A child preacher named Isaac goes to a town in Nebraska called Gatlin and gets all the children to murder every adult in town. A young couple have a murder to report and they go to the nearest town (Gatlin) to seek help but the town seems deserted. They are soon trapped in Gatlin with little chance of getting out alive.
Based on Stephen King’s short story of the same name, “Children Of The Corn” heralded the beginning of Hollywood’s assault on his short story collection. Films like “Carrie”(1976), “Salem’s Lot”(1979), “The Shining”(1980) & “The Dead Zone”(1983) had proved his name was bankable on television and on the big screen but the poor man could only write so fast. Luckily, he had written slew of short stories that had yet to be tapped as film projects. I’m not too sure that having a movie with the name Stephen King over the title being released seemingly every other month was a very good idea but damn the torpedoes…Hollywood was anxious to get the money train rolling! “Children Of The Corn”(COTC from here on) was one of the first of King’s short stories to hit the screen.
The idea of children killing adults wasn’t particularly novel when this film was released, “Devil Times Five” (1974), “Who Can Kill A Child?” (1976) & “The Children”(1980) are earlier examples of films with the same subject matter. The approach COTC takes has a religious bent to it. A young boy by the name of Issac (John Franklin) appears in the town of Gatlin, Nebraska preaching to the children, urging them to sacrifice their parents & all over the age of 19 to a deity known only as “He Who Walks Behind The Rows”. After all the adults are massacred the children begin a life without electricity, telephones, television, etc…All under the careful eye of Issac & his right hand teen, Malachi (Courtney Gains)
A young couple, Burt (Peter Horton) & Vicky (Linda Hamilton) accidentally run over a boy as they are driving by a cornfield close to the town & realize that his throat had been cut seconds earlier (Malachi got him as he was trying to escape). After a bit of rumination they decide to plop him in their trunk & find some help nearby. They end up in a run down gas station run by an old man named Diehl (R.G. Armstrong) who advises them to leave the area immediately but no matter where they go, all road signs lead them to Gatlin and that’s where they end up. From this point on the film starts rolling downhill at a rapid clip, steamrolling any sense of logic & reason as it gets increasingly ridiculous.
The problem I have with this kind of film is a pretty big one. I just don’t believe that a group of children could get the drop on a town full of adults & in the process…murder them. Especially the kids in this flick who look like a bunch of wholesome, milk fed lambs that couldn’t harm a fly. Perhaps that was the point the filmmakers were striving for, evil takes all forms. It doesn’t have to be a big flame snorting demon, evil exists in all shapes & sizes. But these kids just didn’t cut it for me. In addition, the adults would have to be a pretty gutless group of people to allow a bunch of kids to rise up & murder them. The film failed to make me believe that these kids were capable of any carnage whatsoever.
As played by Franklin, Issac is a decidedly underwhelming villain. He appears to be a midget acting as a child & as such, not the least bit frightening although he does know turn his “Evil Stare” on. As his second in command, Malachi, it’s all Gains can do to keep his prodigious overbite in his mouth as he tries his best to look threatening. Every kid in this movie tries really hard to look scary but putting some homemade shivs and other sharp weapons in their hands doesn’t do anything but make them look ridiculous & way over their heads. No real reason is given as to why they fall under Issac’s sway either, Issac just appears & BAM! He has a group of children hanging on his every word.
Director Fritz Kiersch seems to be putting everyone involved through the motions & nothing more. Since there are only 2 adult characters in the film after the first fifteen minutes the emphasis is on the children but the little ones seem to be enjoying themselves as they play dress up & swing rubber knives here and there. It’s as if Kiersch is just trying to get the film done as quickly as possible. George Goldsmith’s script is silly & without one genuine scare in it. The cinematography is ugly but serviceable and since the town is dusty & deserted by all except the children it works. There are a lot of scenes shot from the ground looking up at the kids, done to make them look more threatening I suppose. They don’t work at all but there is one shot of the kids approaching a house where everyone is hiding in that’s reminiscent of “Night Of The Living Dead“. There are a few close up’s of someone carving symbols into their skin where it is obvious that they aren’t being cut at all thrown in as well which proves(To me anyway) that Fritz just didn’t care about what he was slapping together.
But the worse crime of all is the appearance of “He Who Walks Behind The Rows”. We actually never really see the f*cker but we do see it rolling underneath the dirt through the corn fields. It makes some loud noises as it putters to & fro and while we never actually see it, we do see something at the end which, if meant to represent what the thing looks like, is totally non threatening and very funny as well. The one thing that might have made this movie tolerable isn’t there for us to peruse. Since it is spoken of so much throughout it’s non-appearance is a big disappointment. In addition to the continuity errors, poor acting/direction & overall cheesiness this nearly kills the film.
I said “Nearly” though. Despite how much the film disappoints on all levels it has a certain charm to it. I hate to admit it but COTC is never boring & I was drawn into the story, or lack of a story. Despite all of the problems I wanted to see the bad kids get it at the end badly, so the film succeeds in spite of itself. The movie was a minor success at the box office & this resulted in five sequels & a remake which debuted on the SYFY channel. All of them vary wildly in quality but they can all say that they’re just as bad as the original if not worse. all of them feature cheesy effects, bad acting, etc, etc. But the original stands out & was the first of the monthly King film adaptations that we were assaulted with throughout the 80’s. Since the title has inserted itself into everyday English (All bad kids got referred to as being “Of The Corn” ever since), it succeeded on some perversely odd level & should be respected as such.
Children Of The Corn (1984)