Director: James D.R. Hickox
Cast: Daniel Cerny, Ron Melendez, Mari Morrow, Duke Stroud, Nancy Lee Grahn, Jim Metzler
Screenplay: Dode B. Levenson
92 mins. Rated R.
The Children of the Corn franchise, much like the Hellraiser films, were eventually acquired by Dimension, who sought to make a sequel every few years in order to retain the rights to the IP that the studio paid for. That means, for better and worse, a sequel was going to come, whether or not it was ready. After the first two Corn films went to theaters, this would be the first in a long line of direct-to-video releases for the franchise, but is it worth watching?
Following the events of the previous film, Joshua (Ron Melendez, Bitch Slap, Wild Things: Diamonds in the Rough) and his adopted brother Eli (Daniel Cerny, Fearless, Doc Hollywood), two Nebraska children, have been taken in by Chicago couple William (Jim Metzler, L.A. Confidential, 976-EVIL) and Amanda Porter (Nancy Lee Grahn, Perry Mason: The Case of the Glass Coffin, Obsessed with a Married Woman). While both brothers have difficulty adjusting to the urban environment, Joshua finds new friends, but Eli, obsessed with the mythical He Who Walks Behind the Rows, begins a new order of Children in this new landscape.
While the later sequels felt like mystery horror films that were adjusted into being Children of the Corn movies (much like many of the Hellraiser sequels), Urban Harvest feels like the last film in the franchise that does anything of value for the world and story. The expansion upon the last remnants of the Children seems to begrudgingly fit into the mythos just fine. It isn’t perfectly cohesive, but director James D.R. Hickox (Krocodylus, Sabretooth) makes the effort to fit it into the existing world of Stephen King’s short story. It stretches credulity, but then again, the fact that a 20-page story has been extended into at 10-plus films would be lucky to hold onto any threads of a narrative is a bit of a miracle. We’re presented with basic information at the beginning, and it unfolds into an interesting mystery as we audience members try to fit these characters into the world we know, and it isn’t entirely successful, but it’s a lot more workable than its predecessor and creating a compelling story.
Cerny and Melendez are fine enough. Neither of them is carrying the story the way one would hope, but they have aid from Jim Metzler, an understated performer of 80s horror. Metzler is a chameleon of a horror persona, perfectly fitting into just about any role of variable silliness, and he makes it work.
The film has a number of standout moments as well, ranging from a living scarecrow sequences, some exceptional body horror, and genuinely unnerving moments, as well as expanding upon the He Who Walks Behind the Rows with some awesome creature effects. Urban Harvest is probably the most impressive of the sequels for what it tries to accomplish.
Where it falters is some truly terrible pacing. For the great stuff in this film, it drags and stumbles along its narrative throughline astonishingly slow. I was shocked to find myself only halfway through the 90-minute run time when I felt the film was reaching its conclusion. It’s also a movie that, for all the great effects, is rather forgettable. Since the stakes are pretty much the same in every one of these films, they lose a little bit of that standout feeling, even though Urban Harvest is easily one of the better films in the franchise. This is a movie that should feel like it’s working much better than it is.
Urban Harvest should be a more memorable horror film, but instead it’ll be known for being the first film role of actors like Nicholas Brendon and Charlize Theron. It should have and could have had a lasting legacy, but it meanders way too much and avoids focusing on what is really working well, mainly the incredible effects work from Screaming Mad George and its narrative connections to the larger framework. It could have been an exemplary closing chapter to a middling trilogy, but it’s a bit too hit-and-miss.
-Kyle A. Goethe