Children of the Corn: The Gathering (1996)


USA. 1996.


Director – Greg Spence, Screenplay – Stephen Berger & Greg Spence, Producer – Gary Depew, Photography – Richard Clabaugh, Music – David Williams, Makeup Effects – Gary Tunnicliffe, Josiah Makeup – SOTA FX, Production Design – Adele Plauche. Production Company – Dimension Films.


Naomi Watts (Grace Rhodes), Karen Black (June Rhodes), Brent Jennings (Donald Atkins), William Windom (Doc Rob Larson), Jamie Renee Smith (Margaret Rhodes), Mark Salling (James Rhodes), Samaria Graham (Mary Anne), Lewis Flanagan, III (Marcus Atkins), Toni Marsh (Sandra Atkins), Brandon Kleyla (Josiah), Salle Ellis (Jane Nock), Marietta Marich (Rosa Nock)


Grace Rhodes returns to her hometown of Grand Island, Nebraska to tend her ailing mother. To help pay the pills, Grace takes a job as a nurse at the local medical centre. She is puzzled over the number of children in the area being brought into the centre with skyrocketing temperatures. At the same time, there are a series of mysterious deaths all over the town.

Children of the Corn: The Gathering was the fourth film in the series begun with Children of the Corn (1984), which in turn was based on the Stephen King short story Children of the Corn (1977), originally published in Penthouse. The other films in the series are Children of the Corn II: Deadly Harvest/Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice (1992), Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (1995), Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror (1998), Children of the Corn 666: Isaac’s Return (1999), Children of the Corn: Revelation (2001), Children of the Corn: Genesis (2011) and Children of the Corn: Runaway (2017). Children of the Corn (2009) was a remake of the original, while Children of the Corn (2020) tells an origin story.

The endurance of the Children of the Corn franchise surprises one. For a story that runs to only 11,000 words – a total of sixteen pages in print – it is amazing that filmmakers have managed to drag so much out of so little. The story does little more than introduce the town of Gatlin and the sinister child cult that worship He Who Walks Behind the Rows – King does not even offer any explanation of why the children took over the town or what the entity in the cornfields is. Despite this, we have managed to have so far ten films spun out of the story – which averages about one film every 1.5 pages!

The frustration about Children of the Corn: The Gathering is that it is impossible to make sense of what is going on without having any of the other films to refer to. All it seems to be is a series of novelty deaths every so often without any kind of rationale – there is some talk about infection through rising body temperatures as the kids are brought in but no explanation of why this is happening. There is not even the usual stuff in the other Children of the Corn films of kids rebelling against the adults or talk about entities in the cornfield. This sort of tries to give us an origin story – although one that completely contradicts the origin stories that were offered up in Children of the Corn II.

A then unknown Naomi Watts

The first half is peppered with random dream jumpshocks – always a signal a film is trying to get scare us because it has nothing else in its arsenal – that never seem to relate to anything that subsequently happens. In between that, we get the deaths of various characters – none of which are terribly interesting. The film provides some mildly amusing meltdown effects at the climax but then the whole showdown is over in almost no time.

The fascination that Children of the Corn: The Gathering has in retrospect is that it was one of the earliest film roles from Naomi Watts (her first leading role in a US film) at a time when she was an unknown just arrived from Australia and was not the A-lister and multiple Academy Award nominee she was after being propelled to the spotlight a few years later in David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. (2001).

Director/writer Greg Spence only ever went on to direct one other film, another sequel with The Prophecy II (1998). He mostly works as a tv producer, most notably on Game of Thrones (2011-9).

Trailer here

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