Children of the Corn (1984)

As quickly as Stephen King is known to turn out novels it wasn't quick enough for Hollywood in the early 1980s.  Just about every movie made from one of his books was a hit, which meant studios were bidding on about anything they could get from him.  Luckily for them King was also prolific at writing short stories and had already published one collection, Night Shift, in 1978.  

When it comes to short stories King adheres to Edgar Allen Poe's idea that they are stories that should be able to hold the attention of the reader and be completed in one sitting.  For instance, during free time in the middle of the day or before going to sleep at night.  In King's case, much like Poe's, they were also a means to keep food on the table, as there were lean years before Brian De Palma's adaptation of Carrie became a hit.  In many of King's nonfiction essays he talks about people asking where he gets his ideas and, while he's typically as vague as the question is, a rumbling stomach while watching Village of the Damned can work wonders for inspiration.  Though I don't know if he's ever said that was the specific inspiration for his story "Children of the Corn" I wouldn't be surprised if I'm not far off the mark. 

Burt (Peter Horton) and Vicky (Linda Hamilton) are taking the backroads of Nebraska on their way cross country to Burt's new internship in Seattle.  Their trip is interrupted when they hit and seemingly kill a young boy (Jonas Marlowe) on a lonely stretch of highway.  Burt soon notices something disturbing; the boy was already dead when they hit him, and he is concerned the perpetrators may still be nearby.  Looking for a way to contact the authorities they arrive in the deserted town of Gatlin.

What they don't know is that three years prior the children of Gatlin murdered all the adults at the behest of Isaac (John Franklin), a child preacher who claims to speak for a god called He Who Walks Behind the Rows.  His enforcer Malachai (Courtney Gains) is aware of the couple's approach, and Isaac prepares them to be sacrificed.  Two other children, Job (Robby Kiger) and his sister Sarah (Anne Marie McEvoy), the latter who has precognitive powers, do not believe in Isaac and, while at first powerless, attempt to help the adults, particularly when Isaac's god makes its presence known.

The short story is one of the least memorable in the Night Shift collection.  While Burt and Vicky aren't exactly the most likeable couple in the movie they are outright terrible in the story, particularly Burt.  That is not out of the ordinary for a Stephen King story, and the problem is there is little in it that does stand out from his other stories.  It is workmanlike, has a few creepy parts and, as usual, a downer ending. 

Job and Sarah were added for the movie, and that may have been because screenwriter George Goldsmith figured the audience needed someone to root for.  When Linda Hamilton questioned the logic of what happens at the end of the movie she was told outright that the audience is supposed to think that Burt and Vicky are as stupid as they appear.  I doubt Burt is as dumb as the line he utters about Joseph already being dead when he "stumbled" into the road, but neither of them does anything particularly smart until right near the end.  Even then it is Job that has to help out to make it work. 

Children of the Corn is competently directed by Fritz Kiersch who, besides this film, is known for his terrible adaptation of Gor.  Competent is about all he could do because, though the film was supposed to have some major visual sequences as well as more violence, the budget got sliced by 500 thousand dollars when King demanded that as his fee for having his name plastered on the advertising.  Thus, what was supposed to be another major horror film making money off the King name ended up with the budget of a Frank Henenlotter flick.  This means that, other than some good scenes with He Who Walks Behind the Rows burrowing underground, the special effects are another kind of "special," relying on cartoon animation. 

The movie was hated by critics and, with the bevy of other good King adaptations already out and coming down the line, would have been forgotten if not for the performances of John Franklin and Courtney Gains.  Franklin, though 24 at the time, looks and sounds like a young kid, while Gains put his all into portraying Malachai as despicable as possible.  It is over-the-top and bordering on comical, but both actors have a way of coming across as truly unbalanced and frightening in their roles.  Julie Maddalena, who plays Rachel, another devoted fanatic, often gets overlooked, although her less volatile performance is also quite memorable.

Children of the Corn is a nonsensical, silly exploitation film enhanced with great performances from two actual child actors as well as some great villains.  Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton are dull, and Burt's arrogance is almost as annoying as it is in the original story.  I understand how the standout performances kept this movie in people's memories, but it is still hard to believe that such a simple story, both on the page and on the screen, has resulted in eight sequels and a reboot.  It made money, which it couldn't help but do on a low budget and with King's name attached, but it is definitely not the one King adaptation I would have picked to become a franchise.

Children of the Corn (1984)
Time: 92 minutes
Starring: Peter Horton, Linda Hamilton, Robby Kiger, Anne Marie McEvoy, John Franklin, Courtney Gains
Director: Fritz Kiersch



Popular posts from this blog

Zack Snyder's Justice League (2021)

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021)

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023)