Friday, March 23, 2018

Worth Mentioning - Circus of Crazy

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Creepy kids, mental patients, and a sequel that rides its brakes.


The rights to the Children of the Corn franchise have long been in the hands of Dimension Films, who hold on to those rights by occasionally producing a sequel. If they go too long without making a new film, they lose the rights. A couple times over the years, they've gotten very close to the point when the rights will lapse due to inactivity, and at those times they've rushed a new sequel into production, throwing it together quickly and getting it shot on a budget of just a couple hundred thousand dollars. That's how we've gotten the latest installment in the long-running series, Children of the Corn: Runaway, which was just released on DVD (with Lionsgate handling the distribution for Dimension) earlier this month.

The tenth Children of the Corn film if you count the 2009 Syfy remake (and since most of these movies aren't really connected to each other, you might as well), Runaway was directed by John Gulager from a screenplay by Joel Soisson, and it begins with a girl named Ruth doing what the characters at the end of the first film did - she sets fire to the cornfields of Gatlin, Nebraska and the demonic god (known as He Who Walks Behind the Rows) that lurks within. She was a "child of the corn" herself but turned against He Who Walks Behind the Rows because all of her friends and the boy she loved had gotten too old by their cult's standards and had to walk off into the field to be claimed by their god.

The pregnant Ruth then hits the road, the runaway of the title. Jump ahead thirteen years and Ruth (Marci Miller) is still leading a nomadic lifestyle, living in her truck with her son Aaron (Jake Ryan Scott), working whatever jobs she can get and selling scrap metal to survive. Aaron is tired of all this and wants to have a regular life. A home. A school to go to.

Runaway spends a long time delving into mother and son's life on the road, showing their struggle to survive. While there are hints of bad things to come when Ruth has flashbacks and ominous hallucinations, it mostly plays like a low-key character study. I was surprised by this, but I was also fascinated - partly because these things were being filmed in some beautiful rural Oklahoma locations, and partly because it made me very intrigued to see just how this drama was going to lapse into the horror we've come to expect from a Children of the Corn movie.


Horror enters the picture in the form of a little girl in a yellow dress; Sara Moore credited as Pretty Girl. When their truck is put in a police impound because Ruth doesn't have license or registration, she and Aaron are stranded in a small town called Luther... and soon this "Pretty Girl" is seen roaming around the town, stalking Ruth, possibly trying to lure Aaron away from his mom, and killing people.

But even after Pretty Girl starts killing, the movie prefers to focus on Ruth's experience in Luther. She's gets a job working as a mechanic for a man named Carl (Lynn Andrews III), who also develops feelings for her. Since Ruth is white and Carl is black, their closeness doesn't sit well with the racists in town, like Diana Ayala Goldner's Mrs. Dawkins. Ruth also has a lot of interactions with diner waitress Sarah (Mary Kathryn Bryant) during her meal breaks, and there is some time spent on other diner regulars, like the legendary Clu Gulager as a grumpy dude called Crusty.

I was invested in seeing how all of this was going to turn out, but I'm sure there are going to be a lot of viewers who are going to find Runaway's character drama a slog to get through. The actors handle that drama very well, though. Miller especially has to carry a lot of the film on her shoulders, and she proves to be fully capable of doing so. She does a really great job; this was the first time I've seen her in anything and I was impressed.

I was also impressed by the completely unexpected stylistic flourishes Gulager added to the film. This was made so quickly and so cheaply, I didn't expect it to have any tricks on display, but in addition to the movie looking great in general, Gulager also found the time to put in special touches like switching up the film stock from time to time. There's also a hallucination sequence that makes the greatest use of CGI blood that I've ever seen: slow motion camera moves around moments frozen in time as blood erupts from the wounds of people getting hacked into by homicidal children. My jaw dropped when I saw that in this rushed cheapie.

Children of the Corn: Runaway was much different from what I was expecting. It's much more serious, quiet, and low-key. I was expecting cheesy killer kid shenanigans, and instead got a film that relied on the acting of its star to a surprising degree. It's a better movie than I expected it to be. I'm a devoted Children of the Corn fan, even when the sequels have been bad I've still enjoyed them. This one wasn't bad.

I am concerned that this could be the last film of the franchise, and not just because of Dimension's recent troubles. Stephen King, writer of the original short story that inspired the series, has never been a fan of these movies, and last year he filed to get the rights back to the property. No matter what, Children of the Corn will officially be back in King's hands as of September 1, 2018. Anyone who wants to make a movie based on this concept from now on will have to make a new deal with King... so this probably, at least, marks the end of the era when we could expect to see new Corn sequels on a somewhat regular basis.

If it ends here, it ends with a movie that's better than most of the films that preceded it.

The review above originally appeared on


Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99 writer/director S. Craig Zahler has been making throwback tough-guy movies with high profile stars, but he has also made it known that he is a fan of low budget movies. He has written an upcoming reboot of the Puppet Master franchise and hand-picked its directing duo from indie horror obscurity, and he has ordered movies from Ohio-based filmmaker Dustin Mills. Before his own directorial efforts, before Puppet Master, Zahler made his own contribution to the world of low budget horror by the writing the screenplay for director Alexandre Courtès's film Asylum Blackout (which is also known as The Incident).

Asylum Blackout wasn't made on a micro budget, it features familiar faces from mainstream movies like Rupert Evans and Richard Brake, but the budget was surely low, and the release was low-key enough that the movie's existence slipped under my radar for several years. Although it's set in Washington state in November of 1989, the movie was shot in Belgium and apparently cast in the UK, because the main cast members are British and doing such a poor job of hiding their own accents that it took me a while to even realize these characters weren't supposed to be British.

The lead characters are some guys who work in the kitchen at the Sans Asylum, and eventually there will be a blackout that allows the aylum's insane inhabitants to run roughshoud over the place, but early on there is a surprising amount of focus put on not only the ins and outs of the kitchen, but also the fact that the kitchen workers are in a band together, playing gigs and booking time in a recording studio. Zahler was writing what he knows here, as he has worked as a cook in the past and is also a musician, and he definitely isn't one to skimp on minutia, which is how Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99 both managed to be over 130 minutes long. At just 84 minutes, Asylum Blackout is about 50 minutes shorter than its fellow Zahler projects, so it does have to move along a little more quickly - the blackout hits around 26 minutes, and then the rest of the film involves the kitchen crew trying to escape from the asylum and evade the homicidal maniacs that start picking off the staff.

There really isn't anything exceptional about Asylum Blackout, I can understand why it didn't catch on and become more popular, but it's not a bad movie to sit through. If the idea of people fighting their way through an asylum overrun by the mad is appealing to you, it's worth checking out. If you know from his other films what Zahler is capable of in the violence department, you'll be glad to find that he wrote some twisted stuff into this one as well.


Stephen Romano is a writer I've been aware of for years, mainly through his collaborations with Phantasm creator Don Coscarelli and especially due to the fact that he worked with Coscarelli to write a Phantasm 5 script that was never produced (Phantasm: Ravager happened instead) and came up with ideas for Phantasm TV series that never got off the ground. When I saw that Romano had written a screenplay that ended up being produced as a film that Coscarelli had no involvement with, I decided to check it out at the first opportunity.

That film, directed by Curtis Crawford, made its debut on the Lifetime channel and stars Carlena Britch as Jo Flay, a damaged teenager who understandably snaps when she finds out her mother is going to die when the hospital denies her request for a liver transplant - due to the fact that the woman has drank herself into this dire situation. Jo pulls a knife and tries to force the hospital staff to save her mother, but all she accomplishes is getting sent off to a mental hospital.

Two years later, Jo is released. But her stay in the hospital hasn't done her any good, she's still out of her mind and now out for "sneaky ass revenge" as well. She intends to either murder or destroy the lives of everyone she holds responsible for the death of her mother. The nurse who was working at the hospital that night. The doctor in charge. The gangster her abusive criminal father worked with, whose presence started her mom down that self-destructive path.

Jo is quite capable of carrying out her plans, too. Her father was a really bad man, so bad that he even involved his daughter in the process of making bombs and mixing up poisons. As she puts the skills she learned to use, there's only one problem standing in the way of her completing her objective: she has a soft spot for the doctor's teenage son, aspiring comic book artist Bobby (Seamus Patterson).

Romano has strong ties to the horror genre and the story of a woman leaving a mental hospital and seeking to murder people is a very horror set-up, but You Killed My Mother isn't a horror movie. It's very much a thriller, and an average TV movie thriller at that, with some rough writing and some rough acting. It's the sort of movie that's not exactly good, more like appealingly bad. I was hoping for something better than I got, but it did its job well enough. It held my attention for 84 minutes and I got some entertainment from it.

I would have rather seen Romano's Phantasm, but it was good to see him get a movie made.


One of my favorite movies is the 1977 car chase smash-up comedy Smokey and the Bandit, but ranking high on the list of the most wrongheaded sequels ever made is Smokey and the Bandit II - and follow-up that made every bad character and story choice possible. With three years between films, this isn't even a time when you could say a sequel turned out poorly because it was rushed. This is just the result of a bunch of bad decisions.

The problems start with the Bandit himself, Bo Darville (played again by Burt Reynolds). He was so cool and confident in this first film, and now he's a drunken disaster who has been spoiled by fame and is pining over his lost love Carrie, a.k.a. Frog (a returning Sally Field, who won an Oscar between the two Smokey movies she was in). Would you believe that Frog would return to her dim-witted ex "Junior" Justice (Mike Henry) after leaving Bandit, and would even agree to try to marry him again? I wouldn't, but that's what this sequel tells me has happened. Even worse, it has Frog leave Junior at the altar a second time when she's called away to help Bandit. This isn't the Bandit we came to know last time, and now the screenwriters are even making us dislike Frog.

Not even Bandit's lovable partner in crime Cledus "Snowman" Snow (Jerry Reed) comes out unscathed. He was established as a family man with a gaggle of kids in the previous film, and this time around we find him making out with groupies at the truck races he participates in and talking about sending his wife and kids off to Hawaii without him.

The only one of our former heroes who comes off well here is Snowman's dog Fred.

The first film began with the wealthy Big Enos Burdette (Pat McCormick) and his little person son Little Enos (Paul Williams), a pair who always dress in matching suits, offering Bandit and Snowman $80,000 to drive from Atlanta, Georgia to Texarkana, Texas, pick up 400 cases of Coors beer, and transport them back to Atlanta - which was considered bootlegging - within in 28 hours. That's doable, but it's a challenge. The film ended with the Burdettes making Bo, Snowman, and Frog a double or nothing bet that they can't go to Boston, Massachusetts, pick up some clam chowder, and get it back to Atlanta in 18 hours. Now that is asking them to pull off the truly impossible, but the trio agreed to give it a try. And something like that is exactly what the sequel should have been about. Bandit and his cohorts being given an impossible task and then doing their damnedest to pull it off in a fun, funny, action-packed manner. Hell, they could have just picked up right after the ending of the first movie and showed us the attempt to do that clam chowder run. How would they travel over 2000 miles in just 18 hours?

The task given in Smokey and the Bandit II is another Burdette special, but it's far from an impossible task. After Bandit is whipped into shape by Snowman and Frog over the course of a few days, because apparently someone needs to be able to run faster than race horses to be able to drive quickly, they have three days to transport something from Miami, Florida to Dallas, Texas. That's not a challenge for anybody. If they drove straight through, they'd still have two full days to spare. This is so mundane that we even have scenes of the Bandit obeying traffic laws and going the speed limit. Because that's what everyone was hoping for in a sequel.

We realize what's challenging about this task when they arrive in Miami and discover that the thing they're transporting is an elephant, headed for the Republican convention. That's not the only trouble. This elephant is pregnant and set to give birth at any minute. That slows our now very flawed heroes down a whole lot... and again, slowing down is not something we want to see them do. We want speed and chases like we got the last time.

There is no forward momentum to this film, because every other scene seems to involve Bandit, Frog, and Snowman stopping somewhere for some reason. There are hardly any real chase sequences this time around. Instead there's just a whole hell of a lot of stopping and talking. As they crawl slowly toward Dallas, the trio becomes a quartet when they pick up Reynold's frequent co-star Dom DeLuise as Doctor Frederico Carlucci, an Italian gynecologist who helps them figure out what's going on with the elephant Charlotte. DeLuise was a funny guy, but he can only do so much to liven up all this chit-chat.

Speaking of funny guys being handed bad material, we have Jackie Gleason back on the Bandit's trail as Sheriff Buford T. Justice. Justice is the same guy as last time, but his scenes aren't as effective. He's not as funny, and part of the charm of watching Justice's pursuit of the Bandit is lost in the fact that we don't get to see his cruiser gradually fall apart from all the damage it sustains. This time the cruiser can fall off a drawbridge in one scene, then the next time we return to Justice and Junior the car is just driving along, nice and pristine like nothing ever happened.

Gleason's performance as Justice was so well received in the first film that the filmmakers tripled down on him for the sequel, having Gleason play not only Buford but also his brothers - Texas police officer Gaylord Justice, who is of course an effeminate homosexual because his name is Gaylord, and Québécois Canadian mountie Reginald Van Justice, who has a thing for opera.

Buford's brothers come into play during the film's climactic sequence, when officers serving under Gaylord and Reginald participate in "the world's biggest game of chicken" with an army of semi trucks led by Snowman. As this desertbound demolition derby plays out, it becomes clear that there wasn't much vehicular action in the rest of the movie because the car crash budget went into this one sequence. It's not worth it. I would have much rather have had chases and crashes throughout the film instead of so much being crammed into just this one sequence.

Burt Reynolds himself saw Smokey and the Bandit II as a disappointing money grab, and he didn't even have to travel far to work on it. A lot of the movie was shot on Reynolds's own ranch in Florida. Since the characters are sitting still so often, it didn't require the cast and crew to be out and about too much. It's a shame that this sequel was such a lazy mess, because the first film was so good and director Hal Needham can shoot the hell out of chases and crashes when he's required to. The screenplay written by Jerry Belson and Brock Yates, working from a story by Michael Kane, just never should have been used. A Smokey and the Bandit sequel could have and should have been a lot better than this, but the chance of that happening went out the window as soon as this script got the greenlight.

The best thing about this movie may be Reed's song "Texas Bound and Flyin'". The lyrics include the line "How you gonna win if you ain't tryin'?", and that's a question everyone who made creative decisions on this sequel should have asked themselves.

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