than the in-print Scream Factory release. Either way, fans on both sides of the Atlantic have a version worth buying.

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