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!