Children of the Corn The murder rate is as high as an elephant's eye in this flaccid adaptation of Stephen King's short story. While driving through Nebraska en route to a new job, medico Burt (Peter Horton) and his wife Vicky (a pre-Terminator Linda Hamilton) nearly run over a mutilated boy who staggers from the cornfields. Seeking help, they enter the town of Gatlin, whose under-20 residents have butchered their parents per the decree of junior-grade holy roller Isaac (John Franklin), who preaches the word of a being called "He Who Walks Behind the Rows." King's original story (from his 1978 collection Night Shift) was a lean and brutal mélange of Southern-gothic atmosphere and E.C. Comics-style gore, which scripter Greg Goldsmith effectively neutralizes by adding a youthful narrator (a grating Robbie Kiger) and putting an upbeat spin on the story's morbid conclusion. Fritz Kiersch's direction is TV-movie flat, with the sole inspired moment (hideous religious iconography glimpsed during a bloody "service") delivered as a throwaway. Aside from Horton and Courtney Gains (as Isaac's hatchet man Malachai), the performances are dreadful, and the depiction of the Lovecraftian monster-god as a sort of giant gopher inspires more laughter than terror. Amazingly, the film spawned six sequels; Franklin (Cousin Itt in the Addams Family films) later appeared in and wrote 1999's Children of the Corn 666. --Paul Gaita Creepshow 2 What is it about hitchhikers that makes them such a sure-fire bet for horror? This question is addressed in the final segment of Creepshow 2, another Stephen King-George Romero collaboration. "The Hitchhiker" is the simplest and best of the three tales on display here, with Lois Chiles as a cheating wife who just can't seem to get rid of a hitchhiker... no matter how hard she tries. The collection gets off to a slow start with "Old Chief Wood'n Head," a sleepy story of Native American justice. "The Raft" is a passable teens-in-peril number, but it worked better on the page than on screen. Romero adapted the King stories but emphatically did not direct, which accounts for the drop-off from the kicky fun of the first Creepshow. King appears as a dimwitted truck driver--a foreshadowing of Maximum Overdrive? In any case, this one's for diehard fans only. --Robert Horton Maximum Overdrive "I'm gonna scare the hell out of you," intones Stephen King in the trailer for his sole directorial effort, the much-maligned Maximum Overdrive. While the end result doesn't live up to that boast, this sci-fi/horror tale isn't as awful as it's been described. King's script (based on his short story "Trucks") focuses on the patrons of a North Carolina truck stop, which comes under attack by a convoy of trucks and other machines animated by Earth's passage through the tail of a "rogue comet." King's fans, tired of half-baked screen adaptations like Cujo and Children of the Corn, expected a horror home run from Maximum Overdrive and instead got an old-fashioned drive-in movie filled with car crashes, cheapjack gore, and fart jokes. While the film is torpidly paced and often amateurishly acted, it's no worse than any direct-to-video thriller, and King's ear for dialogue occasionally shines through the gloom. Emilio Estevez and Pat Hingle register as a heroic cook and his black-hearted boss, respectively; the cast includes Yeardley Smith (Lisa Simpson's voice), Giancarlo Esposito, and Marla Maples (!) as a victim. --Paul Gaita
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