Nightmares in American cornfields


Graham (Mel Gibson) tries to calm his children (Rory Culkin, Abigial Breslin) about aliens in the thriller "Signs."

Buena Vista Pictures
Published: Friday, January 24, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 23, 2003 at 11:29 p.m.

Many people have a fondness for corn, but today I'm here to explain why we'd all be better off burning the cornfields and growing something less evil instead - something aliens, cultists and ghosts couldn't hide in to skulk around threatening humanity.

Facts

Rewind these

Signs EE
Children of the Corn E1/2
Field of Dreams EEE1/2

NATE'S KEY:

4 "E"s: Tremendous (best of the bunch); 3 "E"s: Superior; 2 "E's: Fair (it's been done better); 1"E": Avoid (save your money)

Perhaps putting green sod?

Based on the shocking material I've viewed this week, I can safely conclude that cornfields rank just below condemned lunatic asylums on the World's Most Haunted list.

The most recent example is "Signs," the supernatural thriller that has Mel Gibson chasing freaky aliens through cornrows.

Gibson stars as a minister who gave up the church after a bizarre accident killed his wife. He now lives in solitude, a broken man, raising his two children with the help of his brother, Joaquin Phoenix. Gibson finds a curious set of crop circles in his cornfields and then discovers that the markings are global phenomena.

At night, crazy long-legged Martians prowl through the corn, talking in a dialect similar to that used in "The Gods Must Be Crazy." We find out through sporadic CNN updates that an alien armada is attacking the planet's major cities, and that these aliens secrete a toxic poison gas through their skin. These details are passing and are not visually represented in the film at all.

"Signs" shows how Gibson and his family must deal with the fear of not seeing any of the aliens. It becomes a question of faith, as Gibson must reconcile the tragic death of his wife and recover his belief in God in order to withstand the aliens.

I know it probably sounds corny, and that's because it is.

"Signs" isn't a bad movie, but it is subtle to the point of dullness. Actually, everything about "Signs" is good, but very quiet and subdued. I can't say I recommend the rental price for this movie, but once it hits cable it might be a good way to spend a rainy afternoon.

As if aliens in the cornfield aren't bad enough, "Children of the Corn" has a cult of kids worshipping the demon He Who Walks Behind the Rows and killing adults. Through a strenuous schedule of blood sacrifice, the kids have built a horrific little society in small-town America.

Into this quaint setting stumble two hapless adults who get lost in a maze in the maize. (Rimshot, please.) Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton star as the foils to the creepy kids, led by prepubescent Isaac and malevolent Malochi. There is much gruesome death, a lot of bad dialogue and poor story construction. The special effects also are pretty bad.

But being the sucker for bad slasher movies that I am, "Children of the Corn" still has a lot going for it. Any movie that has Linda Hamilton crucified on a giant cornstalk can't be all bad, can it?

Aliens and cultists aside, nothing could be more frightening than Ray Liotta skulking around the family farm. In "Field of Dreams," Liotta co-stars with Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones as a dead baseball player who walks from the cornrows to have a game with some other dead guys.

Of course I'm joking. Unlike the other films mentioned, "Field of Dreams" is a warm, gentle little drama designed to uplift. The ghosts only want to play baseball.

Costner is a farmer in jeopardy of losing the family farm. A phantom voice urges him to build a baseball diamond in the cornfield, and so he does just that, which somehow provides a metaphysical invitation for famous ball players of the past. "Field" strives for heartwarming sentimentality and succeeds admirably.

But a benevolently haunted baseball diamond hardly balances out the evil of the chattering aliens and the corn-cultists. Obviously, if the corn were no longer extant then the evil would just go away - what self-respecting alien is going to belly-crawl through a field of soy beans? Would a cult base itself around He Who Walks Behind the Yams?

I rest my case.

In short, "Signs" is average, "Field of Dreams" is good and corn is good for your body, but bad for your life.

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