Friday, October 2, 2015

A "New" Classic

I made a terrifying decision this year.  After much contemplation and soul-searching, I cancelled my cable subscription.  I just couldn't justify paying that bill anymore when I could get almost everything I wanted on demand from Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu.  It was a peculiar feeling, to give that up.  Cable is something I have lived with all my life and felt as necessary as electricity or the telephone - not things that we would probably die without, but things we've come to take for granted as regular parts of modern life.  Once I got past the fear and anxiety, I found it remarkably freeing.  No more being tied to my television!  I could watch what I wanted anywhere in my house thanks to my tablet.  And it was wonderful!  But now, as Halloween approaches, I find myself, for the very first time, missing it.  I loved the Halloween rituals of my most-watched television channels.  SyFy's 31 Days of Halloween.  The somewhat disjointed 13 Days of Halloween on ABC Family.  And the granddaddy of them all - AMC's FearFest.  How was I ever going to live without them?

The answer, of course, was to make my own Halloween film celebration, which I am sharing here with you!  Aren't you lucky?  I started yesterday with The Monster Squad because it was fresh in my mind, but today I have a much better offering.

Those of you under a certain age probably don't remember this, but AMC, one of the first cable networks to recognize Halloween for its rich plethora of film offerings, used to be a station for old people.  I know, hard to believe, but true. The current home of The Walking Dead used to play nothing but boring black & white films that most of you never heard of.  And once in a while they'd have a musical marathon that would have my grandmother glued to her chair all day.  This actually made sense if you are aware that AMC stands for American Movie Classics.  But it probably didn't make for the greatest viewership.  So, gradually, AMC started weaving newer movies into their schedule and branding them "The New Classics."  How classic these movies were is really debatable, because they slapped that label on every movie they managed to snag the rights to and some of them were as far from classic as you can get.  But some they got right, like Die Hard, Scrooged, and today's offering, Children of the Corn.
AMC seems to have the rights to a number of Stephen King adaptations, and they play them A LOT.  To the point where you never want to see them again.  So I had avoided this one for some time.  But when I saw it was available on Hulu (through the Showtime upgrade), I decided to give it another chance.

I don't know that I have actually watched this movie all the way through, uncut, since I was a kid.  And back then, it was terrifying.  Growing up in Maine, I didn't encounter all that many corn fields, especially not ones that went on for miles the way the ones in the movie did.  And thanks to Children of the Corn, corn fields have terrified me for most of my life.  Was I way too young the first time I watched this?  Well, maybe.  My mother worked at a video store from 1986 to 1989, and in that time, I was allowed to watch literally hundreds of movies that she brought home.  And for those of you thinking she was a bad parent, you couldn't be more wrong.  I was just a really great liar.  I had my mom convinced that nothing scared me.  So what if I didn't get much sleep as a kid?  I got to watch the same stuff the grownups did, dammit!

The first thing that struck me rewatching this film was that it was nowhere near as gory as I remembered.  Maybe it was my overactive 8 year-old imagination, but I recall that opening scene in the diner as being horrific, with people vomiting bloody foam from the poisoned coffee and the poor diner owner's hand being pureed in some sort of grinder.  Of course, they would never show this on television, so I was stunned to see that none of it was there in the uncut version.  Did I really imagine all that?  Perhaps the images of children gleefully murdering their parents just so offended my young mind that I made the deaths even worse than they were onscreen.  It was still chilling, but not in the way that I remembered.

As the film progressed, I was further surprised by how much better it was than I recalled.  The children are a mixed bag, with some far better actors than others, but it actually works well in setting the tone.  Some of these kids are zealots, believing deeply in He Who Walks Behind the Rows, and others are just little lost children swept up in their town's mass insanity.  Courtney Gains is always given the most credit for his turn as the sadistic and psychotic Malachi, but I actually found him a bit over the top.  When he's parading Linda Hamilton down the street screaming, "Outlander!" it really is hard not to chuckle.  But that's part of what makes this film so creepy - the demented level of conviction these kids have surrounding their beliefs.  Other movies have featured gangs of killer kids - like the deeply disturbing Who Can Kill a Child? from 1976 - but none with such a fucked up motivation.

Let's look at that for a moment, shall we?  We are told that Isaac is the motivator here, that the kids follow him because he was a preacher when he was younger.  And he's either new to town, or he's always been there depending on which story is true.  This confuses the hell out of me.  First off, are child preachers common in the Bible Belt?  And , if so, how old is Isaac now?  In fairness to John Frankln, the actor portraying that little shit preacher, he suffers from Growth Hormone Deficiency and was actually about 25 when the film was made, but to me at least, he looked a hell of a lot older.  And isn't it kind of natural human behavior to single out the weak and different?  Children are especially cruel when it comes to peculiarities amongst their peers.  I have a really hard time understanding how this kid became so influential.

Perhaps it was the power of the demon?  Because, let's face it, that thing behind the corn rows was most definitely not God, in any sense.  The way the kids have desecrated religious images throughout town, and perverted religious rituals and symbols is disturbing on a almost visceral level.  It is abundantly clear to the rational viewer that something satanic is afoot.  Add in the Omen-evoking musical score, and you start to see the devil in the details.  Sadly, in 1984, the producers of this film were a bit more ambitious than technology, and maybe their budget, would allow.  When the Row Walker is finally revealed, it's a bit more cheesy than I'm sure anyone wanted.
I think these filmmakers missed the point.  The terror here is right in the title.  Whatever is behind their actions, the true nightmare here is found in the children.  As adults, we underestimate them.  But trust me, after more than a decade working in a public school system, I've seen the truth in the tale.  Real kids need no crudely animated fire-demon to influence them toward evil.  Fortunately, I don't live in the land of child preachers.  We're safe until they're united - I hope.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thoughts? Agree with me? Disagree? Want me to review your product? As long as you don't send me pictures of your junk, I'm happy to hear what you've got to say.