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.

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