RETRO REVIEW: “Children of the Corn” (1984)

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For the past few months I’ve dedicated several Wednesdays to doing Retro Reviews. The way it works is I put up three options on my Twitter feed (you can follow me @KeithandMovies). Followers vote, I rewatch the movie, and then post the review the following Wednesday. Whatever film finishes second comes back the next week against two new choices. So basically you pick what I watch and review.

When you hear “Children of the Corn” you almost can’t help but be amused. Not at the concept (the idea is actually quite chilling), but at the title itself. And after watching it for the first time in years the title isn’t the only thing that made me giggle. Yet despite very much being a movie of its time, there is something about director Fritz Kiersch’s folk horror feature from 1984 that I still find enjoyable.

The film is based on Stephen King’s 1977 short story of the same name. King was originally set to handle the screenplay, but the filmmakers felt his draft was too “internal” much like a novel and lacked the required cinematic quality. Much to King’s chagrin, his script was tossed and George Goldsmith was brought in for rewrites. Goldsmith invented two child characters and used their perspectives to tell much of the story.

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Photo Courtesy of New World Pictures

The film opens with scene-setting shots of dry, crisp corn stalks blowing in the wind, the cracked sun-baked ground, and a dilapidated old shed looking centuries old. The images are interrupted by the ringing church bells Grace Baptist Church of Gatlin, Nebraska. The sign out front advertises the Sunday sermon – “Corn drought and the Lord”. After church many of the congregation, including a young boy named Job (Robby Kiger) and his father, gather at the small town’s diner as they do every Sunday. But instead of a cozy hometown meal, the adults are poisoned and butchered by entranced blade-wielding teens. All of Gatlin’s adults were murdered that day in a series of brutal ritual killings.

That was three years earlier. Jump ahead to present day where the brainwashed kids live out in the cornfield following a creepy pre-teen cult leader named Isaac (John Franklin). He allegedly speaks for a demonic entity referred to only as “He Who Walks Behind the Rows” (catchy name). Isaac’s right-hand enforcer Malachi (Courtney Gains) handles the cult’s field work. Namely carving up nosy adults passing through, organizing the human sacrifices, and yellow cult-like things super loudly.

Enter Vicky (Linda Hamilton) and her boyfriend Burt (Peter Horton), a recent medical school graduate. The couple are driving across the Midwest on their way to Seattle where Burt is set to begin his first internship. While traveling through rural Nebraska a jolting accident diverts them through the deserted town of (you guessed it) Gatlin. Soon they find themselves knee-deep in killer kid cultists and the only help comes from Job and his little sister Sarah (Anne Marie McEvoy).

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Photo Courtesy of New World Pictures

“Children of the Corn” may have more lows than highs, but it does some things really well. Kiersch makes good use of the isolated farmland setting. Whether its the never-ending cornfields or the dried-up town (a possible analogy for dying small town Americana). Also I wouldn’t go as far as to call the film a slow burn, but it uncoils at a very deliberate pace which actually serves the story well and shields it from some pretty obvious limitations.

But not everything works as well. When approached with the needed suspension of disbelief, Goldsmith’s story itself is fine. But some of his dialogue is glaringly wooden and can be downright corny (sorry, I couldn’t resist). And while you never want to come down hard on child actors, some of their performances here are excruciating. Wobbly dialogue mixed with even worse acting equals some pretty bad scenes. And I feel guilty for even mentioning the special effects. Clearly the movie had budget restrictions and it wisely avoids big effects shots. But when they do come near the end of the film….ouch.

Still despite its obvious shortcomings, “Children of the Corn” remains entertaining which is a big reason it has earned a pretty loyal cult following in the 36 years since its original release. It’s hard to praise it too much, but it’s still an easy-to-digest horror picture build on some cool ideas. It’s also fun watching an early pre-Terminator Linda Hamilton performance. It hasn’t aged particularly well, but the fun hint of nostalgia I felt during the rewatch in undeniable.

VERDICT – 2.5 STARS

2-5-stars

20 thoughts on “RETRO REVIEW: “Children of the Corn” (1984)

  1. I am still mad at my parents for letting me watch this when I was 7! I will never watch it again. Scared the hell out of me. But for some reason I sat thru it! 😆

  2. I remember that film series as I think Naomi Watts appeared in one of them. I don’t remember much about them other than the lead child was always annoying. All you need is a shotgun and just shoot the little fucker in the head. The End.

    • That’s right. Watts was in the fourth one which I remember being surprised at. I don’t remember much about it other than I liked it for more than I ever expected.

  3. It’s so fascinating how many movies adapted from his books King has just flat out rejected, even crapped on. I guess it’s just an artist not wanting his work amended barely if at all, and yet some of those movies are often regarded as equal or even better than his novels.

  4. I’ve always had a soft spot for this because it’s one of those ridiculous horror movies I remember watching when I was young, but it’s been years since I’ve seen it. I’m glad you watched it again, it’s what I voted for in our poll. lol

    • I know exactly what you mean. It was hard for me to wrangle in my nostalgia in order to be “objective” LOL. I actually did enjoy rewatching it. It’s amazing (though not surprising) how much you forget about a movie as years pass by.

  5. Even my youngest kids refer to the “children of the corn” when a group is misbehaving, use “Malachi” when someone is being mean. They have no idea why, it’s just buzz words they use with their friends. Thanks for the review, it brings back some great memories (I was 16 when this came out).

    • That’s hilarious. My kids had not heard of the movie but were so intrigued by the title. I was 13 when it came out but it was a few years after that before I ever saw it.

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