Children of the Corn (1984) — Kids, obey your veggies

“Outlander! Outlander! We have your woman!”

Justin’s rating: It’s a nightmare of starchy goodness

Justin’s review: Yeah, it’s no big secret that there are roughly 13,000 movies, miniseries, and TV movies based off of the works of Stephen King, and only six are really worth watching. The man is shameless (and not at all cautious) when it comes to renting out his brand name for a new product, whether it turn out to be good or ill. His name and reputation got to be the size of Mars by the time Carrie was made into a smash horror flick, which means he can withstand repeated blows to his credibility whenever subpar motion pictures arise — some of which are so tenuously based off of his works, like The Running Man, that the film studios paid for solely for the name and nothing else.

It really intrigued me to notice that King’s Children of the Corn short story (repeat after me: SHORT story) spawned seven films so far, many of which were straight-to-video and made in the ’90s. It  not only boggles the mind, it straight into a blender for a bit of purée. Sure, horror fans are notorious for eating up helping after helping of lame flicks that just so happen to be part 12 in a series, which is clear evidence for government mind manipulation right there. But what made this series marginally popular enough to warrant such sequel-happy attention?

For the answer to this question, or perhaps because I’m a total sucker for long movie series that look positively trashy, I threw myself at the original Children of the Corn. Conventional wisdom says this one had to be the best, popular enough for sequels to attach themselves to and suck the blood as the parasites they are.

From memory, King’s short story does jive fairly well with the events of this movie (although not perfectly, particularly in the ending). Of course, once you realize that they took something like a 20-page tale and stretched it out to a grueling 93 minutes does the beginning of the filmmaker’s problems surface. This isn’t a really long or deep tale: A couple driving in rural Nebraska accidentally hits an already-dead child, then stumbles into a town where the kids have taken over, all the adults vanished, and something horrible called “He Who Walks Behind The Rows” demands worship out in the corn fields. Adults get ambushed, nearly crucified, and barely escape. Ain’t it a peach?

Leave it up to Stephen King to recognize seemingly innocuous items that have a real yet usually unnoticed creepy undertone, and exploiting them. He did it to clowns in It, and he does it to corn fields here. Corn fields, especially after dark, hold some sort of ultra-spooky vibe to them, and the idea of an unseen evil force lurking somewhere behind the rows doesn’t help my love of Nebraska any.

To the movie’s credit, the opening teaser and credits are absolutely brilliant in being tense, freaky, and blood-splatteringly awful. It was a terrific decision to feature a psychic young girl’s crayon drawings as a narrative tool (once you see happy-faced crayon kids stabbing their parents, it sticks in your mind), but it was a stupid decision to sporadically use one of the kid’s for voiceover narration. Horror movies should never use narration, because that takes you behind the scene in a sense and effectively removes some of the suspense. It didn’t help that the kid doing it sounds really like a kid. Demonic child chanting = scary; friendly child softening all the harsh blows by spelling the story out to you = dumb.

The most recognizable face in Children of the Corn is The Terminator’s Linda Hamilton, but she isn’t much more of a stock horror victim who screams and cowers in vain when evil approaches. So sorry, Charlie. I also loathed the red-headed Malachai (Courtney Gains, probably best known as the guy who cut into George McFly’s dance in Back to the Future), as all of his scenes call of anger, which turns him into an ugly monkey-boy with freckles. Much, much better was the creepy Isaac (John Franklin, who was 17 when they filmed this, but made up in such a way to make him look 8) who manages to spout pseudo-Biblical hellfire and damnation phrases with aplomb.

Lacking all over the place is common sense and credible threat. Plot holes and unanswered questions pop up all over the place to the point where you’re extremely distracted by them. How did these kids survive for years on their own? If they’re not allowed to live in the houses, where do they sleep? How is it possible nobody’s noticed an entire town that’s dropped off the map — do these people not have relatives? Why do they leave the old man alive “for his gas” and then kill him when he does exactly what they want? Why does He Who Walks Behind The Rows like to change road signs like a merry little prankster?

Starting to get the picture? It just goes on and on like this, which isn’t helped, as I said, by no real threat to the adults who visit the town. Sure, the kids have numbers on their side, but the adult guy pretty much plows through them again and again, showing that they’re not really that tough. Plus, the supernatural threat – Mr. Corn hole – barely makes a cameo appearance to help out. It’s mostly supposedly-creepy kids trying to corral adults, and that has all the suspense of a good game of Chutes ‘N Ladders.

Ultimately, Children of the Corn is far too drawn out and not very scary past the opening minutes to recommend. Heck, by the time you get to the final battle with He Who Walks Behind The Rows and see the filmmakers unwisely splurge on third-rate special effects, you’ll probably only be screaming with laughter. After a good viewing of this, I’m no more the wiser with how they made this one lame movie into a non-stop franchise, but it must’ve gotten into popular culture enough for even South Park to do a parody episode (which was quite funny).

Didja Notice?

  • Freaky demon kid music you can dance to!
  • God cares about corn droughts, apparently
  • The horrible, terrible, good-for-nothing kid voice-over narration
  • Mmm… poison coffee…
  • The café scene and the kid’s drawings — creepy!
  • Linda Hamilton singing and dancing — way more creepy!
  • You’d think people would notice a town that dropped off the map
  • He runs over a kid, pronounces him dead, then grabs a crowbar… why?
  • This movie is long on jump-scares
  • Blood starts to coagulate in four minutes… I’m glad this movie teaches us such things
  • Gatlin likes their road signs
  • “Seeth”? Is that actual King James Bible English?
  • Corn everywhere is slightly effective to create an “off” environment
  • They sure love screaming “OUTLANDER!”, don’t they?
  • Wow, incredibly cheesy special effects
  • Way to slap Malachi around!
  • On the dashboard of Burt and Vicki’s car is a copy of Night Shift, the ‘King, Stephen’ short story collection in which Children of the Corn originally appeared.

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