One thing we love here at Missile Test is spotting a former A-list star slumming it in a low-rent shitty movie. There’s nothing mean-spirited about it. We like low-rent shitty movies quite a lot, so we feel blessed when the inevitable career turn occurs, and former Oscar-winners and contenders are forced to make due in productions of lesser means and artistic intent. But, what we like even more is when a low-rent shitty movie features a future A-lister — a performer who has yet to prove they have the talent to take them out of the muck. Rookie performers such as these often do the best job in the film, and raise its overall watchability, without having too much of a negative effect on its shittiness. Preserving that je ne sais quoi is important for the shitty movie fan.
These little road stops on the way to stardom end up being places where we can return and enjoy in mirth the dues these stars had to pay. Again, that’s not mean-spirited. Everyone had to start somewhere, and I have yet to see a shitty film with a future star who mailed it in.
Today’s franchise sequel is Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering, the direct-to-video feature from writers Greg Spence and Stephen Berger, with Spence also directing. It features future star Naomi Watts as Grace Rhodes, a college student who has to come home to rural Nebraska after her mother, June (Karen Black), grows ill, and can no longer care for Grace’s younger siblings, Margaret and James (Jamie Renée Smith and Mark Salling).
Not long afterwards, the ghost of a murdered child preacher, Josiah (Brandon Kleyla), begins turning the local children into pseudo-zombies who will do his will. No more He Who Walks Behind the Rows in this one. Josiah is no leader of a demon cult like Isaac, Micah, or Eli from the previous films. Rather, he’s a very pissed off dead Christian.
Most of the film consists of Grace being a horror flick detective, and figuring out just what’s going on. Along the way, before protagonists deal with antagonists in the final act, there are nonsensical storytelling decisions and plot holes galore. Spence takes the sting out of this by making sure there are some grisly deaths amongst the adults of the film. These relate to the plot enough, but their most important function is to keep a viewer from getting bored.
It’s a struggle. I was looking forward to this flick because of the utter shamelessness of the 3rd film in the series. I wasn’t expecting anything like a child’s doll standing in for an actor in a death scene, but I was hoping for more than horror by rote. The 3rd film showed what was possible in the direct-to-video world with a filmmaker who just said ‘fuck it.’ Gathering shows what one can normally expect from a denizen of the discount rack.
Other than seeing Watts do better than some anonymous never-was, there isn’t much else going on in this film. The plot, in doing away with He Who Walks Behind the Rows, along with the legend of the town of Gatlin, Nebraska, abandons all relationship with the films that came before. This is a Children of the Corn film in name only, making it even more clear that this film exists solely to chase a buck. My guess is this screenplay didn’t start out as a Children sequel, but it bore enough of a resemblance for the producers to use it as one. Had they supported this bit of Hollywood trickery with a more interesting film, that wouldn’t matter so much. In this case, it’s just another failing.
For the sin of adding nothing to the series but a footnote in Naomi Watts’ career, Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering, is banished to the bottom half of the Watchability Index, wherein dwells He Who Walks Behind the VHS Boxes. There, Gathering will reside on the rack between Jack Frost and Riddick, at #247. It’s the spot over in the corner, far from the center of vision of the astute video rental customer. Go ahead and give it all the attention it deserves.