And a Child Shall Lead Them: Ranking The Children of the Corn Series

Horror fans have gone over a decade without a Friday the 13th or A Nightmare on Elm Street movie. Yet the universe continues to give us Hellraiser, Puppet Master, and Leprechaun sequels. Sometimes life isn’t fair. For further proof, look no further than the Children of the Corn series. Included in his Night Shift anthology, Stephen King’s original short story was all of about 16 pages. But Hollywood was turning everything King wrote into feature-length movie. Hence, New World Pictures released Children of the Corn in 1984. Not The Shining but slightly better than Graveyard Shift, King’s story about an entity known as He Who Walks Behind the Rows manipulating children to kill all the adults has endured for four decades of worth of straight-to-video sequels (and a remake). To spare you the exercise, all 10 of the series’ movies (excluding the 2020 prequel) have been carefully ranked below.

10 – Children of the Corn: Revelation (2001)

Why Michael Ironside (Scanners)? Why? Like almost every movie in the series. Revelation continues the inexplicable trend of recruiting some recognizable and decent actors. Joining Ironside, another soon-to-be horror veteran, Crystal Lowe (Wrong Turn 2, Black Christmas, Final Destination 3), also turns up. Aside from a few unsettling images Revelation is underwhelming even by this series’ standards. In fact, Revelation barely qualifies as a Children of the Corn movie. Moving the series to an apartment building wasn’t a bad idea. Instead, this sequel’s problem is that it’s just plain boring. Expect to wait until the last 15 minutes or so for anything of interest to happen. And what you’ll get isn’t that interesting.

9 – Children of the Corn (2009)

A straight-up remake that stayed closer to King’s original short story, the 2009 Children of the Corn debuted on the Syfy Channel. And that probably says everything you need to know. Unlike most of the franchise entries. the remake stars absolutely no one you will recognize. On paper, the creative decision to re-tell the short story should have resulted in at least an interesting movie. Alas, this version makes the 1984 original look like The Shining. Poor special effects, poor acting, and poor execution doom this entry to the bottom end of the list.

8 – Children of the Corn: Genesis (2011)

Very little corn. No Gatlin. No mention of He Walks Behind the Rows. You’d almost think that this wasn’t originally intended to be a Children of the Corn movie. But Genesis actually starts off with some promise. An early flashback to a returning Vietnam veteran in 1973 has a bit of tension. And when a couple stranded on a California highway stumble across a reclusive man in an isolated cabin there’s some intrigue. Too bad Genesis often drags. And with no real scares, suspense, or inventive kills, the sequel is forgettable.

7 – Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror (1998)

As the series progressed, the sequels bared increasingly little resemblance to the original. And the fifth movie in the franchise, Fields of Terror, strays furthest from the prior sequels. In fact, ‘He Who Walks Behind the Rows‘ has very little to do with this entry. Yes, it’s still a Children of the Corn movie. But with it’s young adult cast, this sequel hedges much closer to just being a standard slasher. Ironically, it’s also the sequel with the least imaginative deaths. Arguably, generic is the work that best describes this sequel. For a straight-to-video-sequel, Fields of Terror is watchable if not completely unremarkable. The most interesting part of this sequel is that is somehow managed to cast Fred Williamson (From Dusk ‘Till Dawn), David Carradine (Kill Bill), Alexis Arquette, and a young Eva Mendes.

6 – Children of the Corn 666: Isaac’s Return (1999)

Some fans of the series might rank this entry higher on the list. To be honest, however, the later sequels are all pretty interchangeable. Despite its stupid title, Isaac’s Return benefits from some effort at establishing continuity with the 1984 original. And there is something satisfying about seeing the original Isaac, Josh Franklin, back in the franchise. Of course, his return raises a problem considering that it’s a cult with a ‘no adults allowed’ rule. This sequel’s protagonist may be the dumbest and least remarkable yet. Plus Isaac’s Return still can’t figure out what He Walks Behind the Rows is to the franchise. But Stacy Keach and Nancy Allen show up and there’s a neat twist.

5 – Children of the Corn Part II The Final Sacrifice (1993)

A belated sequel by nearly a decade, Children of the Corn Part II: The Final Sacrifice is exactly what you might expect. With only a nominal reference to the first movie, The Final Sacrifice introduces several discordant story directions. This sequel appropriates Indigenous mythology alongside some pseudo-science and the series’ supernatural ‘He Walks Behind The Rows‘. None of it holds up to the slightest scrutiny. For instance, the modern era-hating children inexplicably use technology to kill a woman in a wheelchair. As a matter of fact, the entire sequel is prefaced on characters making asinine decisions. With a few recognizable television actors, including Terrance Knox (Tour of Duty) and Christie Clark (Days of Our Lives) The Final Sacrifice is an unremarkable but inoffensive sequel.

4 – Children of the Corn: Runaway (2018)

Though it’s no classic (or even necessarily a good movie), Children of the Corn: Runaway is better than anything else the series produced in about 20 years. Taking a page from other horror franchises, Runaway loosely positions itself as a sequel to the 1984 original. It’s story of a Gatlin survivor who escaped with her infant son only to fear He Who Walks Behind the Rows has found her again at least tries something different. A dull, slow first half gives way to a few decent moments and reveals. Sadly, its final act can’t salvage the sequel. Still it’s better than it had any right being.

3 – Children of the Corn: Urban Harvest (1995)

No, Children of the Corn Part III: Urban Harvest is not a masterpiece of horror. But it’s a noticeable upgrade over The Final Sacrifice. Just the move to a different setting outside of cornfield helped. As one of the few sequels to even pretend to include some continuity, Urban Harvest benefits from an actually creepy antagonist. In addition, this sequels boasts several inspired death scenes. Revel in practical effects that range from creative to ridiculous. By the time you reach the climax, the movie’s use of what looks like action figures for one sequence should be funny in all the best ways.

2 – Children of the Corn: The Gathering (1996)

One of the most surprising parts of the Children of the Corn series was its ability to somehow cast actors who who were either recognizable or who would go on to bigger things. In the fourth film of the series, Naomi Watts (King Kong) actually doesn’t just cameo – she’s the big star. Just her presence alone makes this sequel better than most of what the series has to offer. But The Gathering also manages to offer a few disturbing images and a somewhat interesting story. As far as the series goes, The Gathering isn’t a classic but a few inspiring death scenes and Watts herself elevate everything around them.

1 – Children of the Corn (1984)

No surprises here. Amongst a pack of straight-to-video movies that often struggled to be watchable the perfectly mediocre Children of the Corn is the best. 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. There’s a few creepy moments early in the movie before poor specials effects take over. And Isaac and Malachai are the ‘Jagger and Richards’ of the series.

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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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