Children of the Corn (1984)
Director: Fritz Kiersch
Starring: Peter Horton, Linda Hamilton, John Franklin, Courtney Gains, Robby Kiger, Anne Marie McEvoy
1/2 (out of 4)
Too much strawberry ice cream makes me sick.
Children of the Corn was originally a Stephen King short story. I haven’t read it. But if this movie is any indication of what the book is like, I’ll never be reading it. Before the opening credits even roll, we’re treated to voiceover narration by the movie’s main kid hero Jobe (Robby Kiger). “It was about 3 years ago. I was the only kid in church that day…”. Oh Jesus, here we go. Massive exposition voiced by a kid. The strong suit of horror movies (and I think, most Stephen King novels) is in the power of the image, but before we even see anything we have to listen to a boy dumb it down for us.
Not much of any interest happens after the beginning slaughter scene in a diner. We learn that a boy preacher named Isaac (John Franklin) has created a cult based around some demon in the corn fields of Gatlin, Nebraska. His right hand man is an older teen named Malachai (played by Courtney Gains, a good casting decision. Back in 1984 he looked like some Amish kid gone off the deep end). At Isaac’s command, all adults in town are brutally killed. Three years later, nobody outside of Gatlin seems to have given a shit, and the kids are still busy doing their cult thing when yuppie couple Burt (Peter Horton) and Vicky (Linda Hamilton) stumble into town.
Gatlin: City of Ethanol and High Fructose Corn Syrup!
Let’s get the religious symbolism out of the way: Malachi was originally the first of the Biblical minor prophets, meaning “God’s helper/God’s messenger”. It may be helpful to know that the Book of Malachi, the last book in the Hebrew Old Testament, was written in response to corruption of the Israelites, particularly the priests. Armed with this knowledge, we can successfully predict the outcome of the movie Malachi’s relationship with boy-priest Isaac. The Biblical Isaac, of course, is the son of Abraham. You might be tempted to believe that Children of the Corn is taking potshots at Judaism but this seems doubtful in light of Burt’s later comment that any religion not based on love and compassion is a false one. Then again, the Old Testament isn’t exactly a shining example of God’s love, as it involves a lot of blood, death, and sacrifice. It also doesn’t help matters that all the cult members are children. Is that how Stephen King sees religious folk?
Anyway, this is all academic. It’s more fun to talk about this movie than it is to watch it, because the thing is mediocre in just about every sense. There’s no particular imagery of any staying power to take away, except maybe flashes of the Nebraska cornfields, but even that is underutilized. There’s nothing particularly scary, threatening, or suspenseful either. The thing just sort of plods along, with our two heroes driving down lonely highways for what seems like an eternity. The movie occasionally will throw us a bone, like a murder of a gas station attendant, but even that sequence is rather dull and uninspired.
Just lie back and think of Kyle Reese
The characters of Burt and Vicky aren’t exactly the brightest bulbs either. They turn on the car radio and become annoyed at hearing some preacher’s voice, but don’t seem to know that if you turn that little knob thingy you might be able to listen to something else. Burt leaves Vicky alone with little girl psychic Sarah. Guess who ends up kidnapped and tied to a sacrificial cross? Watching Linda Hamilton tied up in the middle of a cornfield gave me a brief flashback to The Wicker Man, but it was only brief.
The ending deals with turning the cornfield into a “lake of fire” to kill the monster/demon thing, but it’s not executed with any particular flair (the word “uninspired” will creep into your head alot during this film). The movie’s budget is too limited to try to show the monster anyway – we just get to see something moving under the field and the occasional explosion or cheesy animation. Even the final “boo” ending is handled with no particular care – when the words “The End” pop up on the screen before our survivors even have the time to drive out of frame, it seems like the creators have been waiting the whole movie to do it. This is probably what happens when people get the bright idea to turn a short story into a 90 minute feature.
We want Menudo!
I have seen worse movies than Children of the Corn, but not many that just seem to be going through the motions. This one left me feeling apathetic. It’s more like a TV movie adaptation than a theatrical film. Quite frankly, how this flick generated 6, count em, 6 sequels is beyond me – I can only assume some cheesy cornfield deity was involved. Nebraska deserves better.
– Bill Gordon