Children of the Corn is one of those movies when you dig further into the story you realize just how absurd it is. The movie opens on a regular Sunday afternoon in the small agricultural town of Gatlin, Neb., which has experienced a bad harvest. We met one of the movie’s young protagonist and narrator, Job (Robby Kiger) who says that all the other kids attended a meeting out in the cornfrields led by a tween named Isaac (John Franklin). Job’s sister, Sarah (Anne Marie McEvoy) is at home sick.
Job’s father takes him to the local diner after church for a malt. There is a young teenage boy, Malachi (Courtney Gains), in the restaurant, and some of the staff are teenagers too. Suddenly when Isaac appears at the window to look in, Malachi and the others begin to kill all the adults in the diner, including Job’s father, who’s on the phone. We also hear the screams of Job’s mother on the other end of the phone as she is apparently killed as well. Job and Sarah are spared because they are children.
This is a great opening to a horror movie because it just hits so hard, fast and relentless. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie goes nowhere. We hear through Job that Sarah began to draw pictures which detail how the children revolted and murdered all the people 19 and over. We find out that Isaac led them in revolt for “He Who Works Behind The Rows,” a deity who commands sacrifices. But they get a good harvest out of the deaths.
Flash forward to three years later and none of the children have aged, just let their hair grow out. You know, because there’s no damned fathers bitching about their sons getting their hair cut and Floyd the Barber probably got a nice scissor stab in the heart. How could a community, even one as rural as Gatlin, go three years without anyone taking notice? Did the people have any friends or family that missed them? Surely, a delivery truck would drop off supplies to the diner or store where the food items are bought.
The children are told to do away with all means of entertainment. We see a picture of them burning all TV sets and Job and Sarah get in trouble for playing Monopoly. There’s also the issue of why everyone looks so clean if they seem to hang around dirty cornfields all the time. Nebraska can have cold winters and bad thunderstorms in the spring so what do they do then? Also, what the hell do they eat? It can’t just be corn. Three years of eating nothing but corn would totally damage their bodies worse than anything Malachi or Isaac could think up. We never see any livestock.
They also sacrifice a teenager on their 19th birthday as we see with the character of Amos (John Philbin) who is excited to give himself to He Who Walks Behind the Rows. But the most foolish part of the movie is the Man in Blue, i.e. a law enforcment officer who came to investigate the town some time earlier. Considering that all remains of the Man in Blue is his skeleton and worn clothing of his uniform, I’m going to venture and say it has been at least a year, maybe longer. One law enforcement officer goes missing and never returns for a location he was set to investigate and no one bothers to check up on it? I don’t think so.
But before all this, we’re introduced to a couple, Burt Stanton (Peter Horten), a physician who’s on his way to a new job with little to no personal luggage and personal items traveling throuhg Nebraska with his partner, Vicky Baxter (Linda Hamilton), who decide the boredom of cornfields beats the fast pace of the Interstate where there are exits and signs of civilization. They’re heading toward Seattle but don’t know about Interstate 80. They are on the road when they accidentally hit a young boy, Joseph (Jonas Marlowe). He had been trying to leave the community before he was stopped by Malachi who stabbed him and left him for dead in the cornfields.
With a dead boy, Burt and Vicky try to make it to the nearest town and stop at a run-down gas station operated by an old man named Diehl (R.G. Armstrong) who advises them to steer clear of Gatlin as there’s nothing there. Yet, they find themselves in Gatlin anyway. And Malachi decides to kill Diehl even though he was used to warn motorists from going in there. However, there has to be another way in from the west, so do they have a gas station there? Also, where does Diehl live, at the gas station. He can’t just stay there 24/7 on the unlikely chance some lost motorists will arrive. Isaac and Malachi get into an argument that Diehl would supply them with gasoline. And that has to be delivered by trucks.
Burt and Vicky notice something is off and can’t find anyone. Rather than turn around and go to the next town that is only a half hour away, Burt sees someone in a house and decides to stop to talk with them. They discover Sarah and Vicky stays with her as Burt walks around the town trying to find people only to discover the ceremony where Amos is getting ready for his sacrifice. Vicky is also captured by Malachi because the movie really has nothing for her to do but this.
But there’s a power struggling going on between Isaac and Malachi as Isaac wants to sacrifice Isaac instead of Vicky. And the children side with Malachi and put Isaac on a crucifix made of corn stalks and he is overtaken in completely shitty 1980s computer graphics as seen below:
Eventually they are able to burn the cornfield killing the deity because at this point, it just makes sense that a supernatural being could die by fire.
Without a doubt, Children must have scared up some good business back in the 1980s as it was part of the slasher craze of the decade. Produced cheaply and distributed by New World Pictures, it reportedly made over $14 million which was a considerable amount at the box office at the time. It spawned seven sequels with the fourth movie in the franchise starring a then-unknown Naomi Watts.
There was also a made for TV remake in 2009 that was closer to the short story’s source material that might explain some of the problems I have with the movie. Beginning in 1963 with the children revolting and killing the adults, it switches to 1975 with Burt and Vicky who are constantly bickering. Reportedly when Stephen King was tapped to write the screenplay for the 1984 movie, he kept it closer to the story and a good chunk of the script was Burt and Vicky arguing with each other. I got about half an hour in the 2009 movie before stopping it. There is also another version made and released during 2020 in Australia that I haven’t seen.
Believe it or not, but Children was produced by the Hal Roach Studios. This was the same studio that gave us Our Gang/The Little Rascals and Laurel and Hardy as well as other famous shorts, TV shows and feature movies. After rejecting King’s script, George Goldsmith was hired to write a version. He was inspired by the Iran Revolution of 1979 and focused on how an ultra-strict religious movement can affect the people. You can see similarities between Isaac and the Ayatollah Khomeini.
I guess it’s because the ending is such a letdown with how easily Isaac and Malachi are dispatched along with the deity being defeated by just fire. I think this was all part of the film’s budget and sometimes it works. Not seeing much of the deity leads us to suspect whether Isaac is scamming the other children. But it makes me wonder what exactly they were going to do once Isaac and Malachi turn 19. And Malachi already looks older at the beginning. Gains, himself, was only 18 when filming the movie. Franklin who is only five feet tall was in his early 20s.
But I think when you peel away the nostalgia as you get older, you kind of see what the criticis were brutal with this movie. But it still is not a bad King adaptation especially when you consider some of the other movies.
What do you think? Please comment.