Years have passed since the events of the first Children of the Corn, in which the children of Gatlin, Nebraska rose up and massacred anyone in town who was over the age of 19 at the behest of their corn-based god He Who Walks Behind the Rows. Property comes cheap in an area where so many people were murdered, so the population of Gatlin is slowly building back up, and by this point the town counts 123 people as residents.
In a small trailer home in the middle of a large cornfield right at the edge of town lives a teenager named Joshua, his younger adopted brother Eli, and their farmer father Earl, who moved to Gatlin to nab some cheap land on which to conduct his corn experiments.
As the film begins, Earl chases Joshua out into the cornfield in a drunken rage, armed with a scythe. Out in the field, Joshua encounters Eli, and the smaller boy protects his big brother by telling him to keep going, he will handle their dad. And handle Earl Eli does, revealing himself to be an evil member of high standing in the cult of He Who Walks Behind the Rows, able to command the corn itself to attack the man and turn him into a human scarecrow.
With Earl having “mysteriously disappeared”, Joshua and Eli are taken in by foster parents, a nice couple named William and Amanda Porter, who live nowhere near Gatlin.
It’s not rare for horror franchises to shake things up with a change of locale. Jason Voorhees was sent to Manhattan and outer space (and Hell). Hellraiser’s Pinhead has been to outer space, and so has the Leprechaun, in addition to going to Las Vegas and the hood… twice. For this entry in the Children of the Corn series, the action is moved out of the Nebraska countryside and into big city Chicago.
The Porters have a very nice place right on the outskirts of the city. Their property butts up against an old abandoned factory, but they’ve put a fence up against the factory wall and Amanda does her best to pretty it up with her flower garden. Eli does some gardening himself, sneaking into the factory during his first night in Chicago and magically planting instant rows of corn in a courtyard. As you would expect from supernatural corn, Eli’s crop is very healthy; immune to bugs and pesticides, it’s ready to be harvested within four weeks of being planted regardless of the quality of the soil.
A good portion of the film deals with how Joshua and Eli fit in, or don’t fit in, at the Catholic school the Porters enroll them in. While Eli sticks with his traditional style of dress, which causes him to be called Amish more than once, saying that “modest dress is the surest way to a pious life”, Joshua gradually starts to let go of the remnants of their life in Gatlin, dressing like a typical Chicago teenager, befriending a classmate named Malcom and getting romantically involved with Maria. Seeing his older brother drift away from him, Eli begins to replace him by making friends of his own… Or, more accurately, brainwashing a legion of new cult members…
The previous two Corn films had supernatural elements to them, although those were primarily packed into the final acts. Urban Harvest is extremely supernatural-oriented throughout. Eli isn’t just a kid who believes in He Who Walks Behind the Rows, he is in fact a physical embodiment of the god. Some people can sense this as soon as they meet him – his presence causes Amanda Porter and the school’s Father Frank Nolan to be plagued by nightmares, some of them sepia-toned stock footage from parts 1 and 2.
As the characters will come to find out, Eli is much older than he appears to be. He has been present for all of the He Who Walks Behind the Rows-dedicated murders going back to at least 1964, when a picture was snapped of him and published in a newspaper. When Joshua realizes his adopted brother’s secret, he’s able to put it together that the massacres all occurred on the night of a harvest moon… And there will be a harvest moon again that very night. Joshua has to stop Eli before more adults are killed, and to do so he’ll need to retrieve the corn bible Eli left behind in Gatlin.
Of course, Eli hasn’t waited until the harvest moon to do all of his killing, there are murders committed throughout the movie, but this is a Children of the Corn film that is entirely bereft of any hacking or slashing. There are no deaths by farming implements here, every single kill is done in some sort of supernatural manner. Characters are either attack by living corn stalks, eat corn that causes their heads to erupt with roaches that melt when they come in contact with a Bible, get turned into a scarecrow as mentioned earlier, or even feel the wrath of Eli’s telekinetic and pyrokinetic powers.
He Who Walks Behind the Rows even does some killing in his true form during the climactic sequence. The corn god had previously been represented simply by strange optical effects and images of something burrowing under the ground in cornfields, but in the final moments of the third film He Who tears up out of the ground and causes some mayhem as a demonic kaiju.
Viewers may now recognize actress Charlize Theron among the followers Eli amasses, she gets some close-ups here and there, and eventually becomes one of He Who Walks Behind the Rows’ victims.
Fortunately, the He Who Walks Behind the Rows monster has a weakness that enables the characters to stop it from rampaging through the city like Godzilla. The story of Joshua, Eli, and the corn god in the city is resolved, but there is a subplot that teases one avenue a sequel could go down… William Porter is a commodities trader, and when he gets a good look at Eli’s crop of super corn, dollar signs fill his eyes. He wants to sell this strain of corn all over the world, an idea which would probably have apocalyptic repercussions. He does manage to make a deal to sell some of the corn to Germany, and film ends with a scene showing a crate of the stuff arriving in that country… This is something that was never picked up on in a follow-up, but I don’t think anyone ever really expected Dimension Films to make Children of the Corn: International anyway.
Directed by James D.R. Hicox (following in the genre footsteps of his brother Anthony Hickox, who made Waxwork, Hellraiser III, and Warlock 2, among many others) and written by Dode B. Levenson and an uncredited Matt Greenberg (The Prophecy II, Halloween H20, 1408), Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest is widely regarded as one of the best films in the Corn series, if not the best of the bunch.
And yet, as a big fan of the series, I’m really not all that fond of part 3. I certainly don’t think it’s a bad movie, it just doesn’t appeal to me personally. I don’t get much enjoyment out of the movie’s urban setting and attitude, I much prefer the small town atmosphere of other Corn flicks, and I find the over-abundance of supernatural elements off-putting. I want knives, sickles, and scythes, not magic.
Hickox did do his best to deliver a dark, straightforward, creepy horror movie. Despite some of the goofier things that are in there, he handles it all deadly seriously. Because of that, he did capture a much more unnerving tone than you would expect from the basic idea of a Corn sequel called Urban Harvest.
The most notable aspect of the film are the special effects by Screaming Mad George, who brought some crazy things to screen in movies like A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 and 4, Society, Freaked, and Bride of Re-Animator. George’s work tends to be quite impressive, insane, and often disgusting, and his work here is no exception. Even if some shots of the He Who Walks Behind the Rows monster puppet can be kind of funny.
Some love it, some hate it, I appreciate it but am underwhelmed by it, but Children of the Corn III is the only entry in the series, to my knowledge, that has gotten some positive attention from Stephen King himself, author of the short story that started all this Corn business.