10/20/11

Halloween Top 13: The Devil Made Me Do It #12: Children of the Corn (1984)

Today’s film has been stalking me for some time. Every time I put an ear out to hear what films folks might want me to write about, it was a-maize-ing how many popped off about this title. I thought there must be more to this film than the kernel of an idea that I remembered, and I have to stop these corny jokes. Turns out, Stephen King’s The Children of the Corn is a tasty horror niblet perfect for #12 on The Halloween Top 13: The Devil Made Me Do It. Over the past year, I’ve gotten to talk about a ton of Uncle Stevie’s film adaptations, and some work better than others. For every Christine or Salem’s Lot, there seems to be a number of films like Tommyknockers and the Sometimes They Come Back sequels to far outweigh the good ones.  Children of the Corn has a lot of things going for it, creepy, satanic kids, King’s fascinating story, and fields and fields of corn.


Burt and Vicky (Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton) are on their way to Seattle where Burt is due to start a new job at the hospital. Taking the scenic route to avoid the Interstates seemed like a serene way to spend the trip cross country, but not long after they enter Nebraska, their idyllic drive comes to an abrupt halt when Burt thinks he’s hit someone. Stopping the car, he finds that he did hit a kid, but one whose throat had recently been slashed open. Burt loads the kid in the car, but after failing to get any help at the nearest service station, the couple heads for the nearest town, Gatlin. What they don’t know is that three years earlier, Isaac (John Franklin) and his ginger goon Malachi (Courtney Gains) lead the children in killing off all the old people in town. Now, the kids remain sacrificing themselves to a demonic entity, “He Who Walks beyond the Rows”, on their 19th birthday. Naturally when Burt and Vicky hit town it’s all welcome wagons and streamers. Oh, wait, no, the opposite. The kids immediately start trying to kill them or capture them to sacrifice to the corn demon.


If you’ve never run through a cornfield, let me tell you, it’s not as much fun as it looks. The leaves of corn are sharp as a razor and can tear and rip at your clothes and skin. However, I suppose having violent, knife wielding, Satan worshipping kids hanging out between the stalks would make it worse. Stephen King first penned the story “Children of the Corn” for publication in Penthouse of March 1977, and it was later included in his collection of short stories Night Shift (1978). The fifteen page story bears a resemblance to the movie version only in passing. The characters of (SPOILER ALERT on almost a 35 year old story.) Burt and Vicky don’t live to see the end, there are no kids saved, and no demons are defeated. In other words it’s a Stephen King story. While I can separate my love for the story and the movie, I know Uncle Stevie doesn’t seem to be able to do the same. In 1995 he let his feelings be known in USA Today. King said, “My feeling (sic. On books turned into movies) is like a guy who sends his daughter off to college. You hope she won’t fall in with the wrong people. You hope she won’t be raped at a fraternity party, which is pretty well what happened to Children of the Corn.” Some of this disappointment has to come in how his big bad are treated. Where the TV version of his novel IT oversimplified the monster into a giant spider, the demonic anti-Christ “He Who Walks beyond the Rows” of Children of the Corn comes off like “He Who Has Seen Altered States", just some wan animation thrown on top of the frame.

While there are plenty of changes, I fail to see how the story was raped. It’s more like the filmmakers were making sweet (and slightly boring) love to every nook and cranny. I have to give some respect to writer George Goldsmith for taking the 15 pages and drawing them out into 90 minutes. The movie does occasionally drag, and one has to wonder why it took the Doctor and his wife so long to figure things out. They seem like smart people, but they insist on making dumb decisions. Overall, the film is able to entertain far beyond where King’s story left off. While I would like to see a fair, accurate representation, Goldsmith ties the film up with a dénouement which is not very Stephen King, but satisfies the viewer and, in the greatest horror tradition of the 80’s, left it wide open for a long line of sequels. Children of the Corn was the first credit for director Fritz Kirsch (who would go on to make Gor (1987) and Tuff Turf (1985) featuring a young James Spader), and he did a wonderful job capturing the isolation of those Nebraska corn fields. Also notable is the score from first time film composer Jonathan Elias. Since then Jonathan has scored Two Moon Junction (1988), Leprechaun 2 (1994), Pathfinder (2007), and recently the SyFy remake of Children of the Corn.

The leads in the film Peter Horton (Singles, Thirtysomething) and Linda Hamilton (Sarah Conner in The Terminator) are relatable, likable folks, but there doesn’t seem to be much to them. In King’s story, the couple is on rocky footing, but I never got that from the movie at all. The real stars are the kids. Though some of them aren’t even kids at all. John Franklin, who plays cult leader Isaac, was actually twenty five when he played the diminutive demonic devotee. Franklin has a condition known as Growth Hormone Deficiency leaving him appearing youthful, small of stature, and with a higher voice than most grown men. Franklin was maniacally terrific, but I have to mention one thing. If his character was not the inspiration (at least in part) for Eric Cartman on South Park, I would be highly, highly surprised. The other notable is Courtney Gains. Dude acts like a straight up creep and is clearly loving it. (And who wouldn't love yelling, "Outlander! We have your woman!" as loud as they could?) The redheaded actor would go on to appear in films such as The ‘burbs and Memphis Belle and still can be found working today as a character actor both on the small and the big screen.

In researching Children of the Corn, I also discovered the 1983 short film Disciples of the Crow also based off King's story. Made for no budget a year before the big screen version, director John Woodward (who would get a shot at a feature title seven years later with Good Girl, Bad Girl) makes a film as tense and effective as the studio managed to produce. In fact his Vicky and Burt, Eleese Lester and Gabriel Folse both first time actors still in films and TV today) actually come across more like the character in King’s story. I almost forgot to mention that Disciples of the Crow manages to get across its story in less than fifteen minutes, a much better page top screen ratio than the feature film. I have included both parts of DotC under the trailer if you’re interested in checking it out.

Children of the Corn may not mention the devil or a demon by name, though there is little doubt as to what “He Who Walks” is supposed to be, however, Satan’s work is on full display. Who else could convince kids to kill the folks that buy them iPads and Xboxes and… what’s that? Oh they’re 80’s kids. Well too imaginative for their own good probably. I could see that happening. One thing’s for sure. The only thing that could be scarier than killer kids is killer kids with an agenda to kill fueled by religious fanaticism. I’m meaning to tell you that if I lived in Nebraska when this film was released I would have moved. Somewhere quiet where there wouldn’t be a bunch of religious nuts causing a ruckus. Maybe somewhere down in Texas, I hear Waco is real nice. Well that about brings us to the end of another installment of The Halloween Top 13. I sure hope you enjoyed #12, and I’ll see you all back here tomorrow for #11! Until then, like Children of the Popcorn, I hope this review get stuck in your teeth.

Bugg Rating

2 comments:

  1. Regardless of its faults (He who walks behind the Altered Sates!), I enjoy Children of the Corn quite a bit, and actually just gave it a long overdue rewatch about two weeks ago.

    Incidentally, this weekend I found a near perfect original edition of Night Shift for $2 at a book sale. I might have to crack it open to read the original story in the next few days!

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  2. I love every story in Night Shift. King is at his best in a short format where he cant get too long winded.

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