The original Children of the Corn has a mixed horror legacy. Adapted from a Stephen King short story, the film deviated significantly from its source material. It’s a mixed bag of a horror film with good casting its adult lead roles weighed down by some stiff performances from the child actors. King’s interesting subtext on the dangers of religious fundamentalism are dismissed in favour of a slasher film tropes. There are some genuinely creepy moments and a few jumps, but Children of the Corn is best remembered through a nostalgics lens.
I recall seeing a few sequels in the early 1990s, but they’ve apparently been churning out these films on a steady loop. Like the Hellraiser franchise, Children of the Corn has somehow managed to live on with several straight-to-video sequel. The 2018 Children of the Corn: Runaway marks the tenth film in the series. My expectations were pretty low for this one, but I hoped for at least a bloody guilty pleasure.
The sequel retains the basic premise of the original 1984 film. A cult of children fall under the spell of “He Who Walks Behind the Rows”, a demonic figure residing in the cornfields of rural Gatlin, Nebraska. As part of a ritualistic massacre, they murder everyone over 18 years of age. Runaway follows adult survivor Ruth who escaped Gatlin with her infant son, Aaron. Thirteen years later, Ruth and Aaron live on the roads, travelling from town to town. Haunted by her past, Ruth tries to settle in another small town, Lincoln, to give Aaron a chance at a normal life. But when a young girl in a bright yellow dress arrives in town, Ruth fears that “He Who Walks Behind the Rows” has finally found her.
A Technical Improvement for the Franchise
For the tenth film in a straight-to-video horror franchise, Runaway is a surprisingly competent film on most technical levels. It’s a huge step up from some of the more recent Children of the Corn sequels and a much better effort than the recent Hellraiser: Judgment. Both the cinematography and picture quality are well-done for a low-budget horror film. Director John Gulager films the action and violence clearly with no shaky cam anywhere to be seen. There are some nice long camera shots of desolate highways that emphasize Ruth’s isolation.
For the tenth film in a straight-to-video horror franchise, Runaway is a surprisingly competent film on most technical levels.
All of the performances in Runaway are similarly competent. No one is going to be blown away by the acting but, like the rest of the film, it’s far better than what you typically find in low-budget horror films. Marci Miller and Jake Ryan Scott both carry themselves quite well in the lead roles. Mary Kathryn Bryant also acquits herself well as a local waitress who befriends mother and son.
An Ambitious Sequel That Fails to Deliver
Gulager’s Runaway, based on a screenplay by Joel Soisson, is also pretty ambitious. This sequel eschews most of the narrative trappings of the previous Children of the Corn entries taking a fairly different path. Much of Runaway focuses on Ruth’s trauma, using hallucinations to try and cast some doubt about what’s transpiring in the audience’s mind. The approach works early on as it adds some element of mystery and keeps the viewer engaged with what’s going on.
While its an ambitious direction, Runaway is undermined by poor pacing, a lack of scares, and a convoluted twist.
While it’s an ambitious direction, Runaway is undermined by poor pacing, a lack of scares, and a convoluted twist. Very little happens in the film’s first 45 minutes or so and the film’s conclusion doesn’t offer enough of a payoff to justify the slow pace. On more than one occasion the story veers off in pointless directions – like Ruth’s conflict with a school principal – that fail to serve any overarching purpose. The lack of focus in the storyline disrupts the film’s rhythm and reduces any sense of tension.
Aside from one shock at the end of the film, there’s also a lack of scares in Runaway. Sara Moore, billed only as “Pretty Girl”, stands in for “He Who Walks Behind the Rows”. Similar to the original film, she offers as much menace as a child can reasonably offer. In place of thrills and jumps, Gulager provides an abundance of blood on the screen. However, the film’s explicit violence is unlikely to sway gorehounds as much of the bloodletting is filmed with average CGI effects. Budgetary constraints limit any real creativity in the staging of the death scenes. There are a couple of grisly moments that are pretty satisfying but probably not enough for hardcore horror fans.
It’s too bad that Runaway doesn’t try to do more in its first half. The climax offers viewers two swerves with one twist feeling pretty obvious and the second one not making much sense. By the time the film credits began rolling, I was left wishing that Gulager and the script had used the first half of the film to develop a foundation that would support the film’s final reveal while introducing some threat to build tension.
Better Than It Deserved To Be
All in all, Children of the Corn: Runaway is much better than it had any right to be as the tenth film in a straight-to-video horror franchise. There’s a bit of a midnight movie vibe to the sequel that, along with competent filmmaking, elevates above all of the other sequels. No one asked for any of the sequels to Children of the Corn, but this entry probably deserved to be considered the best one since the original. It’s not likely to convince anyone to make another sequel but Runaway may offer horror fans a decent low-budget option for late-night viewing.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: C