Based on a twenty-eight page short story from Stephen King's compilation Night Shift (and in fact, King is credited with co-writing this screenplay along with executive producer/director Donald P. Borchers, though to what extent King was actually involved seems pretty debatable), the ultimate killer kid movie of the eighties lives again in this, a revamping of 1984's The Children Of The Corn. The original film has a hefty cult following and has inspired six sequels - but did it really need to be remade? And for the Sci-Fi (er, I mean SyFy) Channel at that? Yep, that's right, this one was made for TV. It is, however, presented on DVD in its unrated form, meaning you get a bit of nudity and a dollop of gore that would have been trimmed when it played smaller screens around the country.
The story is set in the early seventies and follows a young Vietnam veteran named Burt Stanton (David Anders) and his pretty wife, Vicki (Kadnyse McClure) who are on their across the country. Their marriage is ripe with problems and quips are made about lawyers and divorces and one another's various flaws and soon it becomes pretty obvious that Burt is an angry dude and that Vicki is a bitch. At any rate, along the way, they hit a boy who's standing in the middle of the road, seeming to have popped out of the corn that rises up on both sides of the highway. Further investigation on Burt's part proves that the boy had just had his throat slit before running into the road. Burt and Vicki decide to drive to the nearest town, Gaitlan, to report the boy's death but when they get there they find that all of the adults are either missing or dead and a child named Isaac (Preston Bailey) and his henchman, Malachi (Daniel Newman), leads a cult of depraved children in doing the bidding of 'He Who Walks Behind The Rows.'
Okay, there's good and bad to discuss here. Let's start with the bad and get it out of the way with. First off, Preston Bailey seems like a nice kid and you can't really cast a nice kid as Isaac. This guy isn't scary in the least, nor is he intimidating, and you leave the film wondering why the other kids, Malachi in particular, didn't just beat him up. He doesn't have the convincing charisma that the character needs in order for us to believe him in the role. Daniel Newman does a little better as Malachi but it's hard not to compare him to Courtney Gaines' over the top performance in the original, which is more intense and more effective than Newman's slightly subdued portrayal of the same character. Then there are our leads - it's hard to care about these people because they're rather obnoxious. Vicki in particular is a bitch. She whines and complains and makes nasty comments to her husband for reasons that are never made clear and while it would be wrong to wish death upon someone, you kind of want the kids to make short work of her just to shut her up. Burt's a bit more likeable than his wife, but he's got this meathead/jock vibe going on that doesn't really do him any favors.
Those complaints aside, there is also some good to discuss. A couple of the stronger moments towards the end of the film have some punch to them and the picture is very well photographed. Gaitlin looks like a weird, creepy place to be and you can't help but get a little bit spooked by some of the shots of the empty streets that really do put you in the middle of nowhere. It should also be noted that the ending has been change a fair bit and while that might upset some, it's for the better. Gone are some of the more dated and hokier elements from the original film's finale and in their place we get some appropriately nihilistic tension.
Ultimately, this isn't a great film at all but it's a marginally entertaining and, in a few spots at least, a surprisingly effective thriller. Some good effects work and eerie set design set it a notch or two above your average made for TV movie and the stronger content offered up by the unrated cut doesn't hurt in this regard either. Had some of the casting been better and the leads been more likeable this could have been a pretty good effort, but as it stands, it's little more than a fairly standard time killer.
Children Of The Corn is presented in a nice 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen presentation that features nice color reproduction and a fair bit of detail in the foreground and the background of the image at all times. There's a bit of edge enhancement and at times though there aren't any problems with major mpeg compression artifacts (you might notice some in the more shadowy scenes) or heavy edge enhancement. Skin tones look lifelike and natural and overall the image is pretty decent on this DVD though you might notice a bit of mosquito noise in the background of some scenes if you're inclined to look for it. What you can't help but notice, however, is that the whole film has a bit of a yellow tint to it - possibly to emphasize corn? Regardless, it's odd at first but once you get used to it, it's not really a problem.
The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 track is of fairly decent quality. The levels are well balanced and there aren't any problems with hiss or distortion to complain about. Dialogue comes through clearly at all times and the score and sound effects are mixed in with the appropriate amount of punch. English SDH subtitles are included.
Extras appear in the form of four featurettes, the first of which is New Directions (10:51) which is an interview with the film's director/producer/co-writer, Donald P. Borchers, who also produced the original film twenty-five years ago. Here he talks about working with King (or not working with King, as the case may be!!) and about adapting what he considers to be a classic story and remaking what he considers to be a classic film. The second featurette is Cast Of The Corn (10:11) and here various participants talk about what a great job they did casting the film, which is all a bit delusional, really. To Live And Die In Gaitlin (11:23) is a segment that explores the locations used for the shoot while Fly On The Wall (12:35) provides the obligatory behind the scenes footage.
Anchor Bay has done a fine job on their DVD debut of The Children Of The Corn, a film that is essentially a marginally entertaining time killer. Some decent gore and a bit of genuine tension makes this worth a look for fans of the series, but casting and character flaws hinder the film strongly enough that it's hard to wholeheartedly recommend it. Rent it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.