He Who Walks Behind the Rows

Children of the Corn can only be described as corny. I was expecting another iconic horror experience from Stephen King, but what I got was a bunch of shucks. “Children of the Corn” was originally written as a short story by King. The story is almost like The Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life” if it chose to focus exclusively on creepy kids sending adults to a cornfield. I had no idea King was responsible for the 1984 Children of the Corn, but all of his usual horror hallmarks are there.

Children of the Corn takes place in a rural town full of religious extremists with anti-religious main characters. It’s about as eye-roll inducing as I’ve come to expect. Every adult in town is brutally murdered by their children in a particularly memorable opening. Made more memorable by Isaac staring at the violence in his black folksy hat. Although Isaac seems like a childish false prophet, John Franklin was actually 23 at the time. His youthful look mixed with his grown up experience made Isaac the most stand out part of the movie.

Everything else is really slow and full of corny performances. Peter Horton plays Burt and a pre-Terminator Linda Hamilton plays Vicky. They’re an unfortunate couple that end up stuck in the adultless town. The only good kids are the narrator Job and his unexplainably psychic sister Sarah (another frequent King clichรฉ). Isaac and his right hand Malachi make the children worship some kind of corn god called “He who walks behind the rows.” I understand having a cult following, but there’s no way I’m watching 10 sequels worth of this. Children of the Corn is about as terrifying as corn can be.

Children of the Corn

Isaac views the carnage

The Price of Solitude

The Last Man on Earth is the first adaptation of I Am Legend. It has direct influence from author Richard Matheson, but he wasn’t overly fond of the final result. Matheson’s story was one of the earliest uses of the post-apocalyptic formula we all know today. Like most early 60’s era black & white pictures, The Last Man on Earth has a very literal title. The last man on Earth is scientist Robert Morgan.

This was the first heroic role I’ve seen of classic horror icon Vincent Price. Price tragically narrates the thoughts of a lonely man who tries desperately to survive an empty world plagued by vampires. Although they only come out at night, fear mirrors, hate garlic, and are killed by wooden stakes, the vampires are more like zombies. Similar to the also public domain Night of the Living Dead. The origins of the global pandemic are recounted in an extended flashback. Robert once had a loving wife and daughter that he lost to the virus.

All he can do now is burn the leftover bodies, hunt for vampires, and lock himself in at night. He finds a dog, but most importantly, he finds another human. Since this is an American co-production, Ruth is played by an Italian actress. The original I Am Legend title refers to how Ruth and the rest of her new infected society view Robert. The last healthy man who’s ultimately unable to cure them. The Last Man on Earth benefits from the old fashioned atmospheric horror that Vincent Price excels at.

the Last Man on Earth

Robert Morgan wanders the Earth

P.S. Being public domain, I’ve supplied the full movie underneath.

Ants as Big as a House

Them! put giant killer bugs on the map. Ants were very fascinating to me when I was kid. I dealt with them a lot and frequently learned many interesting facts about their colony. So a movie about rampant 9 ft ants from the 50’s was always on my radar. My parents were big fans who watched the movie frequently when they were younger. Although I saw clips, I didn’t see all of Them! until way later. Them! is the very first monster attack creature feature starring giant bugs.

Ants are mutated as a result of atomic radiation. Ironically, Them! was released the same year as Godzilla. You’d think Them! would end up cheesy with a premise like that, but it’s surprisingly terrifying even now. The high pitched bird call they make is creepy and so is the idea of ants crushing you in their mandibles. Them! slowly builds up to their reveal with local New Mexico police officers investigating mysterious deaths and the disappearance of sugar. Their only clue is a traumatized little girl who famously screams the title.

It starts with the FBI and a few scientists examining the area, then grows into a far worse problem that requires the military. Thanks to a couple of escaped queens, the world could soon be overrun with giant ants. It gets to the point where even information from the local drunk is helpful. The ants are dangerous due to their acidic stingers and ability to tunnel deep underground. Flamethrowers do the trick after several tragic losses accompanied by early Wilhelm screams. Highly capable actors, deep questions, a simple premise, and 50’s flare help make Them! a well executed trend-setter.

Them

Giant ants attack

A Model Bride

The Stepford Wives appears to be a picture perfect look at suburban life. But something dark lurks just beneath the surface. I wish I’d gone into The Stepford Wives completely blind, but I doubt I would’ve seen it if I didn’t know the twist. The Eberhart’s are just your average family leaving the big city for a quiet suburban town. Stepford is almost too quiet with bright and colorful residents. You’d never guess anything was wrong until you saw the women.

All the men are part of a boys club called the “Men’s Association,” while all the women are 50’s era housewives who love nothing more than to cook, clean, and please their husbands. I didn’t really recognize anyone until I realized Katharine Ross was Elaine in The Graduate. She plays aspiring photographer Joanna Eberhart. One of the only normal wives and/or mothers left in the town. Joanna teams up with fellow newbie resident Bobbie in order to figure out what’s wrong with the women of Stepford. You can tell it’s the 70’s due to the feminist parallels.

When you realize The Stepford Wives is based on a book written by the author of Rosemary’s Baby, you pick up on a lot of similarities. Mainly the slow burn to a shocking conclusion. The men in Stepford act strangely and even Joanna’s own husband seems to be against her. Until we discover (SPOILER ALERT!) the wives are all robots! Each designed to be the perfect wife for their husbands. Regardless of how you interpret it, nothing is more disturbing than Joanna discovering her own soulless robot just waiting to replace her. The Stepford Wives is a creepy critique of an archaic society.

The Stepford Wives

The Stepford wives

Iโ€™m Just Crackers about Cheese

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is the smashing feature length adventure for the Aardman pair that started it all. Apart from Gumby & Pokey, has there ever been a more brilliant claymation duo? Of course I’ve been a major fan of Wallace & Gromit ever since I was a lad. Created by claymation expert Nick Park, Wallace & Gromit are an absent minded, cheese loving inventor and his handy silent dog. Since stop-motion takes so much time, they only ever appeared in three shorts. A Grand Day Out is simple space fun, The Wrong Trousers has plenty of fast paced heist excitement, and A Close Shave offers massive sheep thrills. Yet they never made a movie. So the equally brilliant Chicken Run served as an experimental starting point. Eventually a feature length film was finally made in 2005.

The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is a wonderfully British comedy. So it’s a wonder Dreamworks wanted it to be more Americanized. The Britishness is part of the charm. In this adventure, Wallace & Gromit are animal control business Anti-Pesto. Their reintroduction is filled with Wallace’s signature Rube Goldberg inventions and Gromit’s ingenious pantomiming. But Wallace & Gromit aren’t alone in their endeavor. The movie was finally enough to give them a whole cast of hilarious townspeople. As Brits like Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes join Wallace mainstay Peter Sallis. The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is a clever twist on monster movies. It’s a G rated vegetarian horror movie. When the annual giant vegetable competition comes up, Wallace & Gromit are tasked with weeding out the rabbit infestation.

Wallace gets a new love interest in the posh aristocratic Lady Tottington. And a villain in the hunting obsessed Lord Victor Quartermaine (and his vicious bull terrier Philip). In order to re-educate the rabbits, Wallace invents a way to get them off vegetables. It goes horribly wrong when rabbit DNA is merged with his own. Resulting in a mystery that reveals him to have transformed into a veg ravaging rabbit monster known as a were-rabbit. More time means more clever innuendos, sight gags, and impressive action that’s beautifully achieved through stop-motion. Which looked even better on the big screen. The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is the only claymation Best Animated Feature winner, the second from Dreamworks Animation, and another non-Pixar winner thanks to the lack of competition. I’m just crackers about Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

Wallace & Gromit The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

Wallace and Gromit attend to Lady Tottington

They’re Remade

Poltergeist (2015) is just another soulless remake to a modern classic. Slasher movies aren’t the only horror genre getting pointless reboots. Except it makes less sense for Poltergeist since most Steven Spielberg affiliated movies should be untouchable. Poltergeist (2015) is mostly everything that came before with a modern update and different names for the family. Now they’re father Eric, mother Amy, oldest daughter Kendra, son Griffin, and youngest daughter Madison. Only it’s not enough for the Bowen’s to be a simple suburban family.

They’re just moving into the house, they have financial difficulties, and each kid has an individual problem. It’s an unnecessary amount of detail for a reboot that’s shorter than the original. I didn’t recognize anyone outside of Sam Rockwell. Rockell (or producer Sam Raimi) don’t elevate the reboot. The family isn’t very likable, except for maybe Griffin who overcomes his fears. The “They’re here” scene isn’t as creepy with a glitchy flat screen TV or Maddy’s flat delivery of the famous line. The creepy tree is only briefly used and the scary toy clown is given more attention.

The rest of the hauntings are just generic, even for this decade. The parapsychologists don’t standout and the creepy little medium is replaced by some guy with a ghost hunting show. I honestly felt nothing when Maddy was kidnapped. Even less when the house was consumed by a skybeam. The only modern change that made sense was the PG-13 rating that the original couldn’t get at the time. If there’s anything good that came out of this unnecessary Poltergeist (2015), it’s that at least no one suffered any tragic loss.

4. Poltergeist

“They’re coming”

Remake of: Poltergeist (1982)

They’re Done

Poltergeist III finally puts this trilogy to rest. Much like Poltergeist II: The Other Side, there was no reason to continue the story. The ghosts and poltergeist were already defeated twice. Simply changing the setting doesn’t make it any different. Sadly, Poltergeist III can’t simply be forgotten as a pointless sequel no one talks about. Out of every cast member affected by the “Poltergeist curse,” the most heartbreaking is Heather O’Rourke. The face of the franchise who very tragically died at the young age of 12, months before the threequels release.

I’m not superstitious, but cruel irony (especially when evil spirits are involved) is a different story. O’Rourke shows so much potential even for a movie like this. When Carol Anne is sent to live with relatives in Chicago, she finds Reverend Kane return to haunt her. Apart from O’Rourke, Zelda Rubinstein is the only other returning actress. Little medium Tangina has much more to do, but she just randomly shows up. The Freelings are replaced by Carol Anne’s Aunt Pat, Uncle Bruce, and teenage cousin Donna.

They’re played by name celebrities like Tom Skerritt, Nancy Allen, and Lara Flynn Boyle, but that doesn’t help. All the paranormal action takes place in a high rise building with mirrors & ice doing most of the unscary scares. The more I watched, the more annoyed I got. Carol Anne’s unconvinced psychiatrist won’t shut up, all anyone does is look for Carol Anne when she’s taken again, and Kane’s motivation makes less sense as things go on. The ending had to be reshot and it shows. Poltergeist III isn’t good for anything other than showcasing Heather O’Rourke’s talent.

3. Poltergeist III

Carol Anne sees Kane

Preceded by: Poltergeist II: The Other Side

They’re Back

Poltergeist II: The Other Side should have been left alone. The unsettling nature of Poltergeist kept me from watching further, but not for long. There’s nothing scary about Poltergeist II, because it’s a lot of the same with no clear direction. JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Oliver Robins, and Heather O’Rourke all return as the Freeling family. Sadly Dominique Dunne was the first to be affected by the “curse.” She was tragically murdered by her boyfriend the same year as the first movie. Dana isn’t mentioned, so it’s implied she’s off to college.

Meanwhile Steve, Diane, Robbie, and Carol Anne are staying at their grandmother’s without a TV. Even though they clearly escaped the poltergeist, it continues to chase after Carol Anne. O’Rourke is even better the second time around since she’s no longer missing. It’s just the same old hauntings, stuff moving, and an entity that now travels through a toy phone. The most creative they get is with evil braces and a possession that goes on too long.

Zelda Rubinstein is sparsely around as the little medium, so a stereotypical Indian spirit guide shows the Freelings how to fight the “Beast.” The grandma, Diane, and Carol Anne are all revealed to be clairvoyant, but not much is done with that either. When they finally get to the Other Side, it’s cheesy and very anticlimactic. The only creepy thing in Poltergeist II is the ghost in the form of an elderly preacher. Julian Beck sells the menacing figure before also succumbing to the “curse.” Dying of cancer before the sequel even came out. With Chief himself Will Sampson passing on the year after. Poltergeist II will never be as disturbing as that.

2. Poltergeist II The Other Side

Carol Anne answers the phone

Preceded by: Poltergeist & Followed by: Poltergeist III

They’re Here

Poltergeist made TV static scary. Although Tobe Hooper’s director credit is on it, Poltergeist is very much a Steven Spielberg movie. From the down to Earth suburban family to the 80’s special effects. The problem was Spielberg’s involvement in E.T. prevented him from officially directing it. Much like Gremlins & Temple of Doom, Poltergeist was another intense film with an inappropriate PG rating (especially for that face peeling scene). As a Christian, I prefer to stay away from supernatural ghost stories. Like everything else Spielberg, Poltergeist is too much of a modern classic. It follows the carefree Freeling family. JoBeth Williams is mother Diane and Craig T. Nelson is father Steven.

Their kids are Dominique Dunne as older daughter Dana, Oliver Robins as son Robbie, and Heather O’Rourke as youngest daughter Carol Anne. Carol Anne quickly became a creepy kid with her iconic line “They’re here.” Referring to the dark spirits that have passed through the TV. The titular poltergeist haunts a single individual and is responsible for phenomenon like moving furniture. Rather than immediately leave like any sane person would, they play around with it. Giving the “Beast” enough time to kidnap Carol Anne. So now they have to consult a team of parapsychologists and a creepy little medium in order to “clean” the house. Beatrice Straight and Zelda Rubinstein continue to humanize the paranormal story.

What Poltergeist does well, is prey on several childhood fears. Thunderstorms, the closet, a scary tree, a creepy toy, and even clowns. The latter being a particularly terrifying toy clown that comes to life. Although everyone experiences varying amounts of terror, it’s Diane who gets the worst of it. Especially when she falls into a pool full of very real corpses. All this is happening because their house was built on an ancient tribal burial ground. It’s enough for them to finally move out at the end. As disturbing as Poltergeist is, the behind the scenes is just as disturbing. Supernatural movies tend to open a portal. Likely starting the so-called “Poltergeist curse.” Leading to the tragic death of multiple stars. Poltergeist is effective horror no matter how you look at it.

1. Poltergeist

“They’re here”

Followed by: Poltergeist II: The Other Side

The Headless Horseman

Sleepy Hollow is another famous gothic tale that fit Tim Burton perfectly. Happy Halloween everyone! Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is a major Halloween favorite that’s persisted since 1820. Burton was tapped to direct a more official adaptation that was neither silent nor one half of an animated Disney version. Sleepy Hollow was always sort of a mystery to me when it comes to movies Burton’s directed. I knew it existed, but I somehow managed to avoid seeing much of it growing up.

Sleepy Hollow is actually less of a direct adaptation and more of an ode to gory atmospheric horror movies of the 70’s. The story can just get a bit complicated to the point Sleepy Hollow nearly put me to sleep. Ichabod Crane is a 1799 New York constable instead of a new schoolmaster. Crane believes in science and is almost comically squeamish around blood. Crane is obviously played by Johnny Depp alongside an older Christina Ricci as his blonde love interest. The biggest star of Sleepy Hollow is Sleepy Hollow itself. The practically colorless spooky setting is so atmospheric that it won a rare Best Art Direction Oscar for a horror movie.

Although Sleepy Hollow can be very creepy, the blood is so over-the-top that only Tim Burton could have pulled it off. The infamous Headless Horseman chops off heads left and right. He has a classic look and black horse, but he’s also very agile. I can’t say I was expecting a growling sharp toothed Christopher Walken to be the head attached to the body. The supernatural stuff doesn’t stop at him since there’s also a witch. Sleepy Hollow has just the right amount of chills and decapitated heads to be a worthy adaptation.

sleepy hollow

The Headless Horseman strikes