Children of the Corn (1984)

    Before I begin my usual nonsense, I have to bring something up that has bothered me about Children of the Corn for years, and that’s the opening diner sequence…which doesn’t match the tone or style of the film that follows at all, and contains more over explaining narration (which also appears at random intervals for the rest of the run time as well) than twenty Blade Runner Theatrical Cuts. I, being the total professional that I am, did absolutely zero research into the matter..but good lord does this sequence seem like it was tacked on after a gaggle of fools filled out those lil’ cards at a test screening (or perhaps it was studio execs) and couldn’t wrap their rudimentary minds around the mega complex story line of “evil kids start a kill cult in a cornfield and everyone over eighteen is their prey”…  Besides the decision to have Linda Hamilton sing some dopey song, there is absolutely nothing baffling about this film…here, read the more in-depth analysis and see if you can follow along: Burt and Vicky are on a rather mundane road trip when they squash a kid with their car (for the record he was already dead when they flat out murdered him). Anyway, they eventually find themselves in the seemingly deserted town of Gatlin where they attempt to find someone to help them with their pickle…but instead run afoul Issac and his merry band of pint-sized religious zealots who’s main goal in life is the eradication of any and all adults that cross their path to appease their dark lord who resides in a nearby cornfield. Things go about as well for our heroes as can be expected. There, that wasn’t too labyrinthine to comprehend right? Congratulations, you are smarter than a test audience (or studio exec) in 1984…I assume…

    Heavy on atmosphere and mood, with a great Lovecraftian vibe (it’s adapted from a Stephen King story, so that is kind of a given), and a surprisingly strong cast of child actors; Children of the Corn is a fantastic fright flick that rockets along for it’s ninety minute run time while still being a slow burn as far as the suspense is concerned. There’s also a shocking  amount of violence committed by and to children which is shocking by today’s standards, but definitely adds to the uneasy feel of the piece.

    While Children of the Corn definitely deserves it’s classic status among horror hounds, there are a few things that some may consider “negatives”. One such item is the voice of John Franklin as Issac…no offense to this dude, but my god listening to him screech in the climax was akin to having my eardrums violated by an ear of corn (it has to be mentioned he’s great in the role though). Also, the effects in the climax of the film will seem ultra-dated to today’s viewers…but I personally love the shit out of them in all of their corn stalks on strings, reverse photography, hand animated glory!

    It will come as no surprise to many of you fiends that I would recommend this Blu on the strength and status of the feature itself; but those rascally devils at Arrow have managed to squeeze in a veritable cornucopia of beastly bonus features! First up you get two audio commentaries, one featuring director Fritz Kiersch, producer Terrence Kirby, and actors Franklin and Courtney Gains (Malachai), and the other featuring horror journalist Justin Beahm and Children of the Corn historian John Sullivan. Personally I preferred the latter as it surprisingly contained more facts concerning the film’s production than the track that featured those that made it! Following that comes an excellent supplemental addition in the form of a retrospective documentary that covers the film’s  production and nicely expands on the material presented in the commentaries. Moving on we get: interviews with actress Linda Hamilton, actors Julie Maddalena and John Philbin, actor Rich Kleinberg (discussing the lost “Blue Man” scene), writer George Goldsmith, producer Donald P. Borchers, production designer Craig Stearns, and composer Jonathan Elias. Still not satisfied? Good, because there is more including: an examination of the locations utilized in the film as they appear today, a storyboard gallery, and the film’s theatrical trailer. But most interesting of all of the special features is a short film adaptation of the same King short story shot a year previous to Children of the Corn. While running a scant eighteen minutes, this version actually hews closer to the source material (but still deviates here and there).

    Just look at all of those god damned features listed up there (and think of how many freakin’ hours it took me to review them all); there is simply no other way to go than this edition if you have any desire to own Children of the Corn (which you should because it is an absolute legend of a fright flick, and it unquestionably deserves a place on any horror hound’s sinister shelf)! Now I can eat, go to the bathroom, and sleep…

    Ruby (1977)

    In 1935, Ruby’s (Piper Laurie of Carrie fame) mobster boyfriend is executed by his associates causing her to give birth on the spot. Flash forward sixteen years to 1951, and Ruby now owns a drive-in theater where she employs ex-members of the mob, and lives with her mute daughter. Before you can say “let’s all go to the lobby”, those former reprobates all start being murderized in various n’ sundry ways…but who could be doing such a thing? Is it a rival criminal organization trying to get revenge…or is it somehow the spirit of Ruby’s old flame causing havoc beyond the grave through the body of his daughter? I’ll give you one F’n guess…

    Ruby is a truly bizarre entry in the “teens with psychic powers sub-genre”; from the 1950’s period setting, to the ’30’s gangster picture elements, to the deer-in-headlights, near silent performance of Janit Baldwin as Ruby’s daughter Leslie, to the fact that the film focuses on middle aged, down on their luck protagonists for the first two acts rather than the teen with the preternatural powers (or any teen element really as the Drive-in setting would suggest the focus would be on)…everything seems slightly “off” about the film in a refreshing way (though I dare say this made the film harder to market and appeal to the teenage crowd that typically went to the drive-ins to see pictures such as this back in the ’70’s) that sets it apart from the Carries and Firestarters (or Bon Jovi’s Runaway video I guess…) of the world. And I didn’t even mention The Exorcist style goings-on that come in at nearly the eleventh hour…It all creates a great witch’s brew of exploitation oddity that is fascinating to see play out.

    On the downside, this film is a bit of a slow burn, and the periods between murders and mayhem seem to drag a bit. While Laurie is a manic presence as Ruby, I really wanted to see more of the supernatural afoot rather than her up and down moods, hallucinations (or were they…dum, dum , DUM!), reminiscing about the “good ol’days”, and melodramatic theatrics…and yeah, I get that the film was named after her, but the real bread and butter here is the Leslie character (Christ, even Stuart Whitman as Ruby’s right-hand man Vince gets more screen time) who doesn’t get her time to shine until the third act…granted that climax is a solid gold, if derivative, winner (combining the bodily distortions of the aforementioned The Exorcist with he near apocalyptic destruction present in King’s novel of Carrie before going off on it’s own tangent).

    So, a you may surmise, I enjoyed Ruby, and would recommend this Blu on the sheer audacity of the feature itself, but there are some extra features here as well. First comes two audio commentaries, a new recording featuring Sinister Image’s David Del Valle and Curtis Harrington (the film’s director if you didn’t know) expert Nate Bell, and an archival one with Harrington and Laurie. Both are compelling listens with the former dealing more with personal anecdotes about the film and Harrington’s ideals and influences, as well as offering analysis of the film’s importance and legacy and the latter being a nuts and bolts about the film’s production from those that were there (though this one does contain those dreaded long pauses where Harrington and Laurie are just watching the film instead of commenting on it). Also included are a series of interviews with director Harrington conducted by Del Valle, and the film’s original theatrical trailer.

    If you have a taste for off-the-wall cinema that borrows from other fright flicks like it’s going to some sort of film based buffet, and can deal with a slower pace for a bit, then Ruby comes highly recommended; and while it’s at times familiar, I guarantee you’ve never seen anything like it!

    Don’t Let The Devil In (2016)

    John and Samantha are a married couple living in New York City. their marriage is falling to shit (thanks in part to a miscarriage) and John has too much blood in his alcohol system. the duo anticipate a fresh start when John is relocated to the Appalachian mountains to oversee the construction of a casino…a project John is warned will go over like a fart in a submarine with the local yokels. Well, that warning is an understatement as the whole town seems to hate our heroes as well as knowing intimate details of the couple’s life. Before long personal property is stolen, pentagrams are painted on their walls, and Satanic worship comes to the fore as john ans Samantha are plunged into an abyss of supernatural small town shenanigans.

    First of all, let’s examine what works with Don’t Let The Devil In. For starters, the film is beautifully lensed with some great camera work, and truly inspired palette choices that create an off-kilter sensibility that adds to the film’s overall nightmare vibe. Also of note are the fantastic wooded locations the film is set in; they really add both a sense of beauty and isolation to the piece…as well as the ’70’s paranormal atmosphere (and slight giallo overtones), and haunting score. All of these things give the piece an undeniably eerie aesthetic.

    On the opposite end of things, as great as the film looks and feels, the acting and story line serve to deride what writer/director  Courtney Fathom Sell managed to get right. The actors seem to fall over some of their lines, and their delivery is oft times somnambulistic at best. As for the story, it was so close on the precipice of being truly, skin crawlingly, creepy but it somehow didn’t seem to stick the landing as the occult elements and actions of the townsfolk could have been pushed a bit further instead of focusing on thinly veiled socio-political themes (the fall out of corporate expansion into small towns and gun control are the chief themes touched upon).

    While ultimately falling slightly short of being truly unsettling, Don’t Let The Devil In is nevertheless worth a watch due to it’s effective atmosphere and excellent cinematography.

    Daniel XIII
    Daniel XIII; the result of an arcane ritual involving a King Diamond album, a box of Count Chocula, and a copy of Swank magazine, is a screenwriter, actor, artist, and reviewer of fright flicks…Who hates ya baby?

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