Oh, the ‘90s. The decade of “Friends” and boy bands and the Game Boy Color, the decade that began with Goodfellas and ended with The Matrix. For horror, it was a decade of ‘80s growth and ‘80s gore figuring out what to do with new franchises and easing into a digital future. Ash went to the past, Godzilla crossed the Atlantic, and in the case of Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest, folk horror left the hinterlands and came to the Windy City.

Fritz Kiersch’s 1984 original Children of the Corn, adapting Stephen King’s short story, was very much a product of its era: a somewhat dry and clunky march towards an effects-lathered finale, punched up with moments of ‘80s gore and an evocative kernel of a concept. Today, most probably remember it for John Franklin’s creepy performance as kid cultist Isaac, the gravely cries of “Malachi!”, the killer kids among the rows. Or perhaps they remember it for the fact that the unassuming Stephen King film spawned eleven sequels. And among that tangle of sequels, prequels and reboots lies the 1995 direct-to-video gem that is James D.R. Hickox’s Urban Harvest.

The premise is already wonderfully bizarre on the surface. After the (scarecrow-assisted) death of their father, brothers Eli and Joshua (Daniel Cerny and Ron Melendez) are moved from their Nebraskan homestead to foster care in downtown Chicago. Joshua fits in quickly, Eli not quite. Those ol’ pagan beliefs about He Who Walks Behind the Rows must not be abandoned, and if these city heathens won’t submit, then it’s time to bring the black magic to them. Cue verdant rows of corn growing alongside the family’s row house, a rash of mysterious deaths and soon a brother-versus-brother battle to stop evil from taking root.

Of course, that summary doesn’t include the corporate bureaucrat looking to make a profit off the mysterious miracle maize (because you know, it’s the ‘90s) or the inner-city school troubles pacified as students join Eli’s corn cult. (The principal’s thoughts on the matter are that if infractions are down, something must be working. Sound logic indeed!). Plot-wise, Urban Harvest is a cheesy and inventive example of how unfettered ‘90s horror could get: a bonkers, gory cross-breeding between aspects of The Omen, Halloween: Season of the Witch and Children of the Corn’s folk horror roots. And somehow all this works thanks to Hickox’s energetic direction and Cerny’s smug unwavering evil as the villainous Eli.

Of course, what truly elevates Urban Harvest is the gnarled imagination of Screaming Mad George bringing the film’s grisly sights to life. If you’re a fan of ‘80s horror, you know the man’s prowess for macabre body-horror madness. His gorgeously grotesque work graced the screens during Society’s unforgettable shunting and Bride of Re-Animator’s crypt of horrors, among myriad other genre classics. Urban Harvest is a Mad George bravura, a cornucopia of creative demises and gruesome practical effects. A tide of vermin burst heads from within. Grasping stalks skewer faces and weave through hapless victims, dragging them to their harvest-nurturing doom. There’s a rampaging corpse scarecrow and a protracted spine extraction that makes the Predator’s technique look like a light caress. The finale commits wholly to the film’s cheesy fun and unleashes a pagan reaper god that uses virtually every effects trick in the book: models, puppets, animatronics, rear projection, all as a giant cornstalk demon obliterates teenagers with its sickle tentacles and bloodthirsty roots. It’s the kind of pulpy savage spectacle that this movie deserves and that could only emerge from this era of horror.

Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest relishes in the gonzo freedom of direct-to-video horror and the practical-effects mastery that matured throughout the 1980s. Among a franchise with an average start and a forgettable glut of sequels, this film stands above the rest as a uniquely unusual, fun, gruesome creation of the ‘90s.

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