The film begins as young Hannah Martin (Natalie Ramsey, Cherry Falls) embarks on a drive across Nebraska in search of her birth mother. She believes her mom to be located in Gatlin, once home to an infamous cult-like uprising of children nineteen years prior. The town seems to have found some equilibrium with youth and adults since, but tensions remain with the dormancy of that uprising’s previous leaders. He Who Walks Behind the Rows has not been seen since, but is believed to have reincarnated itself into human form. Isaac (John Franklin), the demented child leader before who faced off with He Who Walks Behind the Rows in the first film, is still in a coma. Nineteen years ago, though, he made a prophecy, and with Hannah’s return, it’s about to come true.
Before being sent into a coma, Isaac prophesized that “the firstborn daughter of the children will return on the eve of her nineteenth birthday to find out who she is and He Who Walks Behind the Rows will awaken.” Let’s stop for a moment here. Does this not seem, I don’t know, a little “out there” for a prediction? In the previous films, the milestone age was 18, at which point a child would become an adult and would therefore have to sacrifice him or herself for the purity of the new religion. I could understand if it was 19 years since the release of the first film and that they were just trying to work that into its story (Amityville 1992, anyone?), but there is only a fifteen year window between the two entries. And you’d think the Christian-esque religion would also favor the return of a male son rather than female. And why would he think she didn’t know who she was? And why would he guess that He Who Walks Behind the Rows would be dormant? It’s all pretty ludicrous, really, but that doesn’t stop Hannah or the filmmakers, from delving deeper into Gatlin’s dark history.
Well after the first act has run its course, top-billed Nancy Allen finally surfaces as Rachel, the wife of the first film’s Amos, who up until this point had maintained that her only daughter was dead. Bet you can guess what happens next there. It also turns out that Isaac had a kid too, and that his son Matt (John Patrick White, Teaching Mrs. Tingle) is destined to take over from her father and start a fresh new race with the children’s firstborn daughter. Isaac awakens, but so too He Who Walks Behind the Rows, and the two must again do battle while Hannah and Rachel try to avoid being yet another of Gatlin’s sacrifices.
Whooeeyy, does this one ever go off the rails. Isaac’s Return begins very strongly – it’s got an assured visual style, a plucky young lead and a first act that effectively weaves the past and present with intrigue. We see John Franklin doing his creepiest impression of Patrick, Stacy Keach in a wry, humorous extended cameo (“Smoking will kill you” one child notes as Keach lights up a smoke, to which he responds “that’s why I do it”) and a post-traumatic Gatlin that seems to cast a suitably torn but progressive tone on the town. The story tries very hard to pick up where the first left off, and for the first act succeeds, only to spoil once a crop of unconvincing contrievances, characters and clichés cut the film down.
With the introduction of all these “children” of Gatlin, Matt, Hannah and Gabriel (Paul Popwich, The Club, and for all my Canadian friends, Tommy Tricker and the Stamp Traveler), the movie eventually becomes less about the titular Isaac and more about the “new class”. It’s main asset, the charismatic little person from the first in a grand return, it completely sold, uh, short, by the script as it becomes increasingly convoluted and improbable in what can only be described as a wretched final act. Pretty much nothing of what happens in that act makes any sense from any of the characters, and the developments really sell short the franchise and the fans who have stuck with it so long. There’s no payoff, and the implications of many of the acts, particularly a death and a life, as insulting to what little series continuity there is in this franchise.
This is horror, we should be able to overlook many of the flaws of the script to at least find strengths in style, effects or frights. Well, none of that is worth anything either. The film becomes way too repetitive with the stock “scary sighting that turns out only to be a horrible dream” mechanic, or the even worse “a dead animal suggests something foul ahead” trope. Hannah even questions why she continues to see dead crows everywhere during the first half of the film, and the film apparently is unable to answer her question, instead forgetting about such development for the remainder of the picture. Other than a cheaper version of the Jason Goes to Hell body splitting, deaths are virtually sterile, with only characters spitting up blood or blood being thrown haphazardly on the floor our only taste of the macabre. The ending is rushed and the style exhibited at the start of the film is severely compromised when it becomes apparent in the limited amount of coverage on display for the final act that the film was just struggling to reach completion by the end of it.
The Children of the Corn films never set the bar all that high, but with its cast of characters and continuation of the original, it certainly had the most potential. Sadly, of all the films, this one falls shortest of the mark, wasting Isaac’s return and even worse embarrassing Nancy Allen with absolutely nothing to do for her limited, yet top-billed turn in the picture. Isaac stayed comatose
Lensed by 90s Dimension mainstay Richard Clabaugh (Corn IV, The Prophecy, Phantoms), Isaac’s Return might just hold the distinction of brownest movie ever made. It’s either supposed to be sunset or it’s timed to look like every character and set piece rolled around in the desert sand (in Nebraska) before filming. You won’t see a whole lot of range in the colors on this transfer, but it’s a solid one, considering it’s the same old one used in 1999. The only problem there is that a Dimension release in the 90s means that it’s a non-anamorphic affair, and since the film is out of print today, that now serves as even more incentive to just ignore this film outright. Honestly though, Clabaugh has a nice eye and this is a kinetic movie that still has visual appeal on this relatively clean and sharp progressive picture.
With its sixth entry the series finally graduated to 5.1, and it sounds solid. There’s a lot of ambiance to the mix with insects, wind and just general mood noise filling in all those shots in fields or barns. There’s a good split of music, effects and dialogue, and some effective uses of directionality, particularly in the end when multiple characters from every direction seem to engage in some form of combat. Man this movie sucks.
Children of the Corn 666: Isaac’s Return has all the elements to make a good movie: another strong cast with a likeable young lead and some established vets, beautiful cinematography, and a return to the series’ roots. The first act seems to deliver on that promise, but then like Hannah’s car in the picture it crashes and not even the corn can save it. The ending is practically incoherent. The image is non-anamorphic but looks decent considering, and the 5.1 mix is pretty good. Believe me when I say though, this is a crop gone bad. Real bad. Not even pesticide can save this one.