Children of the Corn: Genesis (2011)
Starring Barbara Nedeljakova, Billy Drago, Kelen Coleman, Duane Whitaker
Directed by Joel Soisson
What do the fate of Atlantis, the Cambrian explosion, and the Children of the Corn franchise all have in common? No one knows how they happened.
I've studied horror for decades, attended conventions all over the world, and interacted with fans daily, and not once has anyone excitedly mentioned Children of the Corn. Search all you like; you won't find a single fan brandishing a Malachai action figure or proudly displaying a t-shirt/poster/key-chain for Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror.
So why has a property with a non-existent fan base banged out more sequels than almost every horror series? I get that the original was a moderate success back in 1984 ,and the fact that it's a Stephen King movie keeps it circulating in our collective unconscious, but it's not exactly remembered fondly (King himself once compared it to seeing your daughter "raped at a frat party"). It's more like one of those movies people jokingly recall by the title, not by any real memory - and that goes double for the sequels.
Children of the Corn: Genesis formerly (Children of the Corn: The Dweller) is the eighth or ninth movie to date (who's counting?). I'm still not sure exactly where in the vast mythology this takes place, and I don't think it really matters. The only major connection it has with the series is a 1970's-set opening sequence, which sees a Vietnam vet returning to his hometown outside of Gatlin to find it overrun by those creepy homicidal kiddies.
The story then jumps forward to modern day, where we find pregnant couple Allie and Tim lost on a deserted California road after their car breaks down. Since this is a horror film, the only thing around is a dilapidated farm shack owned by a super-creepy preacher (Drago) and his Russian mail order bride (Nedeljakova). They decorate the inside of their home with crucifixes and have no modern conveniences, save for a giant flat screen TV and digital camera that’s ominously set up in front of the couch. If that wasn't weird enough, there are strange noises coming from a small compound by the outhouse and the housewife immediately starts making sexual advances. Against their better judgment, Tim and Allie shack up for the night and waste no time in disobeying the preacher's orders not to go snooping around. A few morbid discoveries later and the couple find themselves stuck in the house, trying to survive the night, when they're assaulted by vague psychic forces.
The film is written and directed by low-budget sequel king Joel Soisson, whose previous films include Pulse 2 and 3 and some Prophecy entries (he also produced Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, which grants him life-long immunity from criticism). And while his script relies on the oldest of horror formulas, the biggest surprise is how this installment actually held my attention from beginning to end.
It's fairly unambitious story-wise, and the script flirts with several ideas that are barely explored in the end, but Soisson gets credit for going for the minimalist approach and moving things along at a pretty decent clip. The performances are all solid across the board, and better-than-average production values keep this from sinking into the pit with most cheap DTV sequels. There are even some genuinely tense moments where Genesis turns into a tight, confined little thriller. Only during a few action moments, where the editing and geography get wildly confusing, does the shoestring budget really show. For example, there's a sequence towards the end involving vehicular mayhem that makes obvious use of stock footage. I'm not sure exactly where the editors got it, but it looks like they lifted the shots straight out of Bad Boys II.
Other than the opening and a brief dream sequence, the film is largely absent of children or corn and actually comes off more like an old "Twilight Zone" episode. Its biggest handicap is that it's saddled with the name of such a piss-poor franchise. I wouldn't be surprised if this was an original script that they simply slapped with the brand name when the Dimension brass ordered another sequel (something that has become pretty common with their DTV sequel line).
While it isn't anything spectacular, Genesis is one of those low-budget movies you could come across on late night television and easily kill a guiltless 80 minutes with. Aside from catching the occasional snippet on cable, I haven't sat through any of the sequels, but I imagine this is the best Children of the Corn film to date. At the very least, it runs circles around the god-awful Syfy channel remake that hit last summer. That may be faint praise - almost like a two-legged man winning a one-legged man ass-kicking contest - but it's praise nonetheless.
One last side note: This is the only film I've ever seen that was dedicated to the memory of a chicken. I'm not sure if it died naturally or if the crew just ate him for lunch, but the Oscar memoriam-level send-off to the little guy earns this movie an extra half-knife.
3 out of 5
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