I can’t be specific on dates, but Children Of The Corn was one of the first horror movies I remember discovering. Like I mentioned in my Creepshow 2 review, posters can have a powerful effect on a growing, inquisitive, impressionable mind. Over time I somehow gained information about the story and the movie and began to form my own version of it in my head, but I didn’t get to see it until years later. There’s a danger of being let down after consciously or subconsciously hyping a movie, but where Children Of The Corn is concerned, the mystery and tone conveyed in the opening portions of the movie aligned with the picture I’d created in my mind. Watching again years later, it’s clear that there are better King adaptations and it that it has plenty of shortcomings. I still feel that it captures the essence of the unknown which juvenile and growing horror fans find so alluring, even if it doesn’t have enough bite to hold an adult audience in its thrall.
Adapted from King’s 1978 Night Shift short, Children Of The Corn is the first of (somehow) ten movies in a series which I can only assume grows increasingly <corny> as it progresses. King wrote the original screenplay, but as was normal for the time another writer would come in to usurp the script and focus more on violence than drama. The original story is a simple one – a bickering couple are driving through the US heartland, stop me if you’ve heard this one before, only to become lost and encounter a savage backwater. The key difference here being that the savages are a bunch of kids, creepy religious zealot kids who follow an unseen God known as ‘He Who Walks Behind The Rows’. The movie keeps the basics in check, albeit offering less in the way of marital distress and more in the way of heroic dads and wholesome family dynamics.
We open in pleasingly creepy fashion, as Isaac – moon-faced pre-teen leader of the group sends the crazed Malachi and friends on a poison and murder spree through their hometown, Gatlin. It’s a simple farming town, and the crops have been failing, which Isaac takes to mean their God is not pleased. And we all know how to appease an angry, malevolent God. Cut to a few years later and a ‘just about to be famous for Terminator’ Linda Hamilton (Vicky) and boyfriend Peter Horton (But) heading up river to start a new life. Driving through endless miles of nothing, their subdued fears about the future are disturbed by the sudden appearance of a child bouncing under the wheels of their car. After initially thinking they hit and killed him, they come to understand that he was already dead. The boy was trying to escape Isaac and his murderous ways, but ended up being sacrificed to the God of Buick. Should they leave him and go on their way? Should they drop the body off in a local town? Should they take him to a big city hospital, or the Police Station in local Gatlin? This being a horror movie, the pair make the wrong choice and quickly find themselves in a world of pitchforks and pasty teens.
The film isn’t as shlocky as some early King adaptations, surprising perhaps given the subject matter. Likewise, it isn’t anywhere near the level of his biggest films of the period – Carrie or The Shining. To its credit, it isn’t all silly surface scares – that sense of the unknown and of being lost permeates the atmosphere in the opening scenes and its an atmosphere which works for me personally having been a child with a heightened fear of being lost or left behind in a new place. Outside of personal feelings, the film is an obvious parable for religious fundamentalism and the dangers of allowing any cult to take power. I like this angle, as ham-fisted as it may be delivered here, and I’m sure a more dedicated experienced director and writer combo could do something stronger with the material viewed in this way. There are of course numerous departures from the source material, fleshing out the cult and delivering a less downbeat ending for example. It’s well enough shot, using the open and wide landscape to decent effect, and by and large the cast serve their purpose – all the more impressive given that many of them are kids. Hamilton doesn’t get to show off her later chops, but is more than the withering lead lady of the piece you might expect from such a film, and gets just as much screen time and action as Horton. They work well as a couple and spend much of the film apart dealing with various factions within Gatlin, again equipping themselves admirably.
Is it top tier King? No, but that’s generally reserved for his more classy material or when a classy director gets a hold of his work. But it’s serviceable enough for most viewers to get something out of it, and good enough that many King and horror fans might rank it as a second tier adaptation. In any case, in this strange time of locked doors and empty streets we find ourselves in it’s worth a watch to remind ourselves what the outdoors look like – and that what’s out there may want us for lunch.
Let us know what you think of Children Of The Corn in the comments!
Audition: A treat for the uninitiated; draw them in with a quiet (if a little odd) love story, then tear their face off with bizarre twists, sights, and an ending to make even the most hardcore horror fan twitch uncomfortably. Fairly ‘straight’ for a Miike film, fairly unconventional for a horror film, this will cut into your flesh and into your brain, staying with you for many Halloweens to come. Classic Halloween Scene: Kiri kiri.
A Tale Of Two Sisters: The past couple of decades have been good for Asian horror and this is one of the best. It stinks of quality from the first frame and is beautiful, sad, and horrific at every turn. It is one of the most eye pleasing horror movies ever, but also one of the most well acted and interesting. Naturally it wouldn’t be on the list without some scares and while this follows the slow burning style of the most popular Asian horror movies there are some quality frights. It’s a mind bender and will torture your thoughts as you struggle to remain calm and sane with your friends at the rest of the party. Classic Halloween Scene: The girls get a nasty bedroom visitor.
The Amityville Horror: For such a common and well known horro staple, the Haunted House movie doesn’t have too many great films. Then again, as horror sub genres go, it seems to be one which brings the most critically acclaimed films- The Shining, Poltergeist, Paranormal Activity. The Amityville Horror was fairly well received but was a commercial hit. Using the good old ‘based on true events’- something which is of no consequence to me as I’ve never understood why something which may have happened would draw people to watch a horror movie about it. Anyway, as Haunted House movies go, this one is up there- plenty of shocks, decent acting, and a creepy atmosphere throughout. It’s sure to get everyone talking about the ghostly experiences they may have had in their own homes. Classic Halloween Scene: She was shot in the head!
Bodysnatchers: If you don’t fancy the Sutherand version, bring things more up to date with Abel Ferrara’s excellent re-telling. Cold, angry, mistrustful like all of Ferrara’s best works this one condenses the countrywide paranoia of previous versions and makes it a family tale. Dad gets a new wife and job, daughter gets a new mum, brother, and home. On a military base. Mum and daughter don’t get along. Some of the soldiers on the base begin to act rather strangely and before long the family are trapped on the base surrounded by pod people. But who in the family isn’t who they say they are? This is an effective revamp and just as worthy as the past 2 versions thanks to some great effects and powerful performances. Classic Halloween Scene: Where you gonna run? Where you gonna hide? Nowhere. Cos there’s no-one like you left….WAAAAAAAA!
Cemetary Man: A twisted love story of the highest order, pretty much everyone missed this first and second time round. An Italian horror movie about zombies- fair enough. An Italian zombie movie from the nineties with American and English actors… maybe not. It is low budget, but it is one of those films which is packed full of strong ideas and fun that any money constraints fade into the background. We have the interesting twist of Everett playing a zombie killer, the interesting take on the genre- that he works at a cemetary performing his normal duties, but also acting as a reluctant chosen defender of the world; the cemetary is cursed in that every week some of the corpses are brought back to life and go hunting. Everett puts them down in a never ending cycle. After a brief romance and tragedy, the caretaker’s life takes on an even more bizarre twist. Classic Halloween Scene: The husband comes back.
The Company Of Wolves: One for a more sophisticated party- discussions of politics and Bergman movies accompanied by Mozart and a few glasses of the finest virgin blood. This dark/adult/buck nuts fairy tale is a twist on Little Red Riding Hood and is filled with metaphor and artistry. Plus you get to see Murder She Wrote’s head slapped off her shoulders- literally. Classic Halloween Scene: Though the entirely movie is filled with an inescapable nightmarish dread, some of Granny’s stories up the chill factor and give an anthology feel. But the ending bursts through the windows will live long in your memory.
Children Of The Corn: Even the poorest Stephen King adaptation is worth watching at least once. COTC is not the worst, bad it isn’t a classic. However, it is a great idea for a movie and some of the early scenes are effective at raising those neck hairs. Whilst not as spooky or funny as Wacky Molestation Adventure, there are plenty of chases, jumps, and 80s pyro joys. Classic Halloween Scene: One kid is prepared for meeting He Who Walks.
Dark Water: With Ringu alone, Hideo Nakata has cemented his name in horror folklore, but when you follow it up with another critical and commercial hit then you enter the realms of superfandom reserved only for the giants of the genre. Dark Water is much more personal film and retains both the scares, tone, and tragedy of the Ring series. it’s one thing to be terrified by the antagonist, but to empathise with them too helps to raise the character above standard horror fare. One to put the heebies and jeebies up any single parent, anyone who has recently moved house, and anyone else who happens to be alive. It may be slow, and not have the whoop-ass pay off final of Ringu, but each superbly acted and directed scene drips with unnerving tension whilst the conclusion of gripping and upsetting. Classic Halloween Scene: What is it about horror movies and bathtubs?
Dawn Of The Dead Remake: This movie single handedly kick started the resurrgence of zombies in popular culture, astounding considering it is only a remake. Even more astounding is the fact that it takes the greatest zombie movie ever, sticks it in a blender, chews on the rules of the genre, and spits out a movie which is almost as good as Romero’s Bible. Heart pounding from the outset, refusing to pander to the gore police, and filled with interesting dialogue, fresh ideas, and realistic characters, this is a film for any audience. Classic Halloween Scene: Hello little girl. It’s a bit early to be in my house, don’t you think? What are yo- wait, what’s up with your face? Are you o- aggh, arrgghh ARRRRGGHHH!
Dracula (1958): Christopher Lee steps into the role as the Dark Prince and single handedly re-invents the 20th Century perception of vampires. While it may not have aged as well as some other films on this list it stands out for the strength of the preformances and for the fact that we have a pile of grissled old men battling it out to save our soles rather and a bunch of fresh/pale face teens. Lee doesn’t sparkle, he owns, pwns, and kicks every shade of ass imaginable. Classic Halloween Scene: Harker descends into the crypt to make his final Stand with the Count. There’s still an hour of movie left so you know this won’t end well…
The Evil Dead 2: There aren’t as many genuine scares here when compared with the first movie, but we get a bigger budget, more laughs, more gore, and what we’re left with is possibly the most entertaining horror movie ever made. Have this in your party and the cheers of the nerds will be drowned out only by the laughs of the uninitiated. Classic Halloween Scene: What the balls is that coming through the front door!
The Fly (80s): David Cronenberg was already known for his movies depicting the horrors of disease and transformations which can sometimes invade the human body. What better film for him to make then than one about a man slowly mutating into a human-fly hybrid. Wonderful ideas, great acting from Davis and Goldblum, and some astounding and vomit inducing special effects. There aren’t many shock moments here outside of the gore, just the nasty feeling that something horrible is probably making a host of your own body as you watch. Classic Halloween Scene: The best arm wrestling movie moment ever.
Fright Night: Cinemagoers’ love for the creatures of the night continued to flourish into the 80s, while in the seventies Vampires were seen as seductive enchanters, and in the nineties they became any post-modern type you could imagine, in the decade that everything forgot they were nothing but cool. From Lost Boys to Near Dark, this was the decade that we relaised that Vampires kicked ass, and Fright Night added considerably to that belief. This traverses the lines between horror, comedy, and entertainment successfully with plenty of jokes, in jokes, homages, scares, and smarts to keep any fan happy. Calling back to Rear Window we see through the eyes of a teen who believes that a vampire has moved in next door. And as only teens mattered in the 80s we find out he was right. It’s down to him and his misfits to destroy the evil. Classic Halloween Scene: Evil Ed in a red wig, that’s scary, right?
Halloween II: This had the potential of being a great sequel with most of the surviving cast members from the original returning and the film following directly on from the closing moments of the first. Unfortunately, Senior Carpenter jumped ship and the film descended into a titty fest with cheap gore and cheaper characters. It’s still good fun, but it sure ain’t great. Nevertheless, if you tire of watching the original every year (weirdo) then this will do fine as an alternative and simultaneously remind you to stick with what you know the follwing year. Laurie is recovering in hospital after her antics with Michael, but wouldn’t you know that boy just won’t stay dead. Soon he’s off to the hospital to pick off more horny nurses and chumps before the final chase and massacre. Hospitals are always good for atmosphere and jump scares and we get some of both here. Classic Halloween Scene: Laurie breaking down as she realises Michael can’t be stopped and that this nightmare may never end, but Loomis gives her a gun and hope. Inevitable doom is one of the most frightening things in all of horror.
Halloween IV: If the first sequel doesn’t take your fancy, then how about the third? The world is introduced to the young Danielle Harris- a horror Goddess from the outset and whose performance alone carries the dead weight of the other lowly cast members. Pleasance is still flogging the life out of the franchise, presumably to put food on the table, or possibly because by this late stage in his life he believed he had become Dr. Loomis. Homestly, this is the best sequel of the bunch, highly entertaining and with plenty of fun kills to appease the gore hounds. There’s even a nice twist at the end which is even more shocking than certain events of the first film. The Druid links from the second film start to take fruition here but don’t really come into play until the next film, also starring Her Royal Highness, Lady Harris.
The Hills Have Eyes Remake: Although Craven’s shocker is a classic in it’s own right this remake does the unimaginable (especially in a time when 99 out of 100 remakes are utter balls) and improves upon the original in every way- better acting, better plot, better characters, and a sow’s stomach full of blood and trauma. The crazy mutant sub genre has served us fans well since the turn of the century and Aja’s take on it is surely the best. A lovely American family are travelling cross country for some reason, complete with subserviant mom, Rambo/scout/stars’n’stripes loving dad, emo son, hot Australian daughter, inappropriately femanine son-in-law etc. As is inevitably the case, they get a little lost and before you can say ‘why do have an arm growing out of your head’ a bunch of crazy cannibals are making merry sport with our innocent suberbians. Will they lie back and get picked off one by one, or will they unleash their inner Neolithic? This packs a punch and a boot and will add a spark to any gathering. Classic Halloween Scene: Son In Law wakes up in a terrible place only to find himself in an even more terrible place.
I Know What You Did Last Summer: Scream was awesome, bringing horror quicking and screaming out of the silly, campy 80s, and into the wiser, sarcastic 90s. Due to it’s massive success both in scaring audiences pants off and pulling them off thanks to a cast of outrageously hot performers, every other studio wanted in on the action. How hard could it be? Make an 80s slasher movie with updated hair and fashion (but simultaneously mock that decade so that no-one notices the plagarism/similarities), and throw in some hot young ass and some new ideas written by the guys who grew up on the aforementioned movies. IKWYDLS (a Soviet Vodka) was successful too and at its heart has strong performances, decent scares, and a decent idea brought into the modern age. People have probably forgotten this one by now so it may offer some nice surprises. Classic Halloween Scene: Run, Buffy, Run!
Jaws: If you haven’t seen this by now you’re either a new-born or a Shopping Channel enthusiast. Sure the shark looks like it was brought forth into existence by Wallace and Gromit and we all know every single second of what is coming, ,but half the fun of an annual party is in the familiarity and tradition. Everyone can gather round and watch while Brody and co are terrorized by the giant shark and whilst some will break off into chattering sub groups and others will venture into the cold for a fag, most will come bag just to see Quint get a good old fashioned chomping. Classic Halloween Scene: A young boy shows America just how much blood he has, and how far into the air he can spew it with the help of a little fish.
Last House On The Left: Craven was mentioned earlier on this list and upstaged by a young pretender to his throne who dared to make a superior version of one of his own films. The recent remake of this was decent, but it didn’t come close to touching the gritty, nasty realism of Craven’s beast. Horror films are a product now and have the power to make us laugh, to get our pulses racing, and sometimes make us think. But real horror should have the power to stop your heart dead, to make you luagh only because your respitory system has to make some sort of noise, and leave us reeling into the early hours, trapping our thoughts in an inescapable circular vault of panic. True horror should make you feel like you have suffered an ordeal and come out the other side scarred forever. Last House On The Left can make you feel all those things and when you see the bumbling, shambolic police scenes complete with capering music, you can feel your soul eating tself just so that it doesn’t have to endure another second of madness. Classic Halloween Scene: Take your pick; for me it’s the sight of a teenage girl sinking into a swamp with a dead eyed stare and the life that might have been disappearing forever into the murky depths.
Martin: Content that he had re-invented the zombie genre, Romero set his sights on vampires and damn nearly pulled off the same trick. John Amplas plays an awkward young man who believes he is a reincarnated vampire- in other words he’s crazy. Then again, Romero shows us several scenes which show that Martin may well be correct. Regardless of whether those scenes are real or imagined, Martin is a troubled young man, you know- the sort you see in every school, on every street corner, possibly dating your youngest now. This is psychological, real horror at it’s best, and though the budget and some of the acting leave a lot to be desired, the idea of a kid with a razor blade stalking women for blood is not the stuff of nightmares, but of weekly news reports. Classic Halloween Scene: The opener on the train tells us all we need to know- Martin is a killer, reluctant and enthusiastic, possibly a rapist, and that he can get at you very easily.
Near Dark: This has been going through a resurrgence over the past few years due to a love of 80s retro (i’m sure a remake will be on the way), a love of all things fangsome, and because Miss Bigelow finally received some acclaim via The Oscars. Near Dark is a sensual, beautifully pictured vampire film with fascinating characters and ideas, some memorable performances, and a healthy helping of the red stuff. And it’s heart it’s a love story based around a moral quandary; how far would you go to be with the one you love? Bringing together some James Cameron favourites we get wonderful cinematography enveloping spraying jugulars and murderous stares. Classic Halloween Scene: The bar scene, where Paxton kicks ass. Funny, scary, bloody, and a delight to behold.
Pumpkinhead: Stan Winston makes a foray into directing after spending years designing the things of nightmares, and what he made is an entertaining, cheesy romp of a B-Movie which is much better than it has any right to be. The effects are very 80s and low budget, but raised by the skilful touch of Winston. There aren’t many decent Scarecrow type horror films- this one is probably the best. Classic Halloween Scene: When we first hear Pumpkinhead’s voice beckoning one of the girls outside.
Pet Semetary: This is the stuff of nightmares. Like Last House On The Left above, this one is not to be taken lightly, althouth the movie treatments so far have not come close to the horror and tragedy of the book. That may be for the best. Depending on how you view it, this is either another cheesy, gore filled romp, or a desperately sad, creepy tale. I see it as a mix of both thanks to some decent special effects and an excellent performance from Miko Hughes. It does threaten to become a by the numbers horror film, but the tru horror lies in the calamity of losing a child and the maddening, unimaginable terror and grief it could bring. Classic Halloween Scene: There are quite a few to choose from, Gage waiting for Jud under the bed ticks all the boxes.
Re- Animator: Like Evil Dead this is a classic due to some wonderful humour and some of the best man made bloody effects ever seen. Inspired use of violence and make up films like this never fail to charm or impress and always go down well with a group of boozed up boys. Classic Halloween Scene: When the first corpse comes back and goes on a rampage.
Ring 0: Many people automatically assume that the Ring sequels aren’t good. Wrong they be, goblins be thine. Ring 0 has one of the most spine-chilling endings in recent history with a chase scene which will stretch your nerves beyond previously known realms until the shocking climax breaks your heart. This is a prequel focussing on the life of Sadako- the malevolant spirit crawling about in the first film. Rather than be a cheap expose or rip off, this lovingly delves into the characters and mythology of the series and turns a dimensional character into a fully formed person who we get deeply attached to. In places this evokes memories if Carrie, but if anything this is the classier tale- terrifying, yet ultimately tragic. Yukie Nakama gives an outstanding performance. Classic Halloween Scene: When Sadako feels herself slipping away, the screen turns a turgid sepia, and all those who deserve to get what’s coming to them prepare to get what’s coming to them. Watch behind the trees for hidden Sadako fun…
Shaun Of The Dead: If there are any hipsters at your party, or if there aren’t as many of your closest nerds in attendance then something like Shaun Of The Dead is the way to go- funny, throwaway if you want it to be, bloody in places, and entertaining enough for all types of people. This is easy viewing and isn’t likely to offend anyone. Classic Halloween Scene: Peter Serafinowicz in the shower. It could have been worse- it could have been Brian Butterfield.
Session 9: Haunted house, torture, ghosts, slasher, thriller, this one covers a lot of ground and is without doubt one of the sharpest, scariest, and most interesting horror films of the new millenium. The less said about it the better, but if you and your friends don’t mind a bit of subtitling (and why would you?) then add this to your list. Classic Halloween Scene: Going back for some coins.
Suspiria: Finely traversing the line between cheese and classic, Argento’s most famous work is juxtoposition brought to life- poor acting here, superb in other places, cheap gore placed against some of the best and most outrageous death scenes in history, haunting music set against trippy cinematography (and vice versa). Set in a girl’s school (another horror film standard) we have slasher chases, jump scenes, uber-violence, and of course some witchcraft. It is a girl’s school after all. Classic Halloween Scene: Room of wire.
PA2: A few sequels recently have been proving the old ‘sequels are rubbish’ rule wrong. PA2 is both a sequal, a prequel, and a remake and out of any other horror film i find it has most in common with Evil Dead 2. Both films are essentially bigger budget remakes of the original with similar themes, scenes, and styles, but both also act as sequels and standalones. On top of that, PA2 is also a prequel as it largely sets up the events of the first film whilst revelaing it’s details and reasons with deliberate slowness. It’s also one of the best group watching experiences I’ve ever had, with people screaming, laughing, clapping, and crying all around me. Some of the best jump scares of all time, some excruciating tension, and much more likeable characters than those jerks from the first movie. Classic Halloween Scene: Never sit in a kitchen on your own.
The Grudge: Take your pick- The TV version, the japanese movie, the american remake- they’re all good and pretty much identical. There are some narrative differences regarding the time-jumping, and some of the scenes will be modified slightly, but overall this is the same story- a tragic murder leads to a house being stained by a curse. ANyone who comes into contact with that house or anyone in it is also tainted and soon picked off by an evil cat/boy/long haired lady in increasingly scary ways. Great performances and terrific use of sound, and a good mix of traditional japanese slow burning fear and hollywood style BOO(!)s. Classic Halloween Scene: You’re not even safe in bed.
Insidious: The boys behind Saw strike gold again with this eerie haunted house horror. The set up and opening 2 thirds of the movie switch up the tension to excessive levels before it rapidly becomes a confused psychological mess of dream logic and twists. Having said that, the film from start to finish is a highly fun experience and packs in as many jumps scares per minute as any pic you could name. The film revolves around a young family being seemingly stalked by various ghosts and demons before calling in a trio of crazy investigators to try to find the route of the problem and rip out the evil. Classic Halloween Scene: Having been using a baby monitor quite a lot recently, any scene with creepy voices coming through or freaks standing over cribs is sure to send my balls cavorting up into my stomach.
As always, feel free to comment on my list: Have I missed any classics? Let me know what you plan on watching this Halloween.