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Franchise Focus

Black Cobra 4?

franchisebannerRight from the start you can tell Black Cobra four is going to be bad. It’s weird and grainy and the sound feels awkward– the music sounds like it comes from a 1940s film, despite being filmed in 1991.

I use the term “filmed” loosely by the way, considering this film was patched together from outtakes and redubbed clips from previous films with a little bit of new footage added. Williamson himself didn’t even know this movie existed until somebody confronted him about it at the grocery store – he didn’t shoot any new footage for it.

His Detective Malone has always been a bit of a one note character as it is – very standard action cop but in this overdubbed patch job, he feels even less developed than ever before. Because of all the useded footage, he ends up not having a lot of dialogue – and those long stretches of silence, add a far more brooding feel to him. It’s out of character, and we end up completely losing all of the charm that makes Fred Williamson a star. Williamson’s Detective Malone ends up entering a scene from the side, then vanishing for long stretches – almost disconnected… Like Bella Lugosi in plan nine from outer space.

The villain and the gang from the first movie are back (though now, there Islamic terrorists screaming “Allah is with us! “) kidnapping a brilliant computer programmer help them make better weapons. I suppose I should be relieved to see the return of the studded black leather, but really I’ve been enjoying the sequels a lot more than the original and this feels like a step backwards – a desperate step. At least they’re not so rapey in this film. The dialogue is clumsy, the music is canned, The dubbing is awful, and everything here is just a misfire.

It’s not just the dialogue, it’s the delivery – Fred’s side kick in this movie never shares the screen with him – although he does telephone him at one point. We only have the sidekick’s  side of the telephone conversation because of course, Fred didn’t actually film this movie. We have the detective wander in the room again when he hears a blender or a TV go on, and the dramatic acceptance when the witness offers him a milkshake. It makes for a rough viewing. By the halfway point, I was ready to give up but stuck around because sometimes the third act will make all the difference.

It didn’t, but at least it was least talky so I could use the fast foreword more often. We have our  rescue missions that thematically should be run by the hero… But again, Fred Williamson isn’t an actually here! at 12 minutes to go, I was just watching the clock. Even for mediocre low-budget action series like this, I wanted better for it.

Shockingly, it may just be that this entry didn’t completely kill the series! IMDb reports a new production, the Black Cobra Returns in preproduction right now! We’ll see if this actually happens, I think I might just be down for that!


Black Cobra 3

franchisebannerBlack Cobra 3 starts off with a very ramboesque action sequence in what I can only assume to be the Manila jungles. I’m searching my mind try to remember any mention in the previous Black Cobra movies at any Vietnam experience or military training. Because really at this point I just don’t understand where this series is going. The whole globetrotting cop thing doesn’t quite fit – but that does appear to be the idea. I almost wonder if this started off life as a completely different movie (or script) and was rebranded because somebody had Fred Williamson.

Malone is in the Philippines at the request of an old one buddies son – an interpool agent in an investigation. I kind of find myself missing Nicolas Hammond here – our new young sidekick is fine but it feels very much like a seems like a missed opportunity to create some semblance of continuity from these movies.

It ends up being a very by the numbers action film. In a way it seems to be confused as to what kind of film it wants to be.The middle section is very much a martial arts kind of action film – with Fred employing his fists and feet. However once we get to the third act we are back in full and Rambo territory with M-16 and guns over the place. Fred let’s fly his share of bullets as well, and it’s dumb fun with big guns, full ammo belts and a secret installation deep in the jungle to do battle at.

Altogether, it’s every bit as fun as the second one , Perhaps even more so with an increased scope-though it doesn’t play pass the watch test

Black Cobra 2

franchisebannerI’m going to admit, I like this one better than the first one… Action films frequently work this way – where the character gets a little bit more established and the pace of the film just runs better in the second instalment.

In this film, Williamson’s character is transferred to a special mission in the Philippines. As silly as that sounds, it actually helps the movie establish it’s own identity and distinguish Williamson character as more than just a generic action hero

He’s still a bit of a loose cannon, with a  style that is deemed too reckless by his partner – this time around played by Nicholas Hammond, of both the Sound of Music and the Spider-Man television show. There is chemistry there though, and the buddy cop format is a good match.

In retrospect, this may well be my favourite instalment of the Black Cobra series… The format is running on all cylinders, and Fred Williamson is at his best here.

Focus on Black Cobra

franchisebannerI spent some time last year exploring Blaxploitation cinema… While my intent was really to just catch up on the shaft films, I stumbled onto the black Cobra movies… I’m a big fan of Fred Williams in in general, and this seemed like it might be a fun series.

The point of the title is that this is supposed to be a rip-off of Sylvester Stallone’s “Cobra” I wouldn’t know, as I’ve never actually seen the film, but from what I can see it’s a standard, by the numbers action film – with Williamson as the loose cannon cop. There is nothing special here, but it’s great fun to watch Williamson chomp his cigar and blast his way through the film. The occasional martial arts seem weird, I suppose somewhere in the back of my mind I knew he had training but it feels in incongruent as his character takes out the drug ring…

Standard for the time, but I still enjoy it. I’m not sure how this thing warranted a sequel, much less two!

Maybe it’s time to check them out.


Children of the Corn : Runaway


MV5BM2I1ZjJjNDMtODExMy00YmM4LWJiYjctODc2NjAzYzVjNGNlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyOTE2MTYxOQ@@._V1_UY268_CR2,0,182,268_AL_I’ve got to admit, this one feels different.

It starts off with a documentary feel, grainy black-and-white footage that catches us up on the mythology this film builds on – not necessarily the mythology of the series, just the history specific to this film.

You can tell by the cinematography the John Gulager is taking this seriously – it’s shot like a drama, without trendy flair or slick editing. We have an outcast in the middle of nowhere, the titular runaway who’s having visions, some washed out flashbacks, a few of which are walking daydreams. We get some acceptable gore in these shots, and it’s enough to make me wonder what’s going on, keeping us off-balance and freaked out, though not enough to really build up a sense of dread. This time around our small town doesn’t feel like a back lot set – it feels dusty and lived in. It’s underused though.  The town is just backdrop for the story instead of giving Children-of-the-Corn-Genesisoff that sort of alien, isolated creepy factor that drives so many of these films. Our heroine brings a Sarah Connor kind of vibe, wandering as she does with her teenage son. As she starts to make good at the local garage, the Corn children begin thier murderous work.

I dig this one, and it’s safe to say that it’s one of the good entries with a reasonably original premise and solid film making. I do however miss the religious horror aspect – it’s mentioned in passing, but doesn’t really affect the film (until perhaps the last thrity seconds) and its loss is keenly felt. That said, the ending does set us up for a very MV5BNzA2ZGI4MDktNTA5ZS00ZGMyLWExNTEtYjhhOGNjMWQxNDY3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjUzMjAxNTI@._V1_religious horror kind of sequel. I wouldn’t however, count on Dimension coming through with that – there’s no continuity or guiding vision with these films, though if John Gulager were so inclined to pick up the reins and guide things in a direction, this is certainly a good place to kick that off.

All in all, it’s cleverly made, with one twist that is fairly obvious, but a second one thrown in towards the end that I completely didn’t see coming. It comes off as more a spin-off then a proper sequel, and that may be the best thing for this franchise.

Children of the Corn : Genesis

franchisebanner*sigh*. Dimension Extreme. The sight of that logo on the DVD for Children of the Corn : Genesis bodes poorly for this entry. Dimension extreme is basically where they dump throwaway movies that they are making just to retain a license – and within the first five minutes that certainly seems to be the case here. (note to our future filmmakers – to make a children of the corn film… You need more than just kids and some pieces of corn . After watching nine of these, it’s obvious that this is something you guys don’t understand).

After the thoughtfull remake in 2009 this one seems to snap right back to the “anything goes” slasher mode – just throw some corn or country sacks in there and it’ll be fine! I’m pretty sure if I’d been following these as they were being made (rather than just me marathoning the whole lot of them) that I would be pissed at getting this entry next. At least it’s only 80 minutes – and some of that has got to be credits!

Okay, let’s do this.

Billy Drago is looking OLD in this one. He appears to be acting either in a studio backlot or very possibly just somebody’s backyard. This frustrates me – especially when the last film reminded us just how well these films work but only when they’ve got the backdrop of a small town. Drago’s gravitas is undermined by all the beautiful young people acting around him in this film – once again, to clean and too pretty for the subject matter.

About 30 minutes in somebody mistakes this for being a Hellraiser film – which isn’t terribly surprisingly since we’ve about abandoned anything really recognizable as children of the corn already anyhow.

We have an attractive couple, straight off the set of the latest CW show, land in the middle of corn children country, and slasher hijinks ensue. Occasionally unseen supernatural forces move things and we get a few brief bad dreams.

It’s possibly the weakest of the entire series and miserable way to end it – with a whimper, not even a yawn. Skip this one, and will hope that the next one dimension (the extreme imprint is gone now) release will be better. After all, it’s almost license renewal time.

Children of the Corn 2009

franchisebannerHonestly, this series was ripe for a reboot. The sequels had been wondering aimlessly, and this thing needed a remake the kind of shake stuff up. I’m far more tolerant of remakes when the source was originally a book anyhow – we’re just seeing a new take on that original source material.

It starts off well enough, with a good looking font – some nice production values, and the quite frankly brilliant sound of children singing “bringing in the sheaves” under the tent of a revival meeting.  It sets the tone and lets us know right away that we are back into rural, vaguely religious horror.

It’s bad news though when we are five minutes into the movie and I find myself really hating our ingénue. She’s a spoiled snob (or brat. I really can’t decide which is the more accurate adjective) and the bickering between her and her husband immediately sets my nerves on edge. However when the car hits a child coming out of the cornfield, I can see we’re sticking close to the original but updating it with modern brutality. The blood has been laid on far more heavily in this movie then what we seen in a long while. Malachi in particular manages to be even more terrifying here then he was in the original film – and that’s no small feat… Isaac’s right-hand man was always the creepiest of our corn children.

Much to my surprise, I find myself digging this. It feels so much less like the direct video director that dimension insisted on turning out for so many years, and more like the fundamental remake that we saw in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The horror is natural, with outsiders intruding into the corn children’s community – it doesn’t feel forced the way the previous sequel or two did. It doesn’t feel like we’re trying to shoehorn the corn children into our modern day era. The ominous messages written on every wall and floor in the church, scribbled on buildings and in the town – they come off as eerie rather than contrived. The setting of 1975 – almost 10 years earlier than the original film, adds to the isolated atmosphere. It’s a low tech time where vanished communities could still haunt us more effectively. It’s more than just competent filming and effective framing – there is a care in the production of this film that is lacking from most of the other sequels.

It’s not the eerie slow burn the original was. This is more brash with a greater action edge than strictly horror influence. It moves at a rapid pace – and this ends up being to it’s benefit. I never got bored, I never got distracted – I couldn’t believe how quickly this film passed the time. The first of these films since the original to have a running time over 90 minutes (though it does have a good five or six minutes of credits so it’s actually more like 88 minutes) and that worried me – but I felt like this one flew by quicker than any of the others.

I really like this one. I was actually surprised when I looked up on IMDb and saw such scathing reviews of it – and I have to wonder how much of that is playing from nostalgia for the first film. To me this is the literary adaption – I don’t hate Christopher Lees Dracula just because I happen to enjoy Bela Lugosi’s. I shake my head at the people who scream in outrage that this is the worst atrocity ever committed to celluloid – these folks obviously haven’t seen any of the other entries in the series. This is a highpoint for me, and a refreshing renewal, contrasted with the sharp decline that we got in the fifth and sixth instalment of the series. I can see myself watching this one again and again – possibly even more often than the original.

Of course, there is still one more to go… And when I see that dimension extreme logo – i’m filled with trepidation.

Children of the Corn : Revelation

franchisebannerFor a second I kind of had hope… I mean we’ve obviously hit a new era in the direct video series – we’ve gone past numbered sequels and into titled ones. Revelation (although IMDB also builds it as children of the corn seven – Resurrection). The quick cuts and flashes of disturbing imagery in this one remind me a bit of four and five, but then I got a glimpse of the exteriors (some of which let’s face it, are actually interiors) and the cheapness of it all dropped me right out of my suspension of disbelief and optimistic outlook.

What this is here, is strictly a film for license retention’s sake at this point. Now mind you, this doesn’t have to be a bad thing… the Hellraiser series has had its ups and downs and keeps getting made for very similar reasons – I imagine the license was set to run out about the same time in the children of the corn unless a new one got made so they both got sequels around the same time. Hellraiser however, has been in the hands of people who have a genuine passion for it… Thier biggest problem is that they keep getting hamstrung by dimension who slashes their budget further with each ill advised instalment. These children of the corn sequels suffer from the same budgetary problems, but additionally suffer from the revolving door of directors and production crew who are merely guns for hire with no real skin in the game.

Still, I like the creepy abandoned building, foggy blue streets and hurray! We have eerie corn children again, dressed in suspenders and old-fashioned clothes! The pale make up on them is a nice touch as well. This is the sort of stuff we should’ve been getting all along – and it’s a shame that it took a restricted budget to push them in these directions.

We have a young woman searching for her grandmother who was last known to be staying in a row hotel that is so rundown and creepy it would make 42nd Street crackheads in New York go “I’m not going near that place!”. The building is of course located near a corn field where eerie children wander, occasionally toss bloody corn (Man, this film loves mixing corn and blood for some reason) of the window and play hopscotch in chalked out pentagrams.

I know our ingénue, Claudette Mink from Kingdom Hospital – and she comes off a bit as a lower rent Maura Tierny. Also, what in the name of God is Michael Ironside doing slumming around this movie? If he were going to do a children of the corn film, he should’ve shown up three instalments ago when there was still some tread on these tires!

To be fair, the corn children have never had a great deal of characterization in these movies, but in this entry they’re not even people… They may as well just be scenery. They’re moving props. They’re certainly not characters.

I think my beef with this film is that it so different – both tonally and thematically. It comes with its own set of rules and concepts – The corn brings the children, and it grows magically where the dead fall or the children summon. There’s a greater evil driving everything – though no mention of he who walks behind the rows until a throwaway line near the end of the film. It’s things like this that make me leave I think the movie would have worked better in a vacuum. It could benefit from a name change and detachment from the whole children of the corn series.

It could also benefit from some polish – another week or two at the script, and a little bit more time and money – the sort of things that can translate into care and creative liberty. It might also have allowed them to have more than one or two corn children on screen at a time… I’ve mentioned before, the real scary thing about children of the corn is similar to the scary thing about zombies – 1 or 2 is no big deal, but a whole horde of them, (especially when led by a charismatic point man and his trusty second in command to give us some personality) that’s intimidating. Some creative, bloody kills would go along way towards comparing the ubiquitously cheap atmosphere that provides the film… Instead we get ominous warnings written in chalk, blood spattered milk cartons, that severed head and a lot of bloody corn, mixed with foreboding glimpses of the dead bodies the cornfield appears to be eating (I think?)

If you can make it through to the third act, there are some clever and creepy stuff that does begin to happen (Michael Ironsides finally has his first lines to speak about 19 minutes before the film ends) but you have to watch the film up until then for it to be creepy instead of just silly. The big problem, is that it feels so forced. We discover our corn children are specters, ghosts, demons or something like that. The period clothing is costume, not just the outfits they happen to be wearing. When this series began, and stretching all the way into the sequels, the look and motivation was organic. It was deep country fear of the unknown. It was religion gone wrong, and rural horror. It was logical, and it made sense. This is more like the monster intruding into our reality – and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it doesn’t really work in the context of children of the corn.

This is one of those I think I definitely wanna watch again, but I want to do so divorced from the rest of the series and coming in with the perspective of it being a standalone film. I think I may like it better that way.

If you feel inclined to give it a chance the next time the Syfy channel plays it (it’s a perfect fit there by the way – with its enormous amounts of bad CGI, fire and corn stocks ) I encourage you to go into it with that same attitude.

Children of the Corn 666

franchisebannerChildren of the corn 666 is actually one I’d been anticipating, mostly because it features the return of the actor who played Isaac in the first film. The return of an old villain always generates buzz and excitement. The problem is, it’s also usually a desperate move to salvage a failing franchise. Seriously, think back over different franchises and tell me when this has ever worked? It’s not like Phantasm or Nightmare on Elm Street or Hellraiser where the same actor is portraying the villain consistently through pretty much the entire series. Think of house 4 – with the return of William Katt. Think pumpkinhead 3 with the return of Lance Henriksen. This sort of thing generally does not bode well.

I also can’t help note the tagline on the poster is “latest and most horrifying chapter”. This is almost the exact same tag line that they used on Hellraiser; Hellworld, and seem to be a variant of the same thing dimension was slapping on all of their late series direct to video sequels at the time. I also can’t help but note that this one was released in 1999 – a mere year after children of the corn five. Until then we had a pretty consistent gap of 2 to 3 years between sequels. They were putting them out regularly but this short gap tells me they probably filmed five and six back to back and then staggered the release. Children of the Corn 666  is the story of Isaac, the preacher kid from the first movie waking up from his coma just in time for our ingénue to roll into town. Somewhere around the third act he begins to gather the grown-up grandchildren and try and rebuild his cult.

The big problem with this entry, is it takes itself so seriously. Every frame is dire, and none of it is earned. The budget limitations are also on full display – we don’t get near the amount of blood and gore that we’ve seen in previous entries – one bloody corpse dripping and hanging from a tree nonwithstanding. They make do with the only real special fact that they have – namely the ingénue in her underwear – and there are plenty of shots of that. I also find myself still missing the creepy and countrified current children – again we got a group of people in very modern clothes, presumably because period costumes cost too much.

I must say though, Isaac has a genuinely good performance here. If you were ever to try and build a single villain into this franchise, he would have been the one. I think by the time we hit the sixth  entry though, that ship has sailed. It’s a delight to see Nancy Allen show up here as well – she is as beautiful as ever, it’s like she never ages. Still, there is not enough her for me to recommend seeing this movie, and even the attempt at a twist (I say attempt because I think everybody saw this coming with in the first 10 to 15 minutes of the film) around the 50 minute mark falls extremely flat.

That’s the problem with children of the corn 666 – it’s not a bad movie, it commits a far greater sin; It’s just boring. I’m disappointed too, because there is actually potential here… There is a grain of a good story embedded in this – I can see the potential. Sadly, children of the corn 666 simply fails  to achieve that potential. This one is a definite skip.

Children of the Corn 5

franchisebannerChildren of the corn five – right off the bat i’m pretty sure in trouble when I see the title is “fields of terror “and see that Alexis Arquette  is starring. The director is confident to, his name is first on the billing. Seeing Fred Williamson and David Carridine billed towards the end give me a little bit more hope and I actually do usually enjoy Eva Mendez, but not getting my hopes up considering how  uninspired the opening is. Perhaps I’m being overly critical considering my love for the previous entry but man, Ethan Wiley has his work cut out for him here and I don’t think this little Elliot-from-ET looking kid walking towards the green screen is gonna pull it off. I want blood to kick this thing off, not lasers and lightning and adobe after affects. The kids look too non-descript, and I’m only 10 minutes out. Our corn children this time around dress and very contemporary clothing – and this detracts from the creepiness. It’s not just enough to have a shadowy kid pick up a scythe to make it scary. Thankfully we do seem to be at the tail end of the 90s, so the embargo on blood and gore seems to be lifting. The kills aren’t particularly original, but they are visceral.

The clothes are only part of it – our protagonists talk about how bad the town smells, they try and make a point of describing how boring the place is. That’s funny, considering it’s a farming community, and everything looks so clean and crisp. The clothing is too nice and trendy – it just doesn’t fit the narrative. Equally out of place is David Carridine’s cameo as the leader of this cult – it’s the first time we seen an adult that seems to be the head of our corn children and it feels very out of place.

I have to admit though, it passes the watch test. It moves right along at a good steady pace and never really drops my interest. I don’t know if there was some mandate that directed them to keep all of these films under 90 minutes, but really is to their benefit at this things are so short. There is a clumsy attempt to expand on the mythology of he who walks behind the rows. But it seems more thrown in for styles sake rather than story and is gone too quickly, failing to impact the mythology at all.

I got to admit, I wonder if I’m being too hard on this – it’s not necessarily a bad film, indeed it’s better than number three but that’s setting the bar pretty low and leaves this one pretty mediocre. At the end of the day, this is a very by the numbers sequel. A group of strangers blunder into the town – discover corn children, and murder ensues. It might be alright if you’re just looking for more of the same with a snazzier wardrobe, and I probably won’t change the channel if they were running this on the Syfy channel.

Here’s a suggestion if you’re not inclined to skip this one (and I don’t necessarily think you should – especially if you dig some blood and gore); don’t go and order. Put this one on after three – but before you go to four. You’ll better appreciate the Hammer’s solid performance and Eva Mendez charms as you watch the series gradual rebound from three.