Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering (Greg Spence, 1996, USA)

Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering is the second film to feature a future Academy Award winner/nominee - this time we have Naomi Watts in the lead role as Grace Rhodes, a young woman who is returning home to Nebraska to keep an eye on her agoraphobic mother June (Karen Black). Thus we have not only one recognizable face in a Corn film, but two - Karen Black is a true scream queen, who would about a decade later be resurrected in Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses. Taking up a job at a local doctor's clinic where she worked before leaving town, Grace finds that all of the town's children have come down with fevers and strange symptoms. 

While its predecessor Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest seemed to be taking the franchise in a more playful and self-referential direction, The Gathering seems to ground the film more in reality - there is hardly a trace of irony here. Strangely the film bears many similarities with the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, as the film not only has a heavy emphasis on dreams but also gives its central villain a Freddy Krueger-like origin story. He was a child preacher named Josiah who was killed by the local community many years ago.

Despite its relatively strong cast, and a few decent scares (including a memorable opening scene), The Gathering is probably the weakest of the series thus far. The film notably dispenses with the monstrous character of "He Who Walks Behind the Rows," something that added a fun element to the prior films. It also is on the slower side, and there are some truly dreadful performances here. The Gathering is watchable, but perhaps only for Corn completists and for seeing Naomi Watts in her first headline role. 



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