Children of the Corn (1984)

*. Technically, it’s Stephen King’s Children of the Corn. I’m not sure what King thought of it though or how much he was involved. He isn’t interviewed in the documentary on the Anchor Bay DVD release and his name is only mentioned once, indirectly, on the commentary track (with director Fritz Kiersch, producer Terrence Kirby, and actors John Franklin and Courtney Gains).
*. The story (which was first published in Penthouse) is expanded on quite a bit and has a completely different ending. Burt and Vicky aren’t an attractive young couple just starting out their lives together but are instead on their way to breaking up. They are taking a cross-country road trip to save their marriage but they both seem to know that isn’t going to work. This was probably changed because movies prefer happy people. It’s hard to like characters who don’t even like each other.
*. Movies also prefer happy endings, so the ending of the story, with both Burt and Vicky murdered and the cult going on its merry way, is jettisoned. Again, I don’t know how involved King was with any of this. He apparently did write a script but it was rejected for an adaptation he didn’t approve of. They still really wanted King in the credits though, as by this time his was a name to conjure with.
*. One thing you might turn to the story for is some explanation of how the children have managed to stay hidden away in the town of Gatlin for three years. Presumably they are harvesting all that corn themselves. And turning it into ethanol. Meanwhile, just by changing some road signs the town has vanished so completely that nobody can find it. Not government services or utilities. Not family members wondering whatever happened to in-laws or cousins. It’s just gone.
*. Well, reading the story won’t help clear this matter up. The children there have been in control of the town for twelve years without anyone noticing. As Burt reflects at one point, “What seemed to have happened in Gatlin was impossible.” “How could such a thing be kept secret?” he wonders. “How could it go on?” Answer: He Who Walks Behind the Rows works in mysterious ways. This is one of those things that’s just a given in order for there to be a story.

*. I remember not liking this movie much when it came out. And I’ve always wondered why it was turned into such a long-running franchise when even the original wasn’t a blockbuster. It did take a while for the first sequel to appear (Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice in 1992). Suffice it to say that the studio (which was also driving the Hellraiser franchise into the ground) was taking the low road to a bit of easy money. But that’s another story.
*. Watching it again now, I like it a bit more than I did at the time. It actually gets a fair bit of mileage out of its tiny budget (Kiersch says $1.3 million, $500K of which went to King, so less than $800K, which is nothing). It’s well directed, keeping most of the violence off screen, and it holds our interest. For such a cheap movie most of it looks surprisingly good. Still, I think it would be largely forgotten today if not for the fact that they rolled aces in the casting of Franklin and Gains as the odd couple of teenage psychopathy, Isaac and Malachai. Who can forget these two? Franklin (who was actually 23 at the time) with his Vulcan haircut (courtesy of a commercial he was shooting for a Star Trek video game) and Gaines as the ginger Mick Jagger. Is it any wonder they’re the only members of the cast on the commentary and in the “making of” documentary? They’re the stars.

*. Ah, yes. Once again the city people have left the highway to travel the back roads, and end up getting lost out in the country. Not the wilds, or a forest somewhere, but just the country. A small town. That’s terrifying enough.
*. Kiersch says he thought of it as a B-horror, which it is, but then says his models were Plan 9 from Outer Space and The Day of the Triffids. Hm. Can’t say I see it. And I’m not sure why I’d want to see it. How flattering a comparison is Plan 9?
*. The DVD box declares this to be “The original that started it all.” Well, that’s what originals do. And I like the noncommittal “it.” I take it that this refers to the long string of sequels, which almost nobody saw and few people remember today. King himself didn’t keep track of their number. Blame “it” all on this movie, people!
*. The basic idea is nothing new. The children of the corn are the children of the Village of the Damned. Because ankle-biters are rarely that scary in themselves they have to hunt in packs. It takes a village. Or at least a gang. Hence the Midwich Cuckoos. Or the kids in Devil Times Five, the psycho-spawn in The Brood, the bloodthirsty brats in the Sinister movies, or the whole island of pubescent maenads in Who Can Kill a Child? (remade as Come Out and Play). The premise is, however, an inversion of the usual King starting point, which is terrorized tots. I guess the revived Gage in Pet Sematary is another outlier, but more often in King it’s children who are threatened by adults.
*. I guess Jonathan Elias, who did the score, was listening to The Omen and liked that chanting business. I don’t think it fits. King has a major hate on for organized religion, but I found the evil force here a confusing thing. Why does it adopt so much Christian imagery, ritual, and language? Is there a connection between He Who Walks Behind the Rows and the God of the Old Testament? Why does the gopher demon care if the kids are listening to music or playing games? I didn’t think pagan cults were such puritans.
*. The ending has been much ridiculed. I don’t know. It was a microbudget movie so how surprised can we be that the ending looks cheap? I think they probably did the best they could under the circumstances. I wish it made more sense, but I wouldn’t make fun of the execution.
*. I won’t go so far as to say this is a cult favourite of mine, but watching it again today I appreciate it a lot more and can see why it’s stuck around. As a franchise, however, it went downhill fast and stayed there.

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