Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest
I have a theory that Disney acquired Miramax for the express purpose of cranking out direct-to-video sequels to their horror franchises. Dimension was started by Miramax in 1992 to handle their genre stuff and, a year later, Miramax was acquired by Disney. Almost instantaneously, they started cranking out DTV sequel after DTV sequel. What Iím not so sure of is what they saw in the Children of the Corn franchise. As of this writing, there are 9 films in the ridiculously leggy franchise and there doesnít seem to be signs of them stopping any time soon. At the time of the Disney merger, Dimension only had one Corn film under its belt, and not a very good starting point from which to launch a decade-long string of sequels. Disney drove the combine that swathed a path of maize themed horror films, and Iíd really like to know why.
All that musing aside, Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest is really where the new franchise began. This was the point where the Children of the Corn movies started coming out every year or two, and largely abandoned the pretence of being a continuing series in favour of one-shot variations on similar themes. Children of the Corn creator Stephen King has singled out Part III as the sequel he enjoyed the most. That hardly constitutes high praise given KingísÖquestionableÖcinematic sensibilities but, in this case, Urban Harvest is the one exception that proves the rule.
In Gatlin, Nebraska, brothers Eli (Daniel Cerny) and Joshua (Ron Melendez) are under threat from their drunken and abusive (step?) father. Not sure why this lout wasnít slaughtered with the rest of Gatlinís adults, but okay. Eli, who has supernatural powers his bland, dunderheaded brother is seemingly oblivious to, calls upon good olí He Who Walks Behind the Rows to make quick work of their brutish dad. In a fairly impressive bit of low rent effects, heís partially torn apart and hung up by some vicious cornstalks.
Orphaned, the boys are taken into the care of the state and shuffled away from Nebraska straight to Illinois, where they are adopted by Chicago commodities trader William Porter (Jim Metzler) and his wife Amanda (Nancy Lee Grahn) Önever mind that Joshua looks to be at least 20. Their first night in their new home, Eli sneaks over to the abandoned factory next door and plants a field of the demonic strain of corn he brought with him in a suitcase all the way from Gatlin (ďa taste of homeĒ). The next morning, at their new school, Eli quickly settles into the role of creepy new kid. Headmaster Father Frank Nolan (John Cleese lookalike Michael Ensign) is unsettled by the smarmy Eliís odd sermons and the strangely charismatic influence he has over the kids at school. Joshua, on the other hand, has an easier time assimilating into his new environment. He shows off slick moves on the basketball court and even slicker moves off as he buddies up to neighbour girl Maria (Mari Morrow). Both brothers run afoul of class bully T-Loc (Garvin Funches), though Eli is not in the least bit intimidated by the older, thuggish boy.
When Amanda finds Eliís secret crop growing next door she sends William over to confront him. Upon seeing the fully grown stalks of corn, though, William begins to see dollar signs at the thought of commercially marketing the fast-growing, disease and bug resistant maize. The prospect of mad cash pretty much totally blinds him to Eliís creepiness and the unlikelihood of Eliís explanation for the source of his supercorn. Amanda, on the other hand, has latched on to Joshua, much to Eliís dismay. Despite his glowering stares Eli simply cannot prevent Josh from being urbanized which, in this case, means wearing jeans and sneakers. Instead Eli turns his influence towards his new classmates, and his power over them begins to grow. They become sullen and withdrawn while at school and pretty soon the playgrounds are completely empty and the kids (including an uncredited young Charlize Theron) are at the abandoned factory, mulling about among the rows of corn, listening to Eli proselytise and waiting for the second coming of He Who Walks Behind the RowsÖwhich they get in gruesome, flamboyant style.
None of the opening set up makes any sense and, honestly, I donít think the filmmakers really cared if it did. It plays pretty fast and loose with the (admittedly weak) continuity established in the first two films. It just serves as an excuse to get the boys to a large, urban environment and Chicago is a more recognizable and threatening locale than, say, Lincoln (which is where the boys would have more likely wound up). What becomes apparent pretty early on in Corn III is that the filmmakers recognized how inherent ridiculous their premise was and decided to run with it. Whereas the first film was an okay d-grade thriller, and the second was a dreadful attempt to rehash it, Urban Harvest goes in a different direction altogether and has a little fun along the way. Urban Harvest plays with the conventions of both the fish out of water story and the angst ridden urban dramas that were big in the mid-90s. When Joshua takes to the court to show off his skills with a basketball in a sly reference to White Men Canít Jump, I smiled. Urban Harvest displays a level of breezy, unforced pop culture savvy that more films in this ironic, postmodern age should share. I wish the screenplay were as clever with the horror and suspense elements as it is with the rest of the story. If it has fun playing with dramatic conventions, it seems to regard the horror as an afterthought. It camps it up a little too much and then abruptly shifts tone rather than keeping its tongue planted firmly in cheek. The result is a film that, while consistently entertaining, is never actually scary.
Itís kind of amazing that Urban Harvest not only survives two inexplicable performances from its leads, but almost seems to thrive on them. Daniel Cerny brings a nearly indescribable level of smugness to Eli. His character would be almost unbearable if it werenít for the fact that his smarm and willingness to laugh in the face of authority are what helps make him a surprisingly credible influence on his peers. It reminded me of high school, where kids were drawn to rebels who challenged authority. On the other hand Ron Melendez, as older brother Joshua, is deadly dull. He sleepwalks through the movie, glassy eyed and zombified, but even that kind of works in the movieís favour. That heís oblivious to Eliís supernatural abilities would be totally unbelievable if he wasnít such a chowderhead. So dim is Joshua that his ignorance in his make out scene with Maria actually comes across as sincere. It does kind of make his heroic swing in the third act less than totally believable but, by that point, the movie either has your or it doesnít so the point becomes moot.
Also working in Urban Harvestís favour is a stronger emphasis on horror and gore effects. If Children II was too light on the grue then III more than makes up for its shortcomings; thereís almost as much bloodshed in the first act of Urban Harvest than in the entirety of Final Sacrifice. Itís good gore, too. The gags are cleverly staged and the applied with enthusiasm. Screaming Mad George supplies his brand of fantasy-influenced (if often incredibly fake looking) make ups. Given the filmís vintage and its obviously low budget, the visual effects and CGI work is pretty impressive. Urban Harvest is slicker than your average direct-to-video offering. Director James Hickox is the brother of Hellraiser III helmer Anthony Hickox and it looks like he solicited a few pointers from his more experienced sibling. The final massacre in the urban cornfield bares more than a passing resemblance to the massacre in the Boiler Room club that kicks off the third act of Hellraiser III, and both films transport their more rural stories to an unabashedly urban environ. Even the score by Daniel Licht seems to borrow a cue or two from Hellraiser III during these scenes. The only major liability of the third act of Corn III is the final reveal of He Who Walks Behind the Rows. The creature just doesnít justify three entire films worth of build-up. Itís a common pitfall when personifying a creature thatís gone unseen: both the Poltergeist and Evil Dead franchises ran into this problem and solved it with varying degrees of success. Screaming Man Georgeís reach far exceeds his grasp on this one and what should be an awe inspiring monster looks more like a rubber hand puppet. Itís not helped any by utterly terrible digital compositing that literally makes the movie look like a Playstation game. The original Playstation, that is.
The complaints Iíve level against Urban Harvest are small potatoes, though, considering how well the rest of the film acquits itself. The series definitely benefits from the shake-up in tone and the move in location. The Children of the Corn films would settle back into a rural setting for subsequent sequels but Iím sure He Who Walks Behind the Rows will always look back fondly at his time in the big city. As will I.
Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest comes to Blu-ray for the first time courtesy of Echo Bridge Entertainment. Unfortunately they didnít take advantage of Blu-rays capabilities. The film doesnít even take up the entirety of a single layer BD-25 disc and it shows. While 1080i is still technically High def, the unwritten standard is that Blu-rays are presented in 1080p. Not in this case, however. The video quality is pretty lacking, whatever the resolution. The image is rife with digital noise and drab and uninteresting colours throughout. Ghosting during fast moving scenes or camera pans is pretty apparent and the movie is almost unwatchable on a display thatís not upscaling it to progressive scan. Considering this is one of the few Corn films that is set during the day and uses a brighter than normal color palette for a horror film, Iím pretty disappointed with the image quality on this disc.
Urban Harvest is given a pretty threadbare DTS-HD 2-channel English audio track: dialogue and sound effects occupy the front channels while the score is relegated to the back. Itís serviceable and never deficient in any serious way, but it never musters the ambition to do anything beyond the bare minimum. Thereís not much to say about this mix beyond that; itís about what youíd expect from a direct to video movie made before the advent of DVDs and the standard 5.1 sound mix.
Ironically, the sound crew credits at the beginning of the movie are followed by an abrupt and inexplicable drop in volume on the soundtrack.
Not surprising, considering that the Dimension DVD had no supplements to speak of, this Blu-ray has no bonus material. Not even a trailer or gallery of trailers for the other Corn films is included here, which is really a missed marketing opportunity for distributor Echo Bridge.
Itís no masterwork but, even after all the sequels that have followed, Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest still ranks as one of the best entries in the series. Itís silly and fun, staged with a lot of energy and creativity and is surprisingly light on its feet. Being the best Children of the Corn film is a dubious distinction at best but if youíre looking for to add a little bit of corn to your diet, Urban Harvest is a painless way to do so. This Harvest is a bumper crop.
Too bad the same canít be said for its inaugural High Def presentation. If you already own Children of the Corn III on DVD, the mediocre barebones presentation of this Blu-ray offers no incentive for an upgrade. If you havenít yet strolled down the rows with He Who Walks Behind Them, then the $19.99 sticker price isnít too bad (and the disc can be found for much less than that).
Just watched this the other night, really forgot a lot of it and I was happy to revisit. Thanks for the review.
Is the Echo Bridge release worth picking up over the standard definition DVD?
The price difference between the Blu-ray and the DVD is pretty negligible so, if you're going to buy it, you might as well get the Blu. If you already own the old Dimension DVD, however, it's probably not worth the upgrade.
i love The CotC film's
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