Vampires, werewolves, zombies, clowns …. and middle-school kids. Almost an entire subgenre of horror itself, ‘creepy kid’ movies have been kicking around since The Bad Seed in 1956. Not surprisingly, ‘Master of Horror’ Stephen King has penned his fair share of terrible tykes. In 1984, King adapted short story, Children of the Corn from his Night Shift collection, for the big screen. Critics dismissed it, but the low budget chiller turned a profit, spawning a decades-long straight-to-video franchise. Has it really been 35 years since He Walks Behind The Rows commanded us to theatres, Outlander?
Children of the Corn Tonally Inconsistent
As a kid of the ‘80’s, Children of the Corn was scary stuff. Even just a short trailer gave me nightmares. Sadly, time has a way of spoiling even the best childhood memories. Through an adult’s eyes, Children of the Corn is, at best, an inconsistent mess. To be fair, director Fritz Kiersch was clearly working with a tiny budget. Nowhere are the budget limitations more evident than in the movie’s big opening and climax. The Gatlin Massacre is too small scale for what the premise promises, and ‘He Who Walks Between the Rows’ is a let down.
But as the movie’s titular ‘children’ increasingly take over the scene, Children of the Corn feels, well, a little childish.
In spite of fiscal limitations, Kiersch does get a few things right in the early-going. For 20 minutes or so, there’s a a nice balance between atmospheric tension and slasher-lite theatrics. No, Kiersch is never able to fully dial up the tension or scares. There’s no innovative DIY magic either in the gore department, but it’s all passable in a midnight movie kind of way. But as the movie’s titular ‘children’ increasingly take over the screen, Children of the Corn feels, well, a little childish. Atmosphere gives way to awkwardly staged action and chases. And then there’s the child performers themselves.
Never Work With Animals or Children
Comedian W.C. Fields once famously said, ‘Never work with animals or children’. Not surprisingly, Children of the Corn’s ability to terrify rests heavily on the shoulders of its young actors. Major antagonists, Isaac and Malachai, are both creepy enough. In particular, Courtney Gains largely embodies ‘Malachai’ with the menace his character requires. But the rest of the child performances fall on the stiff side. A fair share of dialogue is delivered in cringeworthy fashion.
Even if you set aside the quality of the performances themselves, Children of the Corn’s ‘children’ aren’t all that frightening. Some people are scared of clowns, and some people are not. Pint-sized middle-schoolers and gawky teenagers never come across as all that terrifying. As I re-watched the movie as an adult, I kept hoping Linda Hamilton would put Isaac over her knee for a good spanking. This isn’t to say that the premise did not or could not work. But some of the execution and editing exposed much of the movie’s limitations.
He Who Walks Behind The Rows Comands It
As a horror franchise, Children of the Corn makes for an interesting case study. Though critics hated the original movie, it managed a tidy profit on a microscopic budget. However, the franchise history tracks very similar to other B-level horror series, like Hellraiser, The Puppet Master, or The Howling. Most of the sequels were straight-to-video discount bin dwellers. To date, two series reboots have even been atttempted. There was the 2009 made-for-television reboot, followed by 2011’s Children of the Corn: Genesis. In 2019, Children of the Corn: Runaway followed late sequel Hellraiser: Judgment with similarly mixed results.
Consider a re-imagined update focused on a fundamentalist sect with hostile ethnocentric attitudes to outsiders in Trump’s America.
Regardless of the series history, if there’s a Stephen King movie adaptation with reboot potential, it’s Children of the Corn. Somewhere in this low-budget cult film is a concept worth exploring in a 2019 context. Consider a re-imagined update focused on a fundamentalist sect with hostile ethnocentric attitudes towards outsiders in Trump’s America. In the hands of the right director and screenwriter, the premise could double as effective horror and satire.
Children of the Corn Wants to Give You ‘80’s Horror Nostalgia
It’s probably a stretch to say that Children of the Corn was one of the better horror movies from the 1980’s. It’s not. For those of us who grew up in the decade, it’s a low-budget horror movie that benefits immensely from nostalgia. Still it’s also very much a watchable movie with bad dialogue that’s actually increased the overall cheap appeal. Not in the league of The Shining or Pet Sematary, but better than Sleepwalkers and Silver Bullet. Ultimately, Children of the Corn is comfortably nestled in the middle of King movie adaptions.