Friday, May 16, 2014

Worth Mentioning - The Torments of Hellfire Eternal

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.

Cody had a sequel fest. Children of the Corn, Death Wish, and Wolf Creek.


Years have passed since the events of the first Children of the Corn, in which the children of Gatlin, Nebraska rose up and massacred anyone in town who was over the age of 19 at the behest of their corn-based god He Who Walks Behind the Rows. Property comes cheap in an area where so many people were murdered, so the population of Gatlin is slowly building back up, and by this point the town counts 123 people as residents.

In a small trailer home in the middle of a large cornfield right at the edge of town lives a teenager named Joshua, his younger adopted brother Eli, and their farmer father Earl, who moved to Gatlin to nab some cheap land on which to conduct his corn experiments.

As the film begins, Earl chases Joshua out into the cornfield in a drunken rage, armed with a scythe. Out in the field, Joshua encounters Eli, and the smaller boy protects his big brother by telling him to keep going, he will handle their dad. And handle Earl Eli does, revealing himself to be an evil member of high standing in the cult of He Who Walks Behind the Rows, able to command the corn itself to attack the man and turn him into a human scarecrow.

With Earl having "mysteriously disappeared", Joshua and Eli are taken in by foster parents, a nice couple named William and Amanda Porter, who live nowhere near Gatlin.

It's not rare for horror franchises to shake things up with a change of locale. Jason Voorhees was sent to Manhattan and outer space (and Hell). Hellraiser's Pinhead has been to outer space, and so has the Leprechaun, in addition to going to Las Vegas and the hood... twice. For this entry in the Children of the Corn series, the action is moved out of the Nebraska countryside and into big city Chicago.

The Porters have a very nice place right on the outskirts of the city. Their property butts up against an old abandoned factory, but they've put a fence up against the factory wall and Amanda does her best to pretty it up with her flower garden. Eli does some gardening himself, sneaking into the factory during his first night in Chicago and magically planting insant rows of corn in a courtyard. As you would expect from supernatural corn, Eli's crop is very healthy; immune to bugs and pesticides, it's ready to be harvested within four weeks of being planted regardless of the quality of the soil.

A good portion of the film deals with how Joshua and Eli fit in, or don't fit in, at the Catholic school the Porters enroll them in. While Eli sticks with his traditional style of dress, which causes him to be called Amish more than once, saying that "modest dress is the surest way to a pious life", Joshua gradually starts to let go of the remnants of their life in Gatlin, dressing like a typical Chicago teenager, befriending a classmate named Malcom and getting romantically involved with Maria. Seeing his older brother drift away from him, Eli begins to replace him by making friends of his own... Or, more accurately, brainwashing a legion of new cult members...

The previous two Corn films had supernatural elements to them, although those were primarily packed into the final acts. Urban Harvest is extremely supernatural-oriented throughout. Eli isn't just a kid who believes in He Who Walks Behind the Rows, he is in fact a physical embodiment of the god. Some people can sense this as soon as they meet him - his presence causes Amanda Porter and the school's Father Frank Nolan to be plagued by nightmares, some of them sepia-toned stock footage from parts 1 and 2.

As the characters will come to find out, Eli is much older than he appears to be. He has been present for all of the He Who Walks Behind the Rows-dedicated murders going back to at least 1964, when a picture was snapped of him and published in a newspaper. When Joshua realizes his adopted brother's secret, he's able to put it together that the massacres all occurred on the night of a harvest moon... And there will be a harvest moon again that very night. Joshua has to stop Eli before more adults are killed, and to do so he'll need to retrieve the corn bible Eli left behind in Gatlin.

Of course, Eli hasn't waited until the harvest moon to do all of his killing, there are murders committed throughout the movie, but this is a Children of the Corn film that is entirely bereft of any hacking or slashing. There are no deaths by farming implements here, every single kill is done in some sort of supernatural manner. Characters are either attack by living corn stalks, eat corn that causes their heads to erupt with roaches that melt when they come in contact with a Bible, get turned into a scarecrow as mentioned earlier, or even feel the wrath of Eli's telekinetic and pyrokinetic powers.

He Who Walks Behind the Rows even does some killing in his true form during the climactic sequence. The corn god had previously been represented simply by strange optical effects and images of something burrowing under the ground in cornfields, but in the final moments of the third film He Who tears up out of the ground and causes some mayhem as a demonic kaiju.

Viewers may now recognize actress Charlize Theron among the followers Eli amasses, she gets some close-ups here and there, and eventually becomes one of He Who Walks Behind the Rows' victims, getting a monster tentacle jammed into her crotch, Evil Dead tree rape-style.

Fortunately, the He Who Walks Behind the Rows monster has a weakness that enables the characters to stop it from rampaging through the city like Godzilla.

The story of Joshua, Eli, and the corn god in the city is resolved, but there is a subplot that teases one avenue a sequel could go down... William Porter is a commodities trader, and when he gets a good look at Eli's crop of super corn, dollar signs fill his eyes. He wants to sell this strain of corn all over the world, an idea which would probably have apocalyptic repercussions. He does manage to make a deal to sell some of the corn to Germany, and film ends with a scene showing a crate of the stuff arriving in that country... This is something that was never picked up on in a follow-up, but I don't think anyone ever really expected Dimension Films to make Children of the Corn: International anyway.

Directed by James D.R. Hicox (following in the genre footsteps of his brother Anthony Hickox, who made Waxwork, Hellraiser III, and Warlock 2, among many others) and written by Dode B. Levenson and an uncredited Matt Greenberg (The Prophecy II, Halloween H20, 1408), Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest is widely regarded as one of the best films in the Corn series, if not the best of the bunch.

And yet, as a big fan of the series, I'm really not all that fond of part 3. I certainly don't think it's a bad movie, it just doesn't appeal to me personally. I don't get much enjoyment out of the movie's urban setting and attitude, I much prefer the small town atmosphere of other Corn flicks, and I find the over-abundance of supernatural elements off-putting. I want knives, sickles, and scythes, not magic.

Hickox did do his best to deliver a dark, straightforward, creepy horror movie. Despite some of the goofier things that are in there, he handles it all deadly seriously. Because of that, he did capture a much more unnerving tone than you would expect from the basic idea of a Corn sequel called Urban Harvest.

The most notable aspect of the film are the special effects by Screaming Mad George, who brought some crazy things to screen in movies like A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 and 4, Society, Freaked, and Bride of Re-Animator. George's work tends to be quite impressive, insane, and often disgusting, and his work here is no exception. Even if some shots of the He Who Walks Behind the Rows monster puppet can be kind of funny.

Some love it, some hate it, I appreciate it but am underwhelmed by it, but Children of the Corn III is the only entry in the series, to my knowledge, that has gotten some positive attention from Stephen King himself, author of the short story that started all this Corn business.


As soon as the film begins and the score kicks in, Death Wish II earns a special place in my heart. While the tense and jazzy score of the first movie was provided by musician Herbie Hancock, Hancock was replaced as composer on this one by a different musician - not Isaac Hayes, as producers Menaham Golan and Yoram Globus wanted, but the man who was at the time returning director Michael Winner's next door neighbor: Jimmy Page, who had just recently ended his days as guitarist and songwriter for the greatest rock band of all time, Led Zeppelin.

Music that is unmistakably Page plays over the title sequence, which consists of shots of the city formerly New York-based Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson reprising his star-making role) now resides in. Los Angeles.

Although this sequel was made eight years after its predecessor, only four years have passed for the characters. Crime rates of all sorts are up over 50% in L.A., but Kersey pays it no mind. His days of being a vigilante are over. His focus is again on his career as an architect, and his latest project is the design of a new radio station for KABC, a job which has introduced him to his new lady love, Geri Nichols of KABC News.

Charles Bronson had a habit of recommending his wife Jill Ireland for acting roles in his movies, she was in nearly twenty of them and Winner had fully expected his star to request that she play his wife in the first movie. But Bronson didn't want Ireland to have to act in the scene where Kersey's wife was beaten to death by muggers, so Hope Lange was cast instead. Since his character has a love interest who is not treated horribly in the sequel, Jill Ireland made it into part 2 as Geri Nichols.

Things are looking up for Paul Kersey. He's got a good job, a girlfriend, a nice place that's taken care of by his maid Rosario, and even though his daughter Carol is still in a catatonic state from being sexually assaulted two years earlier, in recent weeks she has finally started speaking again, a few words here and there.

And then, it all comes crashing back down.

During a day out at a fair, Kersey has his wallet stolen by a gang of five punks with colorful nicknames - Jiver, Cutter, Punkcut, Stomper, and Nirvana. Kersey chases Jiver down into a dead end alley, fisticuffs are engaged in, and though Kersey wasn't a fighter in the '74 film, he just shot people, this time around he knows how brawl and he manages to best Jiver in their scuffle. But Jiver isn't the one with his wallet, so all their fight accomplishes is to hurt Jiver's pride.

Jiver is so upset that he and his gang get Kersey's address from his driver's license, go over to his house and lie in wait for him. And while they're waiting, they assault Rosario. When Kersey and Carol get home, Rosario is killed, Kersey is knocked out, and Carol is kidnapped.

In Die Hard 2, John McClane pondered how the same thing could happen to the same person twice. Paul Kersey must certainly be asking that same question as Death Wish II plays out, and it's Carol Kersey who bears the brunt of this horrific recurrence in their lives. Assaulted again while being kept in the gang's hideout, she chooses a fatal escape over dealing with this nightmare again.

In the first movie, Kersey was unable to take direct revenge on the criminals who attacked his wife and daughter. He took his rage out on crime in general. This time, he has seen the perpetrators with his own eyes, he knows exactly who he's after, and so to avenge his daughter he hits the streets of L.A. and goes hunting for Jiver and his gang. Now that he has specific targets, he passes by the other criminals on the streets, killing only the gang members and their associates.

Word of the vigilante in L.A. reaches back to New York, where authorities knew Kersey was their vigilante but let him go because his actions had successfully caused crime rates to drop and he had the public's support. But if Kersey is caught in L.A. and authorities there find out that New York just gave him a pass, it's not going to look good for the NYPD or the higher ups, so Detective Frank Ochoa (Vincent Gardenia), the man who had been tasked with telling Kersey to get out of town, has to go out to L.A. and try to get to Kersey before the LAPD does.

As far as sequels go, Death Wish II falls in the decent category. The cast, which includes a young Laurence Fishburne and a welcome cameo by John Carpenter regular Charles Cyphers in addition to those already mentioned, is great, with Bronson again delivering a strong performance as Paul Kersey. The shoot 'em up action is fun and well directed by Michael Winner. The score by Jimmy Page is, of course, awesome.

The slightly questionable element here, the thing which holds the film back from rising above decent, is the screenplay by David Engelbach, whose most notable credit other than this is as story writer on Sylvester Stallone's Over the Top. While Engelbach does a good enough job following up on the characters and ideas established in the original movie, I'm left with the feeling there could have been a better approach taken to part 2. The assault on Rosario and Carol is too similar to what happened before, in fact having the same thing happen to Carol all over again is very bothersome. Getting Kersey back into the vigilante game didn't require that. There aren't really any fresh ideas here, it's just an excuse to show the audience more scenes of Paul Kersey shooting criminals.

Watching Kersey dispatch these guys is certainly entertaining and it's what everyone who checks out the movie wants to see, but they could have surrounded the action with a better story instead of just copying the first movie.

So with that said, in the end, would I recommend Death Wish II? Of course. Paul Kersey kills bad guys in it.

WOLF CREEK 2 (2013)

With his 2005 feature debut Wolf Creek, writer/director Greg McLean introduced the world to Australian serial killer Mick Taylor, who was brilliantly brought to life by actor John Jarratt with a twinkle in his eye. Brutal, sadistic, zonked out of his mind insane, and gifted with the best maniacal laugh since Freddy Krueger, Mick Taylor was a character that was immediately embraced by the horror community.

With this sequel that's been nearly a decade in the making, McLean delivers a movie that is centered almost entirely on Mick doing what he does: tracking, terrorizing, and killing people. The first movie took 33 minutes to put Mick on screen and then another 17 before he made his homicidal tendencies known. This time around, Mick knocks off two people right in the opening sequence... and the action rarely stops from then on.

Sure, there is an interlude where we meet a German couple who are backpacking around Australia on vacation, leading to a surprising stretch of the movie where the dialogue is mostly in German, and these characters do the much the same things that the ill-fated road trippers in the earlier film did - party, hit the road, wander into the Outback beyond mobile phone service, visit the Wolf Creek National Park - but it isn't long before they encounter Mick.

And since they, unlike the victims in the first movie, refuse to accompany Mick back to the abandoned mining site that he calls home, his facade of friendliness is dropped much quicker. He attacks... And the next 75 minutes or so is comprised of bloodshed, horror, torture,  chase sequences, and multiple murders as more unlucky people cross paths with Mick.

McLean knew what audiences liked best about Wolf Creek, and this follow-up is completely about giving the audience more of what they liked. In fact, if Wolf Creek 2 is guilty of anything, it's that it may even go too far with the fan service. One of the most memorable parts of the original was the "head on a stick" injury, so this time Mick employs it twice within the first 30 minutes. The car chase in part 1 was impressive, so this film contains more car chases on an even larger scale, even dropping a mob of CG kangaroos into the midst of a car chase at one point. These fake 'roos get splattered all over the road. It was shocking when Mick killed people before, so this time McLean shows the murders in much gorier detail. People are turned into a bloody mess in this flick.

Wolf Creek 2 feels like a much bigger movie than its predecessor (see the aforementioned car chases and digital animals) and it also has a much lighter tone. McLean was out to disturb you before, this time he's having more fun with the scenario. Once again, see the kangaroos. Another groan-inducing example of this more (although still very dark) comedic tone is a scene in which Mick dismembers a corpse while listening to the Patsy Cline song "I Fall to Pieces".

While this sequel certainly felt excessive, can you really fault a movie for giving people an extra helping of what they were expecting to see? As a fan of the first, I was definitely entertained by the second, and enjoyed seeing Mick Taylor back in action in a movie where I didn't feel so bad when he dispatched victims because the tone and amount of action made it less disturbing.

The people who watch Wolf Creek 2 will primarily be those who wanted more after watching Wolf Creek, and that's exactly what they'll get.

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