Sunday, November 24, 2013

REVIEW: Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest

All right, I'm going to be frank: you might have noticed that this review is a little bit of a departure for me.  Not in the sense that it's done over a terrible, terrible horror film.  (I hold those to my bosom and perhaps coo over them a little bit.  The neighbors ask me to stop in increasingly worried tones.  We have a fun relationship.)  Rather, in the sense that it's a review of a horror film made in 1995 with the proceeds of my couch cushions delivered from the future.  The only two cast members who are remotely famous today are Nicholas Brendan, who is a basketball-playing extra, and Charlize Theron, who dies of being stabbed through the vagina.  I'm relatively certain that they both have attorneys drawing up C&Ds for me purely for mentioning their names in connection to this glorious hot mess.

Children of the Corn III first came to my attention due to the thespian talents of Mari Morrow and Duke Stroud, they who inspired the very astute question: "I write about superheroes.  Why the hell do people keep finding a straight-to-VHS mess when they search for my name?"

We open our tale with two brothers running through a corn field pursued by their abusive father.  (Look, I'm not going to warn for spoilers on any of this, okay?  It's old enough to vote; if you want to save your sanity, you should know enough to look away now.)  One is Joshua.  We know he's the good one because he's blond.  One is Eli.  We know he's the bad one because his hair is dark.  Joshua and Eli both act as they've never encountered electricity or indoor plumbing before, which opens up a plot hole in the last third of this movie, to say the least.  Never mind.  We'll get there.  Joshua and Eli stumble across each other and bicker a little bit, which leads to Joshua running off while Eli promises to be right behind.  Joshua is not a very good older brother.  Joshua is not very good at a lot of things, including facial expressions.  Mean Daddy comes up, confronts Eli, and is stretched up to become a scarecrow, complete with having his eyes and mouth stitched shut, while Eli buries his Cornhole Bible at Mean Daddy's feet.  Joshua comes back, Eli tells him he has no idea where Mean Daddy is, they flee into the night.  The camera then cuts up to Mean Daddy writhing on  Brace?  I don't know scarecrow terminology.  That's right, Joshua failed to notice the squirming, moaning person nailed to a post literally four feet away from him.  When this movie came out, the "Good is Not Dumb" page on TV Tropes spontaneously burst into being out of self-defense because OH MY GOD.

We next cut to a Chicago bus station where a social worker (she's black, by the way; any time anything remotely "urban" happens in this movie, assume it's done by a black person) is explaining to a nice suburban couple that the boys have been through a lot and might have some trouble adjusting to big-city life.  How did Eli and Joshua manage to come into contact with Social Services, given that they used to live in 1792?  How are they still so incredibly naive if Social Services found them and put them in the system to await adoption?  This is nowhere near the most outrageous gang-bang logic is going to submit to over the course of the movie, so buckle up.  Anyway, our nice Adoptive Mommy and Adoptive Daddy take the boys to their new suburban home, and the boys manage not to crap themselves over the fact that they now have an indoor place not to crap themselves.  Joshua is blamed for breaking a glass knick-knack by Adoptive Daddy based upon standing vaguely near it.  The boys are shown the backyard, which runs up to an abandoned factory (inexplicably not visible from the front of the house) and warned not to go past the fence.  I think we all already know that someone is totally going past the fence.  Joshua, meanwhile, ambles next door to encounter a brother and sister pair playing basketball.  They are "down".  You can tell this because the brother (Malcolm) is wearing a pimp hat backwards while his sister (Maria) is playing in a miniskirt and heels.  Yes, they are black.  Anyway, there's a little fish-out-of-water back and forth between the siblings and Joshua until Adoptive Daddy sticks his head over the fence and sternly tells Joshua not to talk to strangers.  I...what?  M&M (see what I did there) live next door.  You were warned that your new adoptive son had no social context outside of small towns, but he's already making a pair of friends.  This is what we would call a good thing, yes?  I think Adoptive Daddy is basically just really racist.  I think several people involved in this movie might be basically just really racist.

We have the obligatory scene in which Eli snaps a fit because his adoptive parents don't automatically say grace, and then we cut to Adoptive Mommy and Adoptive Daddy checking in on their new wards as they sleep.  In spite of their shared room containing two beds, the boys are sleeping side by side in one.  This will become jaw-droppingly creepy later on.  Right now it's only "clear your browser history" creepy, as the adoptive parents assume that the boys have never had separate beds before and are simply baffled by our modern ways with their lack of bad touches.

You guessed it.  Eli totally sneaks out of the house and goes past the fence, where he throws around some corn.

The next morning, the boys are shown to their new school, which is Catholic.  As Eli made it fairly clear that the boys are staunch Protestants of the slightly coo-coo Midwestern variety and their adoptive parents do not appear to have any strong religious convictions, logic sighs and reaches for another condom.  Adoptive Mommy walks the boys to their classes, which actually makes sense.  Joshua is clearly one "SQUIRREL!" moment away from wandering into traffic and Eli appears to be about eleven.  Eli doesn't care about social humiliation and Joseph doesn't appear bright enough to know when he should be embarrassed.  So Joshua is shown to his class, whereupon Eli immediately has a shit-fit over the fact that he and is brother have to be in separate classes....OH MY GOD.  Eli takes a seat and is immediately hassled by the greatest racial stereotype captured on cinema since Dumbo.  This kid would be outdated and offensive in 1973.  He's wearing a bomber jacket with a pimp hat turned around backwards, and he immediately challenges Eli (who, again, appears to be about eleven) by daring him to suck the giant racial stereotype's dick.  More and more as this movie goes on, I wonder how many of its makers have FBI files and/or have been justifiably met in dark alleys by members of the NAACP.

Joshua later bests Malcolm and a host of other ethnically diverse youths in basketball in spite of attempting to eat the ball the day before, because of course he does.  Nicholas Brendan is never more glad to have a non-speaking role in his life.  Eli--wait for it--pitches a fit, this time over the fact that Joshua is having social contact with someone who is not him.  In light of later revelations, these boys should never be allowed within fifteen feet of each other.  At least one of them is a pedophile.

Adoptive Mommy spies Eli sneaking past the fence to tend his corn.  In spite of having no concrete reason to believe there's anything wrong with him outside of a lack of social skills, she turns towards the camera and makes Bad Seed Face.  Oh, why the fuck not, it's not like Adoptive Daddy's antipathy towards Joshua makes any more sense.  She tells Adoptive Daddy, who goes to see for himself and finds that Eli's been growing corn.  AD almost fertilizes the soil over this, because he's some kind of big commodities trader in corn, which automatically means that he knows how the fuck it grows.  (At this point, logic requests a glass of water and a chance to massage out some muscle cramps.)  Rather than being angry with Eli for disobeying the rules and putting himself in danger, like a responsible parent would be, he's elated over the money he can make off of the super-corn and actually gets angry with AM for disturbing Eli's hobby.  I...guys?  Were you not showing off the massive backyard, like, thirty minutes ago?  Is there any good reason why Eli can't just build himself a little plot in a place not filled with heroin needles and rape corners?  In the meantime, Joshua is grounded for existing.

Eli turns corn into cockroaches to poison the school into being his happy minions and is disciplined by the Padre for being a better preacher than the Padre is.  Dude, don't invite the kid up there if you're a crappy enough leader to be shown up by a little kid.  I would also like to point out that the actor playing Eli is having all kinds of fun being an evil little shit, which probably led to many alarming parent-teacher conferences when he returned to the real world.

The social worker finds out some troubling information about Eli, namely that he's an evil little vampire.  He kills her, but not before she unleashes a hilarious, grumbling rant about tax dollars and public-sector pay.  It's delivered in pure Angry Black Woman, of course, because these fucking writers, but it's also one of the most realistic moments of the movie.  I witness these rants, minus the egregious racial stereotypes, pretty much every day at Ye Old Day Job.

Joshua and Maria wind up making out; Joshua is way too familiar with the ways of other people's bodies for someone as socially isolated as he's purported to have been, and several alarming truths about Mean Daddy slam into place.  Malcolm walks in on Joshua and Maria and immediately yells out the bros before hoes speech.  Joshua is not sure how farming and fornicating are connected, except that sometimes the cows made funny sounds in the barn at night back home.

Adoptive Mommy gets angry about her roses dying, because attributing that to Eli's garden makes perfect sense, and goes to cut down his corn.  Over her roses.  Not over his willful disobedience and increasingly disruptive and violent behavior, but over her roses.  Keep in mind, we're supposed to see AM as the good parent here.  In a shocking turn of events, Eli kills her.  He then uses the opportunity to bond more closely to Adoptive Daddy and get him thinking about shipping the super-corn all over the world.  Eli is the smartest person in that house, and I am sort of rooting for him at this point.

Joshua answers the door shirtless (for someone who was so freaked out over modesty that he refused to wear modern clothing upon first arriving at his new home, this kid shucks out of his shirt for pretty much any reason whatsoever) and accepts a package for the late Adoptive Mommy.  Turns out she's been looking into the creepy little vampire child, too, and he was the same age in 1964 as he was in 1995.  Joshua grabs Malcolm and the two of them head to Gatlin to get Eli's special McGuffin, the Cornhole Bible.  Along the way, Joshua reveals to Malcolm that 1) Eli is actually his adoptive brother, 2) he was fourteen when he and Mean Daddy moved to Gatlin, and 3) he and Mean Daddy moved to Gatlin so MD could conduct agricultural experiments.  And this is the point at which I LOST MY SHIT.  So.  So, wait.  Eli and Joshua are not blood brothers.  They have only known each other for a maximum of four years.  Mean Daddy, NOT shown to be the most altruistic of men, adopted Eli when he was around seven or eight, Joshua HAS had contact with the outside world before, and MD is in fact a legit scientist rather than a Ichabod Crane.  Okay, fuck it, I am no longer sad that the social worker died, because it's pretty fucking obvious at this point that Mean Daddy made those boys call him "daddy", if you know what I mean.  Eli's behavioral issues are clearly much less about otherworldly evil and much more about untreated PTSD.  I will be on his side for the remainder of the movie.

Back at the ranch, Eli convinces Maria to aid in the killing of her own parents because....corn?  In Gatlin, Malcolm dies horribly because who needs black people while Joshua deals with finding his dad on the scarecrow-thinger (it's enough that I'm writing this synopsis sober, fuck if I'm going to do research) and lets out the most awkward line-reading of "Papa?" ever caught on film.  He sounds like a three year-old finally admitting to the therapist where Daddy touched him, only to turn around and find Daddy standing in the doorway with a bottle of the special Nyquil.  These poor, poor boys.  He grabs the Bible and tears back to Chicago, where Eli has given up all pretense and is basically just killing all the things.  He kills the Padre, he kills Adoptive Daddy, he comes very close to killing the ridiculous racial stereotype (who is now dressed in head-to-foot black leather, and after awhile you stop even reacting to the racism any longer), and he assembles his minions in the factory-garden for spooky mood lighting.  This is literally the only reason to garden in the factory than, you know, the fucking backyard: Tiki torches only glow properly against distressed concrete.  

Joshua shows up and is shockingly not really betrayed by his brother's betrayal, or maybe the actor is just terrible.  They lob fireballs at each other a few times (really), and then Eli runs off into the corn.  Joshua takes off after him while the minions, hilariously, just sort of stand around and watch.  Joshua literally punches one of them in one of the most awkward and telegraphed punches I have ever seen, and they sort of blink at each other and wonder why fist-thrust make face flesh ow and no-nice.  Joshua and Eli scarper about until Joshua finally stabs him, and then shit gets real in the most over-the-top piece of unreality ever filmed.  Using stop-motion film techniques last seen when King Kong was threatening Fay Rae, Eli bursts back out of the ground as a Play-Doh cricket monster and grabs Maria, who is at this point represented by a Barbie.  (I'm not kidding.)  Ridiculous Racial Stereotype gets impaled by vines and sucked into the ground as he's leaning over to retrieve his switchblade.  (I'm not kidding.)  One girl is impaled through the cheek and responds by doing the First School Dance Shuffle.  (I'm not kidding.)  Eli binds Joshua to a wall, and I wish I was kidding, because these poor children never stood a chance, did they?  And then this happens:

You might recognize her as future Oscar winner Charlize Theron.  In her brief time onscreen, mostly taken up with writhing and screaming, she is undeniably the best performer to come within a hundred miles of this acid trip into the simultaneously darkest and laziest part of the human soul.  And in the screen cap above, she is about thirty seconds away from dying by being stabbed through the vagina.  We all have to start somewhere, I guess.  

Joshua suddenly develops kung-fu feet, flips a scythe into his hands, and kills his brother.  The end...or is it?  Of course not, because none of us could be so lucky.  Adoptive Daddy has arranged for a crate of Eli's corn to be shipped to Germany, where shady members of the corn black market cackle at each other.

A mystery is solved, and I need a drink.

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