Friday, February 28, 2014

Children Of The Corn: The Gathering (1996)

As you probably know, Children Of The Corn is a short story by Stephen King. It is twenty-nine pages long. From those twenty-nine pages, nine films have been made. The Gathering is the fourth one. It begins the way basically no horror film should begin – with a nightmare sequence. June Rhodes (Karen Black) wakes up from her nightmare, and then we go to the opening titles. That’s the same as having no scene whatsoever before the titles, since nothing has actually happened. Here is what has happened so far: A woman slept.

While the third film, Children Of The Corn III: Urban Harvest, featured Charlize Theron as an extra, this fourth one actually stars Naomi Watts. And this one rightly returns to Nebraska (the third one took place in Chicago). At the beginning, Grace (Naomi Watts) arrives in Grand Island, Nebraska (“Corn Capital of Sentinel County,” according to its welcome sign). She returns home to take care of her mother, June, who is in a bad state, suffering from agoraphobia, and unable to get past her front yard. Alice also goes to work for the local doctor.

Meanwhile, some guy lowers a bucket into a well that was boarded up, a well that has a corpse in it. You don’t want to drink that water. He does, and discovers it’s not just water, but mostly bugs. The corpse begins to crawl out of the well, but then vanishes. The corpse has very nice skin in the places the makeup artist neglected. Well, apparently the corpse kills the guy because he was drinking alcohol. He says, “I’ve come for the children.” This older guy doesn’t seem to have any children, but it’s a little late for him to make that argument, as the ghost corpse kills him.

Grace’s younger sister, Margaret, and younger brother, James, both have fevers. And when Grace goes to the doctor’s office, she learns that a lot of kids have the flu. All over town that night, children’s temperatures are rising. So a lot of kids are being put into cold baths. And their temperatures go back down. So there you go. Ice baths work. This tip was brought to you by the Children of the Corn Medical Society, helping possessed kids since 1984.

It's the night before Marcus and his parents are moving out of town, but Marcus tells his mother he can’t go, and then watches while someone kills her. Several other children look on from the window. It’s amazing that the parents would let their young children go out at night, especially after they just got over some mysterious flu.

This movie is actually pretty good for a while, but then it keeps relying on nightmares and – even worse – nightmares within nightmares. Nightmares within nightmares are the mark of the laziest of horror writers. If you write horror films, be sure, no matter what else you might do, to refrain from using them. Also, there’s a full moon, and we have one of those standard horror movie shots of the moon - something else it might do well for horror filmmakers to avoid (unless you’re making a werewolf picture).

Anyway, twin boys seem to be possessed by another set of twins who were killed by their father decades earlier. It makes for good and creepy scenes. But how is all this stuff connected to the corn and all that? Well, the twins, with the help of the ghost corpse, kill the nice doctor.

June Rhodes’ nightmare of course comes true for her, and she’s smart enough to just get the hell out of the house, agoraphobia or not. It’s a good thing that after all this time her car is still working, and is all gassed up.

The children of the town suddenly find their teeth falling out, and they all claim to be other children. It’s not really clear who these other children are, or what relation they have to the ghost corpse, or how any of this is related to the other films. Why are these children possessed by spirits of long-dead children? And why does that have a dental effect?

The medical files on all the children are missing. Why? Who took them? Grace has a sense of urgency, trying to get to the bottom of the medical side of the story. But then the movie suddenly stops, so that two old ladies can tell her a story of a child who was a preacher long ago. The boy didn’t age, because the adults poisoned him to keep him small and whatnot. Grace never interrupts them to mention she has important stuff to do. So they go on to talk about how the townspeople burned the preaching boy in the cornfields and then sealed his ashes into the well. So it’s that boy who has come back somehow. The old ladies have a photo of him for some reason, which they’ve even framed, and so we can see, yeah, it’s the ghost corpse that came out of the well for the children. After all, he's wearing the same hat.

Anyway, their silly story makes sense to Grace, because Margaret is really her daughter, not her sister. And so the preaching boy ghost corpse is going to possess her, maybe, I’m not sure. So Grace goes to the farm where the well is and suddenly discovers the body of her mother and says, “Bastard.” A moment later when she finds the body of the doctor she says, “Oh shit.” And that’s it. Those are her reactions to learning those two are dead. Okay.

It’s a shame, because the movie is quite good for a while. It has a nice, creepy atmosphere. But once it goes wrong, it refuses to stop going wrong, and is just kind of retarded. The last twenty or twenty-five minutes are ridiculous. And then it ends. Grace remains completely unfazed by the death of her mother. Marcus’ father was wanted for the murder of his wife and the murder of the sheriff, but apparently that is just completely dropped, because he’s out and about with his son at the end of the film. Wouldn’t he still be arrested? After all, the cops have no other suspects, and they weren't witnesses to all the craziness out by the well. The preaching boy ghost corpse is gone, and it’s unlikely any court is going to believe that story anyway. And now there are several other murders to account for, murders that occurred while Marcus' father was on the loose.

Oh well.

Children Of The Corn III: Urban Harvest (1995)

Children Of The Corn III: Urban Harvest opens with Joshua being chased through the corn by his angry, drunk dad. Joshua finds his younger brother Eli out in the corn, and Eli has stolen their father’s old suitcase. The suitcase's absence from the home is apparently what angered their father in the first place, leading to this late-night chase. Was he planning a trip? Well, no matter. The corn then grabs drunk daddy and turns him into a scarecrow.  The boys are then placed in foster care in Chicago. They arrive by Greyhound, so there’s a good chance their luggage was lost. Well, you can take the children out of the corn, but…

The boys are clearly evil, because right away they break a little glass statue even after William, their foster father, tells them it’s expensive. And then they get upset when their foster parents start to eat pizza without saying grace. Eli is also upset that there is no corn in the yard. Next door is an old, abandoned factory (and yes, that’s just how Williams describes it). Oh boy.

Eli packed well. Amanda, his foster mother, opens his suitcase to find it full of bugs. When Williams opens it, he finds it full of ears of corn. Either way, it’s unclear just what Eli’s going to wear. The first night Eli sneaks into the old, abandoned factory with his suitcase. Watch the entire brick wall shake as he climbs through a hole. Wow. Eli then takes an ear of corn from his suitcase, and breaks off kernels and tosses them into the dirt, offering them to He Who Walks Behind The Rows. Apparently He Who Walks Behind The Rows is also He Who Hangs Out In Old, Abandoned Factories, for there is an immediate reaction.

Joshua plays basketball with some of the other kids, and is actually good at the game. But when Eli shows up, all upset, Joshua leaves with him. Eli has some serious abandonment issues, asking Joshua not to play basketball. But that’s not all that’s wrong with Eli. He grows corn in the old, abandoned factory and talks to the corn, and then directly to the camera. Weird kid.

The priest who runs the school eats a bug and then has a nightmare about the original massacre in Gatlin. Eli then gets up to deliver a sermon against adults to the other kids, who are all Joshua’s age. Where are the other kids in Eli’s class? We actually never see Eli in class, so maybe he has no classmates and is the only boy his age in the school. Who knows?

We learn that Joshua and Eli aren’t really related. Eli was adopted. No wonder why this kid has issues. A woman with social services calls Amanda because she was going over some old files and found a newspaper photo of Eli. Eli looks the same age in the photo, which shows him and other children watching as the bodies of their parents are found. So the photo is from 1984?

William meanwhile thinks he can make millions by marketing the special corn that Eli is growing. But that same corn steals Amanda’s sneakers, and soon she slips and dies. It’s not like she had much to live for without those sneakers anyway.

The priest has another nightmare, but it shouldn’t scare him all that much because it’s a scene from Children Of The Corn II: The Final Sacrifice. And the next day none of the students is friendly to him. The kids have started listening to Eli and begin to believe all the crazy religious stuff he’s spouting. It’s a little bit unbelievable that teenagers in Chicago would start believing a religious child. Instead of playing basketball, they all gather in the old, abandoned factory to hear Eli preach, listening to him rant about He Who Walks Behind The Rows. The original film was believable because it was the older kids who led the younger ones, and they were all hicks anyway, with nothing better to do. It was fucking Nebraska. This is Chicago.

The priest has another nightmare. His first was about the killings from the beginning of the original film. The second was a murder from the second film. So now that he’s all caught up in the series, his third nightmare can be something new. It’s about some kids burning a couple in their bed.

Hey, that newspaper article is from 1964, not 1984. What gives? The social worker mailed it to Amanda before she died. That’s some mighty slow mail. As Amanda is now dead, Joshua opens the package, and learns that Eli is a bit older than he looks. Apparently, Eli is Satan or something, and the only way he can be killed is by destroying his bible, which he left in Gatlin. But if he’s Satan, why does he worship He Who Walks Behind The Rows? Not that he claims to be Satan. He doesn’t. He implies it by telling the priest, You know who I am. So Joshua and his friend drive from Chicago to Nebraska, grab the book and drive back, apparently all in one evening. Actually, Joshua drives back to Chicago alone, because his friend dies in the cornfield. Good thing he left the keys in the ignition.

And then at the end, after Joshua has made the leap that Eli is like a worm and needs to be killed simultaneously with the book (don’t ask), a big monster shows up to kill all the kids who have gathered, which of course makes absolutely no sense. But it looks hilarious. Even more hilarious is the shot where the monster picks up a girl named Maria. What the creature actually picks up is clearly a cheap doll whose arms remain stationary, even as the monster waves it around a bit. And there is the sound of Maria screaming, which adds to the humor. It’s seriously totally funny.

So, what else is good about this film? Well, Charlize Theron, my favorite African-American actor, is in it. It’s her first film, and she’s an extra, uncredited, but with some great close-ups near the end. And someone did a little ADR, so it seems like she’s saying the monster caught her.

By the way, both Amanda and William are dead by the end of the film. The moral of the story is clearly that it is a bad idea to adopt children.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Children Of The Corn II: The Final Sacrifice (1992)

Children Of The Corn is a short story by Stephen King. It is twenty-nine pages long. From those twenty-nine pages, nine films have been made. The Final Sacrifice is the second one, and of course comes a bit early in the series to be using the word Final. Friday The 13th didn’t do that until the fourth one (and then proceeded to make another nine films, including the two remakes and Freddy Vs. Jason).

Anyway, Children Of The Corn II: The Final Sacrifice starts basically where the previous one ended. Cops and reporters have descended on the town to investigate the mass murder of adults by the children. And homes are being found in the neighboring town for the remaining children. A news van is leaving the area, and one of the guys thinks a dirt path through the corn is a shortcut to the highway. Really? Well, guess what, it isn’t. And even though there are no deadly children about, the two men are killed. They are killed by the corn itself. This corn is strong with the dark side of the force, and shoots lightning through one of the guys like the emperor did to Luke.

Meanwhile, John, a tabloid reporter, and his son, Danny, arrive in town, and John wants to land the story (though all the other reporters have left). They stay at a bed and breakfast, where Micah, one of the children is also staying. John gets the story from him – the blood was for the corn. Later, John takes out a tape recorder and says that line into it. Seems short enough that he could have just written it down, but whatever.

Micah goes out into the field, looking for his friends, and is suddenly chased by an unseen force. He falls into some sort of vortex. I’m not sure what happens exactly, but it looks cool. I think maybe his molecules come apart and then reform with darker molecules. No, I don’t really know. The other kids have gathered to wait for He Who Walks Behind The Rows. I guess they learned nothing from their recent experiences in the first film. Children are stupid. Mordechai says it is written that a leader will come out of the corn. The children are waiting for a leader? They killed their parents and now want someone else to lead them? Children are stupid.

A bitter, crazy, old lady says: “My husband walked into a cornfield fifteen years ago. He never came back.” That’s why she thinks the corn and children are evil, because her husband had the good sense to take off. She says, “That’s why I’m moving out of this place, and I’m taking my house with me.” No word on the reason for her delayed reaction. Fifteen years is a long time to pack up one’s belongings. John listens to her story, then looks over at the group of children gathered in her yard. After John leaves, the kids decide to kill the old lady, and they crush her with her house. As she dies she says, “What a world.” She must think it’s a good line, because she says it again. “What a world.”

And of course there is one of those tiny churches with a preacher ranting against fornication. The service must go on a very long time because it starts before the kids surrounded the old lady and yet Micah has enough time to walk over there after the old lady’s death and slip into the back row with a sort of homemade voodoo doll of one of the parishioners. He uses the doll to cause a nosebleed and eventually the guy’s death.

Danny, the reporter’s son, has managed to find the one cute girl in town who is not obsessed with corn and murder and whatnot. But later for some reason (or for no reason) Micah decides that girl must be sacrificed. I thought he only disliked adults, and Lacey is not yet eighteen.

Though the movie has some problems, it’s not terrible. One thing that saves the movie is a native American character that is actually not a cliché. Ned Romero turns in a good performance as Red Bear, and actually has some good dialogue as well. “Sometimes what you’ve learned conflicts with what you know.” Basically the movie is better whenever he’s on screen.

And there’s a very silly scene with an electric wheelchair and a bingo game that you can’t help but enjoy.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Halloween (2007)

Congratulations, Rob Zombie, for completely misunderstanding what made the original Halloween so scary. It was frightening precisely because this kid did seem like a normal boy who somehow snapped, and seemed just as baffled by the change as his parents (that look on his face as the parents find him outside the house is great). Rob Zombie gives us Michael Myers’ backstory, including a mother who is a stripper with a boyfriend who is abusive, an older sister who teases him, and classmates who also tease him. He also shows Michael killing animals, the typical early warning sign for a serial killer. And then Michael’s older sister won’t take him trick-or-treating, so he sits outside his house, brooding, while Nazareth’s “Love Hurts” plays. Fucking retarded. He’s so bummed about not going trick-or-treating that he goes back inside to kill his sister. Her boyfriend is wearing the classic Michael Myers mask. So we lose all the great suspense of the original film, not knowing who was lurking outside and so on.

Michael kills his mother’s boyfriend and his sister’s boyfriend (in the original, the sister's boyfriend was able to leave the house unscathed because Michael was really only after his sister) before going upstairs to kill his sister. His sister is listening to “Don’t Fear The Reaper” on her headphones when Michael enters her room. Really, Rob Zombie? “Don’t Fear The Reaper”? Could you be a little less original? There is nothing subtle, nothing clever here, and no suspense. He took a classic and turned it into a run-of-the-mill slasher film.

Anyway, Michael puts on the boyfriend’s Michael Myers mask, which just seems silly and laughable, in part because it’s too big for him, and in part because it feels like he's pretending to be the character from the original film. Michael then goes into his baby sister’s room and says “Happy Halloween.” One good thing is that Michael’s mom (played by Sheri Moon Zombie) wears a sexy patchwork fur jacket in two scenes. But even after she returns home to find Michael holding the baby (still alive), we stay in that time period in order to get footage of the police and news reporters on the scene. Completely unnecessary.

Then we cut to eleven months later, with more news footage of Michael Myers being transferred to the hospital. And we see Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) interviewing him. And yes, Michael Myers talks in this version. He talks about a mask he made, and he and Dr. Loomis discuss whether black is really a color. Again, in the original, Dr. Loomis’ later description of Michael as a completely silent boy is eerie and frightening. Here, instead, we see the boy chatting away with Dr. Loomis, which is not scary at all. Michael denies his guilt. And we have a scene of his mother visiting him. And then a janitor tells Michael to learn to live inside his head. And then Michael stabs a nurse with a fork. After that, there’s home movie footage of Michael that his mom watches before shooting herself. The original film needed none of this stuff. Granted, I watched the director’s cut, so perhaps a good deal of this pointless footage wasn’t in the theatrical release.

The movie then goes to fifteen years later. Finally. At this point, we’re thirty-eight minutes into the film. Michael is now a giant. And Dr. Loomis says that Michael hasn’t talked in fifteen years. Dr. Loomis then says Michael has become his best friend. Really? His best friend is someone who hasn’t spoken to him in fifteen years? Whatever, it doesn’t matter, because in the next moment, Dr. Loomis says he’s giving up on his best friend and won’t be coming to see him anymore. He then goes on a book tour, discussing Michael’s case.

Two janitors decide to rape a young female inmate in Michael’s room, thus giving him the chance to escape. First he kills everyone in the place, including the other janitor that was nice to him. So we lose that great scene from the original where Dr. Loomis drives up to the hospital at night. Basically everything that was great about the original is missing from this version. What we get instead is a trucker in a bathroom quoting Cool Hand Luke. Great. Thanks, Rob Zombie.

When we finally get to Halloween and meet Laurie Strode (you remember, the main character of the original film), we are fifty-four minutes into this remake. Rob Zombie sure likes to waste a lot of fucking time. We should be happy to finally meet Laurie, but Rob Zombie has fucked this up too. This Laurie comes off as the opposite of the original, making sexual jokes to her mother in her first moment on screen. Ouch. Jamie Lee Curtis was instantly likeable in the original film. Not so with this girl. When Tommy catches up with her on the street, she tells him to leave her alone. Boy, Rob Zombie just got every single thing wrong.

Meanwhile, Michael Myers returns home and rips up some floorboards to take out a knife and the Michael Myers mask that his older sister’s boyfriend had been wearing. What, he buried it under the floorboards after killing his sister fifteen years ago, then replaced the boards before waiting outside for his mom? Come on! At least Rob Zombie was smart enough to use John Carpenter’s music. It’s one of the only good things about this movie. By the way, by showing us Michael taking out the mask and knife, we know that he’s in the house before Laurie even gets there. So, once again, we lose a scary moment from the original, when Laurie walks up to the house and we suddenly realize Michael is already in there. Rob Zombie has absolutely no clue as to how to build suspense.

Oddly, this version keeps the three girls saying “totally” over and over as they walk home from school. In the original, it was a cute character trait, but it doesn’t fit at all with this version as it takes place in 2007. In this version, Linda and her boyfriend go to fuck in the Myers house, which makes things a lot easier on Michael, and once again eliminates any suspense. And after they fuck, she puts on the portable radio she’d brought, and – I seriously can’t believe this – “Don’t Fear The Reaper” is on. Again? I’m beginning to think Rob Zombie is a fucking moron. He does keep the bit with Michael wearing the sheet and the boyfriend’s glasses.

One good thing is we get a scene where Dr. Loomis goes to buy a gun. That actually makes sense. What makes the scene even better is the surprise appearance by Micky Dolenz as the gun store owner. Another surprise is that Michael kills Laurie’s parents.

Dr. Loomis makes the leap that Michael has returned for his baby sister, and tells that to the sheriff. The sheriff luckily knows exactly what happened to that baby sister. Rob Zombie does come up with a different ending, where Michael captures Laurie and takes her back to his house, maybe to connect with her again. But she stabs him, which he doesn’t appreciate, and any warm feelings this psycho might have had for her immediately evaporate. After that, we just get the typical slasher movie ending.

And that also ends any interest I might have had in any future Rob Zombie projects.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (2010)

Last night I sat through two of the Twilight movies, New Moon and Eclipse. The DVDs were given to me by someone who was going to toss them out otherwise. I figured I’d give them a go. The first, New Moon (which was actually the second in the series), was fucking awful. You can read my review of it here. And when it was over, it was late, and I decided to pop on the other film, figuring if I didn’t get through it then I never would.

Well, Eclipse isn’t as bad. It’s still bad, mind you, just not as completely awful as New Moon.

The film opens with some guy walking through the city. It’s raining, so it must be Seattle. The guy is suddenly chased by unknown assailants. When they catch him, they cut his hand. Not off or anything. Just a cut. But this causes the guy to lie in the street, writhing and screaming. He’s a very sensitive boy.

Meanwhile, back in whatever town Bella (Kristen Stewart) lives in, she and Edward the vampire are kissing in a field. He says, “Marry me.” If you recall, the previous film ended with Edward the vampire proposing to Bella. Apparently she hadn’t yet responded in the time between the two films. But now she clearly isn’t into it. She says, “Marriage is just a piece of paper.” That’s true, and after several years you have to rip up the piece of paper and give the smaller piece to the man. But Edward says again, “Marry me.” Bella replies, “I can’t – I have to be back at four.”

Charlie (Billy Burke), Bella’s dad, would like Bella to spend less time with her vampire friend and more time with her werewolf friend, Jacob. Edward and the other vampires have returned to high school for some reason, in time for graduation. Alice wants to throw a graduation party. These vampires are quite old (Edward was 109 in the previous film), but apparently their intellectual development was halted in their teen years. Who the hell wants to go to a high school graduation ceremony? Well, Edward does. He has his robe on, but it’s unclear how he managed to graduate. Didn’t he leave town for most of the previous movie? Was he keeping up with his studies somehow?

Bella visits her mom, and her mom gives her a present. And the movie does that annoying thing that sitcoms like to do – wrapping the lid of the box separately from the box so that you can simply lift it off. I know why they do that in sitcoms – it’s so that resetting between takes is easier. But films shouldn’t do that. And really, have you ever in your life wrapped a box lid separately from the box? Of course not. It’s fucking stupid.

Meanwhile everyone is still hunting Victoria. I’m still not sure why. Bella goes on a motorcycle ride with Jacob, so apparently she’s still into that.

Someone sneaks into Bella’s house, and the werewolves and vampires argue over who gets the privilege of protecting Bella. Bella suddenly yells, “From now on, I’m Switzerland, okay?” They agree, but she then fails to make them watches or to let them open bank accounts. She still has more to say, but we get it as voice over: “Edward hated the idea, but it wasn’t about rivalry anymore. It was about my safety, and Charlie’s.” Yes, we already know that. We’ve been watching the movie. Why is she telling us this? In the previous film there was a lot of voice over, as Bella liked writing emails to Alice and reading them to us. There are no emails this time, but still there is voice over. Why? Bella continues: “In the days that followed I got them to at least try to work together.” And we see that too, making every last syllable of voice over completely pointless. Perhaps it’s simply that this film’s intended audience is made up of imbeciles who need to be told everything twice.

Bella gets invited to a werewolf tribal meeting, which gives the film a chance to tell us the whole history of the fight between werewolves and vampires. So we see lots of it, and mostly it’s shouting and crying. The leader of the werewolves tells everyone: “Something terrible is coming. And we must all be ready. All of us.” Yes, I understood the first time you said “all.” This movie loves unnecessary flashbacks. Twice we get the back stories of minor vampire characters. The first of these vampires laments her vampire life, and her point is that Bella is making a mistake by wishing to turn. She made that point in the previous film too.

Well, a vampire named Riley Biers is creating an amateur vampire army in Seattle at the behest of Victoria, or perhaps at the behest of the vampire council. It's not really clear. Alice has a vision that this vampire army is coming after Bella. So Jacob volunteers himself and the rest of the werewolves to join in the fight. He says amazing lines like, “Name the time and place.” So we then have silly training scenes, set to pop music, where the vampires and werewolves are getting ready by running into each other. And they (and we) learn brilliant strategies like, “Never turn your back on your enemy.”

Alice arranges an alibi for Bella with Bella’s dad, so that she can attend the battle. Care to hazard a guess as to what the alibi is? I’ll give you a hint: it’s the same alibi all teenage girls use in every single film in which a teenage girl needs an alibi to get out of the house. Yup, Alice says Bella will be having a sleepover with her at her house. Wow, these old vampires are seriously stunted in their development.

Meanwhile, Bella wants to get laid, but Edward is an old-fashioned vampire, and doesn’t want to do it until they’re married. He proposes again, and this time presents her with jewelry, so Bella says yes.

This movie is really a teenage girl’s fantasy. At one point Bella has two men in a tent, and they’re arguing over her, each feeling that he could give her a better life. She has agreed to marry one, but then asks the other to kiss her. Oh, it’s tough being a teenager, especially when vampires are hunting you for no particular reason. After kissing Jacob, she tells Edward the vampire she doesn’t know what happened. He says, “You love him.” She says, “I love you more.” Oh boy.

And then we learn why Victoria was arranging this entire vampire army thing. It’s because Edward the vampire had killed her boyfriend a while back, and so she wants to kill Bella to make Edward suffer the same way she did. That was the whole point of this vampire army. It’s totally fucking stupid, but there is a good bit with a child vampire. The way the vampire council people deal with the child vampire is a surprisingly good moment.

Bella chooses the date for her wedding. She’s going to have it a month before her nineteenth birthday, because she doesn’t want to be another year older than Edward. That is, another year older than Edward was when he became a vampire. Why would this matter? Who knows? Bella is clearly a fucking mess. She explains her choice to become a vampire: “I have never felt normal, because I’m not normal.” And you know that totally appeals to all those awkward teenage girls who feel they don’t fit in. Solution: become a vampire. The end.