Sunday, January 16, 2011

Chapter 2: "Disciples of the Crow"

Jonah, Oklahoma. 1971. The corn is yellow. Crows squawk. Billy - the leader of a cult - does a ritual with a wooden crucifix and does a symbol to the passing crow. He joins other children - making a seemingly vicious concoction containing corn and animals. Soon, the whole town wakes up to the song "Shall We Gather At The River". At church, Billy sees two things: his parents doing some naughty touching at church and a stained glass window of Christ suddenly turning gothic. The other children in the church notice. That night, all the adults in the town were executed for the corn and the crow.

12 Years Later, an older Billy sets a trap for an unfortunate animal to get caught in. We see the corn - it is thriving. But there is another child - running for his life. Enter Burt and Vicky. Durring an argument, the run over the child who was running for his life. Upon interrogation of the corpse, someone stabbed the kid with a knife with a corn cob handle and a steel crow head. Burt cuts off a little bag that the boy had tied to him. It was filled with corn seeds and a crow foot. Burt and Vicky and continue to drive with a corpse in their car trunk. While driving down the highway - Billy is watching him.

When driving down the road, Burt turns on the radio. Out of the stereo comes a preacher shouting Atonement! Once he turns it off (aptly after the preacher mentions something about a defiler of corn), Vicky notices a couple of signs on the road which read, "Defile the land and it will vomit you out!" Little do they notice that by the side of the row lies a hanging dead rabbit with it’s blood dripping into corn seeds and a crucified skeleton in usual farm-hand attire.

When they get to the town, Vicky starts getting paranoid at the fact that the town seems deserted. When they investigate the local restaurant, they notice that there is no once there. Along with the odd prices, there is a calendar hanging in the restaurant that has not been changed in 12 years. After another argument revolving around weather or not to stay in the town, Burt takes the car keys and goes to check out the town’s church, though Vicky in repulse decides to stab his hand. In the church, he notices that the Bible has been re-written with God having a name: "He Who Walks Behind the Rows" with the corn being mentioned numerous times and Jesus standing with a nice pick of a crow.

Outside, Vicky is confronted with a whole bunch of blood-thirsty children and Burt meets the leader in the church. Burt is almost stabbed by Billy, till he gets way. Along with stabbing one of the kids, Burt and Vicky get away. However, little do they know that due to one of the kid’s weapons, their engine is over heating. As they drive away in the sunset, a murder of crows fallows them - the murder getting denser and denser.

In this day and age, you would think people would know this, but they do not. This is the first film adaptation of the "Children of the Corn" short story done in "Dollar Baby" format. The film was - since I had a chance to see it repeatedly before the remake was released - at the time the most faithful adaptation of the Stephen King short. And it is pretty good. We get some nice acting - everyone is staying true to their parts, the pacing of the short film is just perfect. It is very good! The only things which I wonder about is why have the children worship a crow God? Sure, they mentioned "He Who Walks Behind The Rows" in the film but I was really confounded by this development in the story.

How does the film do on a "horror movie" scale? I will not lie, this does have a lot of potential to scare, but it will only work if this film just happened to be the first horror film that you see. The SFX are ok, the music is very moody, and the look of the film does get eerie. Even some of the blood effects for Joseph when he runs out of the cornfield and gets ran over is pretty good. Plus there is other stuff, such like the rabbit being drained of it’s blood for the corn and two different crucified skeletons. It does keeps it’s eerie tone.

How about the negatives? Sadly, due to it’s short running time, it is a shame that it did not do more with the original short story. I believe that this film would have had a lot of potential if it was not burdened with the usual "dollar baby" problems. The only real problem is that Burt and Vicky don’t die. But that is made up for. After all, what do you think that the director is trying to say when a car over heats and a murder of crows is fallowing you into the sun set? For an unofficial film in the series, it does a lot of justice. 4/5

Production Details:
This film’s historic value to the "Children of the Corn" series is miniscule compared to it’s historical significance to the history of film adaptations of Stephen King’s body of literary work. As I mentioned in the film’s review, this film is a "Dollar Baby". The very term "Dollar Baby" is a term coined by Stephen King for the kinds of short films "Disciples of the Crow" are. Basically they are student films which range in quality from very good to bad, from having a terrible look to making good use of 35MM film, and ranging from budgets of only accouple hundred dollars to $60,000.

As Stephen King had put it in the published shooting script for the cinematic masterpiece, "The Shawshank Redemption", ""Around 1977 or so, when I started having some popular success, I saw a way to give back a little of the joy the movies had given me. '77 was the year young filmmakers - college students, for the most part - started writing me about the stories I'd published (first in Night Shift, later in Skeleton Crew), wanting to make short films out of them. Over the objections of my accountant, who saw all sorts of possible legal problems, I established a policy which still holds today. I will grant any student filmmaker the right to make a movie out of any short story I have written [writers note: Children of the Corn is no longer part of this deal due to King loosing all rights to movie adaptations to Dimension Films] (not the novels, that would be ridiculous), so long as the film rights are still mine to assign. I ask them to sign a paper promising that no resulting film will be exhibited commercially without approval, and that they send me a videotape of the finished work. For this one-time right I ask a dollar. I have made the dollar-deal, as I call it, over my accountant's moans and head-clutching protests sixteen or seventeen times as of this writing."

Though there is something defiantly funny going on with the film, "Disciples of the Crow". A problem with the "Dollar Baby" business is that some short films are disguised as short films that Stephen King has approved of, but instead they are illegal film adaptations. Most of my sources claim that "Disciples of the Crow" is an authentic "Dollar Baby". But there is room for reasonable doubt.

The person who had to pay the $1 to King for the film would be John Woodward. No, this is not the John Woodward who plays football and this is not the actor who has made appearance in multiple television programs that have been spawned by Joss Whedon. This guy is relatively unknown, although he pretty much ruled this film. He was the director, screenplay writer, and last but not least played the leader of the children in the parts of the film 1983 (crediting him as Older Billy). However, John Woodward did win an award for another independent film he directed, "Vice" (2000).

Sadly, there is not more information I can bestow upon you. Alas, these student films often have actors who are no names which are hired only once or twice and with this being made (as of this writing) 26 years ago, I doubt I can get more information. However, "Disciples of the Crow" did manage to win a Hugo Award at the Chicago Film Festival and a National Merit Award.

It is interesting to note that the film was only released on VHS, however Germany did release a DVD in which the film had been retitled "The Night of the Crow". However, when released onto VHS in America, it was released with three other short films called, "The Night Shift Collection". While it may seem like they could be three films in which are based on different short stories, only "Disciples of the Crow" is based on a short story from that collection.

On a final note, it is interesting how the makers of the next film we shall discuss, "Stephen King’s Children of the Corn" did not have any knowledge of this film.

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