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John’s Horror Corner: Children of the Corn (1984), Stephen King’s loosely-adapted story about a religious cult of parent-murdering kids in Nebraska.

March 21, 2023

MY CALL: A classic that ages just well enough, even if far from the likes of fine wine. The major child characters are harrowing, the story is simple and well-executed, and the premise primes us for a series of deliciously bad sequels. MORE MOVIES LIKE Children of the Corn: This movie spawned many video-era sequels over the years (1992, 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2011, 2018) leading to the most recent remake (2020). I haven’t seen all of them, and for those I’ve seen it’s been too long to recall. Given that the original was a “loose” adaptation of King’s story, the sequels would likely be yet “looser.” So watch at your own risk! You might also try Village of the Damned (1960, 1995).

Driving across the country to start a new life together, Vicky (Linda Hamilton; Terminator, Terminator 2) and Burt (Peter Horton) end up trapped in Gatlin, Nebraska after hitting an already mortally wounded child with their car. With all the adults dead and buried in the corn fields, Gatlin is a ghost town festooned with corn stalk décor and cob crucifixes. Those remaining are the murderous kids and their religious cult leader.

This is a film that was excellently creepy at the time of its release, but it doesn’t age as well as many other classics of the era. A product of its time and generally slower-paced as a result, director Fritz Kiersch’s (Gor) early 80s classic holds up just well enough that I enjoy this nostalgic revisiting… even if less so than my last revisit over ten years ago.

The more minor child actors’ performances rather undo the gravity of the opening massacre scene (when the kids kill all the town’s adults). Maybe this is part of why I remembered this being a heavier movie—because I was a kid when I first saw it and that young experience sculpted my nostalgia. The Muppet-like chirping of the occasionally self-moving corn further diminishes any dire sense cultivated in the opening scenes. Thankfully the ghostly choral music stitches some creepy unease back into the mix… and then there’s Isaac and Malachi.

Our child cult leader Isaac (John Franklin; Children of the Corn 666) is deliciously evil. The casting couldn’t have been more perfect. When he watches the initial slaughter of the town’s adults in the prologue, he looks cold and empty. When he issues orders, he does so with intense arrogance, pride and piety. And when Isaac accuses someone, it’s chilling. He also looks eerily mature—as John Franklin was 25 when he played the teenager Isaac. Whereas Malachi (Courtney Gains; The ‘Burbs) looks like the homicidal embodiment of teen rage. A lanky, shaggy redhead with a vicious scowl, Malachi is Isaac’s enforcer. He’s neither the biggest nor oldest of the kids, but readily the most feared.

There’s definitely a folk horror vibe to the cornfield sermons, Isaac’s preaching, and scenes of sacrifice. Most satisfying is when Isaac’s leadership is brought into question. Scariest in this film is the very real manner in which religion can be bastardized and zealots groomed into murderers; even children. The brutal violence is mostly implied, with little stabbing or throat-slitting occurring on screen. The vehicular manslaughter scene was by far the most brutal or graphic on-screen occurrence, and it was impressive. I would have enjoyed a better budget for this film. The lack of on-screen violence/gore is a typical budgetary submission. And the stop-motion prehensile corn stalks don’t hold a candle to the Evil Dead trees.

And now the big question: what’s out there in that cornfield? A demonic mole created by Earth-warping, man-made fertilizers burrowing the corn rows? A blob of pre-CGI bad-rotoscoped colorful energy? Whatever it is, Isaac sure fears it. In fact, “He who walks behind the rows” is clearly a real supernatural force. We see enough to know that much, even if we never get any real answers.

The concept of murderously evil children, possessed or brainwashed alike, is one that morally stings. But our acceptance of this threat is limited by the ability of the child actors to deliver that evil gravity. The more kids you have on screen, the less this works. Thankfully, the twisted personalities of Isaac and Malachi overcast any doubt that Vicky and Burt are in grave danger, or that this wild religious cult isn’t something to be feared. Thank the Dark Corn Lord Isaac wasn’t the Admin on a Facebook group or a religious viral TikTok influencer. Phew.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. March 22, 2023 8:01 am

    Excellent review! You nailed the characters, the setting, and what made this movie so creepy and disturbing. I still remember the first time I watched it like it was yesterday. Thanks for a great stroll down memory lane.

    • John Leavengood permalink
      March 25, 2023 8:55 am

      You just wait for the next couple reviews. I’m going to do them whole CotC franchise. Later today I should be dropping part 2. Part 3, however, was B-movie gold!

      • aleix moragas permalink
        April 2, 2023 12:18 pm

        ¿can you talk about the spanish who can kill a child 76?

    • aleix moragas permalink
      April 2, 2023 12:25 pm

      i agree excelent review,but in the movie i found missing the worm demon animatronic one something like the scorpion worm from hellraiser 87,,

      • John Leavengood permalink
        April 2, 2023 5:07 pm

        Oh yes. I think you mean the Corn God monster at the end of part 3.

  2. aleix moragas permalink
    April 2, 2023 12:16 pm

    its a great movie like the original, the spanish quien puede matar a un niño 1976 who stephen king copied from…..

    • John Leavengood permalink
      April 2, 2023 5:04 pm

      I had no idea.

    • John Leavengood permalink
      April 2, 2023 5:06 pm

      If this was streaming somewhere I’d definitely give it a watch!

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