Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Arrow Films/MVD Visual!
CHILDREN OF THE CORN (1984)
Directed by Fritz Kiersch
Written by Stephen King (short story), George Goldsmith (screenplay)
Starring Peter Horton, Linda Hamilton, R.G. Armstrong, John Franklin, Courtney Gains, Robby Kiger, Anne Marie McEvoy, Julie Maddalena, Jonas Marlowe, John Philbin, D.G. Johnson, David Cowen, Suzy Southam
Possibly one of the most famous killer kids films is CHILDREN OF THE CORN, a film inspired by the short story found in THE NIGHT SHIFT Short Story Collection by Stephen King. And while this one takes place outside of King’s New England stomping grounds, it remains one of his most potent adaptations of the eighties.
The children of a small Nebraska town of Gatlin begin to worship an entity they call “He Who Walks Behind the Rows” and are inspired to murder all of their parents and adults in the town. Surrounded by rows and rows of corn, the children worship this entity and murder any adult who dares enter their community. When loving couple Burt (BRIMSTONE’s Peter Horton) and Vicky (pre-TERMINATOR Linda Hamilton) happen through the town after accidentally hitting a young boy fleeing the community with their car, they find themselves running from their lives from religious nut kids and otherworldly entities that live amongst the stalks of corn that seemingly span for endless miles.
While there is a tactile eighties danger that permeates throughout the entire film, it’s the opening moments that really make this film a classic. When the children take up all kinds of edged weaponry and slaughter all of the adults, this film becomes utterly harrowing. Seeing these teens and smaller children attack adults in such a manner is filmed in a brutal and unflinching way. While the film definitely has its lulls, I found the film most fascinating any time it focused on the mythology of “He Who Walks Behind the Rows.” Mixing religious zealotry with an almost Lovecraftian nebulous monster, the threat is obtuse enough to inspire the viewer to connect the dots with horrific unknowns. This threat was vague enough to inspire seven sequels and a made for TV remake—most of which are downright awful, but it goes to show that the story laid groundwork for a lot of fodder to play with.
While the script leaves a lot to be desired as the latter portion of the film simply has everyone screaming everyone else’s name while the corn world all around them falls apart, Hamilton and Horton do a good job of making the couple likable as they mock religion and country life throughout their introduction and pay for that later in the film when they find that simple living is not laughing matter. While they play the typical couple in peril, they do so convincingly. The child actors playing the leader of the children Isaac (John Franklin) and Malachai (Courtney Gains) are the true standouts of the film. As Isaac, Franklin evokes a Damian/OMEN crepiness mixed with adult mannerisms more sophisticated than one would think a child would have. While Malachai (Gains), almost 18 (meaning he will be sacrificed soon as no adults are allowed in this cult) and ready to rebel, displays the unbridled anger of a wildling who won’t be tamed. Seeing these two butt heads is another true highlight of the film. Having not seen CHILDREN OF THE CORN in quite a while, I was surprised at how effectively chilling it was. This is one killer kids flick that is worth revisiting.
Bonus materials on this Arrow Special Edition BluRay include; Brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative, brand new audio commentary with horror journalist Justin Beahm and Children of the Corn historian John Sullivan, audio commentary with director Fritz Kiersch, producer Terrence Kirby and actors John Franklin and Courtney Gains, “Harvesting Horror” – retrospective documentary featuring interviews with Fritz Kiersch, John Franklin and Courtney Gains, “It Was the Eighties!” – an interview with actress Linda Hamilton, “…And a Child Shall Lead Them” – a brand new interview with actors Julie Maddalena and John Philbin, “Field of Nightmares” – a brand new interview with writer George Goldsmith, “Stephen King on a Shoestring” – an interview with producer Donald P. Borchers, “Welcome to Gatlin: The Sights & Sounds of Children of the Corn” – interviews with production designer Craig Stearns and composer Jonathan Elias, “Return to Gatlin” – a look back at the iconic filming locations in Iowa with host John Sullivan, “Cut from the Cornfield” – an interview with actor Rich Kleinberg on the infamous ‘lost’ Blue Man Scene, “Disciples of the Crow” – 1983 short film adaptation of Stephen King’s story, storyboard gallery, original theatrical trailer, & a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin.
I grew up in Maine so anything Stephen King related is near and dear to me. I really appreciate the retro review. For the 80s this was a really effective horror movie.
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