The reason most normal people watch terrible old horror movies is to catch a glimpse of someone before they got famous, thrillers being a quick and inexpensive way to break into the industry. However, this blog is not “normal people.” We don’t watch terrible old horror movies in order to see young stars. We sometimes happen to see young stars while watching terrible old horror films we were going to watch anyway.
And we guess Halloween is next week as well. Most media outlets that are a little slow on the uptake will probably be reviewing the newly Netflixed “In the Tall Grass,” but, as we just covered, we’re not “normal people.” That’s why we’re peeking a little farther back through Stephen King’s farmland–but not too far–until we can see “Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror,” a film that you’ve probably only heard of because it had Eva Mendes in it.
A group of attractive young people do what they do best: get lost in the middle of nowhere, this nowhere being in the middle of the Midwestern United States. When some of their number go missing near the old corn silo–a rookie mistake–the remaining teens decide they have to get out of town. Things are complicated when one of them recognizes her long lost brother among the members of a mysterious local religious group. They must decide whether to align themselves with the scattered law enforcement of nearby Divinity Falls or join the cult of mostly children who serve He Who Walks Behind the Rows.
Aside from Mendes, who plays one of the attractive young people–there’s no reason to name any of them, since the script doesn’t bother to distinguish them–you might recognize a pre-transition Alexis Arquette and a couple of Frank Zappa’s kids, as well as balxploitation’s Fred Williamson and chop socky’s David Carradine. In fact, this film ought to have more notoriety for its bizarre cast that’s halfway between has-beens and gonna-bes.
Mendes famously wrote this film off, and it’s easy to see why. Her acting is far from stellar and it looks like she’s dubbed half the time, but it doesn’t help that her character is written about as shallow as a soup cracker. Arquette looks uncomfortable. On the other hand, Williamson looks perfectly comfortable, and so does Carradine, but of course they do. They’d been making terrible old movies for years. Caradine even looks like he was having fun.
One really has to blame the script, which was written by the director, Ethan Wiley, an everyman of schlock who wrote “House” and “House II: The Second Story.” This is disappointing, as I seem to remember liking the House movies. And the best line in this film, a description of Carradine’s cultic patriarch, is given to a nameless barfly: “Like Howard Hughes without the money.”
The visuals are a mixed bag. For one, between the Wild West Victorian architecture and scattered palm trees, the Midwest looks an awful lot like Southern California. For another, while there are some cool B-movie shots–an ax plunged into a tree stump photographed at an odd angle; giant shadows approach and leave the broadside of a barn; a sequence partially shot from the perspective of a rocking chair–there are also a lot of cheap handheld camera shots, and this film’s strategy for atmosphere is to throw around some dead snakes and corn husks and call it a day.
The theme of an agrarian utopia is interesting, but it’s handled about as thoughtfully as the attempts at drama, which are to toss some sappy piano music into the background and hope for the best. Part of the problem is how fast everything happens. Perhaps worst example is that a single conversation is all it takes vampy Mendes to change her sinful ways and consider throwing herself into the constantly smoking corn silo. I mean, it’s not explicitly stated what’s in there yet, but come on.
So it’s a terrible film. But is it fun? Ultimately yes. The first scene shows an evil child turning an angry old farmer into hamburger. Ahmet Zappa spends the first few minutes of the movie using sex dolls as road markers before getting murdered in a corn field. When their car conveniently explodes, our heroes warm their hands on the blaze. And, if one can make it through all the cheap scares and melodrama, things really pick up in the final act. The final girl gets a shotgun. Various corn children get power tools. People randomly catch fire or their heads explode. Even the music improves to TV thriller quality.
Anyone who watches a movie called “Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror” of their own volition has no excuse. We don’t assume that this entry will make up for the cinematic sins of the last four movies. We know exactly what we’re getting into, from the generic title to the last second twist that makes no sense in the greater context of the film. Our trade off is less than 90 minutes of our lives gone, a small price to pay for a hilariously terrible old time.