Cine-Ween: Sequel Harvest: The CHILDREN OF THE CORN Series

Following the successful 1984 theatrical release of the Stephen King short story adaptation Children of the Corn, which earned nearly 15 million dollars domestic on an eight-hundred-thousand-dollar budget, we were treated to an onslaught of sequels, the majority of which were released direct-to-video.

By a wide margin the longest-running feature film series based on King’s work, even the first film was not highly regarded by critics or even fans at the time of release. Still, its box office success would lead to one more theatrically released film in Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice before another seven direct-to-video sequels would follow in the 90s, 2000s and 2010s. And, no, most of them are not good.

Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice (1992)

Let’s get a couple of things out of the way at the start here: there’s obviously nothing “final” about this entry, and, yes, it took eight years for this one to follow the original. Also, I honestly prefer this sequel to the first film and wholeheartedly believe it should be mentioned in the canon of sequels that completely improve upon the first entry in a series. The kids are creepier, the death scenes better and bloodier (that church sequence with the man spurting blood out of every facial orifice is a series highlight), vastly more “corn” dialogue, and a Native American character named Dr. Red Bear who trashes a toxic white dude and makes fun of horror movies in the process. The CGI work is also inspired, looking much like another adaptation of King’s work, 1992’s The Lawnmower Man.

Now, I know that most won’t share my enthusiasm for this one, but any sequel that features death by remote controlled motorized wheelchair can’t be all that bad. The super-loose premise — the surviving kids from the first one get adopted by a nearby town before hanging out in the corn again and listening to that dastardly He Who Walks Behind the Rows — is barely enough to hold onto but it’s an excuse to get a bunch of creepy kids to fuck with the shitty adults in town and it works for me!

Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (1995)

The corn goes to Chicago! Like the second entry, plot is largely non-existent with the location shift being attributed to a couple of the corn kids being adopted again, this time by a family in Chicago. What an easy series to keep moving along! Really though, this one is actually good and may even be better than the second one thanks, in large part, to stellar practical effects by Screaming Mad George. The kills in this one are absolutely insane and include a torn out spine, a melted face, and a still creepy scarecrow sequence. The climax here also goes to Hellraiser lengths with carnage and chaos, which attempts to one-up the church sequence from Part II and succeeds. If Part II is the film that I wanted the first film to be, this is what I’d want that film’s sequel to be. A totally worthwhile third entry into a series, and the second one that manages to improve upon the first entry.

Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering (1996)

It’s been good news up until now, but this is where it all falls apart! 1996 is arguably one of the better years for horror in the 90s, thanks to films like Scream, From Dusk Til Dawn, The Frighteners, and The Craft. And it’s also one of the worst years for Stephen King-related properties thanks to Thinner, The Lawnmower Man 2, Sometimes They Come Back Again, and this very film here.

Unlike the first two sequels, this one goes back to Nebraska and forgoes any adoptions. Instead, we get a half-baked narrative about a young woman (played by Naomi Watts!) who returns home to take care of her sick mother (played by Karen Black!) and finds a town of deranged children who may or may not be dead. Honestly, outside of the creepy kids and the presence of a scythe or two, this doesn’t really have much to do with the series thus far. It does, strangely, have the most star power of any entry up to this point and a nice sequence involving a fast moving medical bed with a giant razor blade attached to it (it makes about as much sense while watching it, trust me) but none of that matters when it’s also dreadfully boring.

Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror (1998)

With this one, we get the return of He Who Walks Behind the Rows and it’s set in some abandoned town in the middle of nowhere that some group of late 90s college students get lost in. And, I need to stress late 90s here, not that the facial hair and pants styles won’t make it obvious.

Marginally better than the fourth one, mostly thanks to Fred Williamson playing a cigar-chomping sheriff who has a nice bit where he opens up a plastic bag and says, “Well, I’ll be damned, that looks like big toe right there!” We are also treated to David Carradine as the cult leader and Kane Hodder as a bartender. None of them belong in this movie, but it at least makes it less painful for us. There’s also a climax featuring an exploding head. It’s not much, but it’s better than Part IV.

Children of the Corn 666: Isaac’s Return (1999)

You just knew they had to do the 666 title! I should also mention that this is the first film in the series that coincides with the release of a Korn album, who released their multi-platinum nu-metal classic “Issues” only a few weeks after this one hit video. Can you believe this was only twenty years ago!?

Anyway, as the title would suggest, this one features the return of Isaac from the first film and absolutely nothing else of consequence. It does manage to be the only film in the series directed by a woman though, and it also has an amazing 90s erotic thriller sex scene set in a barn where the two leads take turns hosing each other off before rolling around in the hay and cutting back and forth to shots of clocks, for some reason. It’s mind boggling! But, yeah, this one is pretty awful.

Children of the Corn: Revelation (2001)

Where they apparently decided to give up on numbering these. We are back in Nebraska, where a woman goes to visit her grandma and for whatever reason her apartment building is overrun with mall goth children who may or may not be coming out of the ground of the corn field nearby. I’m not really sure what this one was about but it features a surprising amount of gratuitous nudity, Michael Ironside as a crazy priest, a scene where the female lead teaches the weird kids how to play House of the Dead, and some attempts at CGI that look about as good as Children of the Corn II, ten years later. I guess it’s a little bit better than number 666.

Children of the Corn: Genesis (2011)

You’d think that a nice decade between movies would improve things, but nope! This one was released as part of Dimension’s Extreme label, remember that? But, there’s nothing extreme about this one in the least, so don’t get too excited! This one takes place in a desert where a cult leader named Preacher (played by Billy Drago!) holds a couple hostage after they break down nearby, and then they discover weird shit going on with the kids, as usual. This may actually be the worst one of the series. The “children of the corn” are barely even in it and there’s even a character who is legitimately sent to outer space. Exceptionally terrible.

Children of the Corn: Runaway (2018)

Not gonna lie, I had no idea that a new one of these came out last year. Things move to Oklahoma for some reason, I guess Nebraska is over with? It is largely not connected to anything in the other films and feels made for TV, despite having a little bit of gore in it. This is as cheap as these films get and really has nothing at all positive going for it, save for moving a bit faster than Genesis did. Run right away from this one! I sure hope there’s no more after it either!

Justin LaLIberty

Justin LaLiberty holds degrees in Critical Film Studies and Film Preservation. He is currently a freelance projectionist and film programmer. He is a regular contributor to Paracinema and is working on a book about porn parodies.
Justin LaLIberty
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