Nearly 40 years have passed since Children of the Corn stalked cineplexes. Among Stephen King adaptations, the 1984 mix of supernatural horror and slasher basics falls slightly on the lower end of the scale. Yet somehow Children of the Corn has become a B-horror movie franchise similar to the Hellraiser and Puppet Master series. To date, eight sequels spanning three decades have been produced, as well as a 2009 made-for-television remake. Most of these movies are dreadful. Not surprisingly, poor quality hasn’t stopped a new remake – or new adaption of King’s short story – from actually getting a theatrical release this year. Apparently, this version saw a brief release in 2020 before getting a more formal release three years later, which may say a lot about its quality.
Children of the Corn (1984) Gets a Pass Mostly on its 80s Horror Nostalgia
Children of the Corn is, at best, an inconsistent mess. No amount of nostalgia can elevate the 1984 horror movie to anything above cult classic status. Its director, Fritz Kiersch, was working with a tiny budget. Nowhere are these 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. To his credit Kiersch initially strikes a nice balance between atmospheric tension and slasher-lite theatrics. No, Kiersch never fully dials 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 way.
No amount of nostalgia can elevate the 1984 horror movie to anything above cult classic status.
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. 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. Moreover, its ending feels tonally inconsistent with everything that proceeded it. But this 1984 King adaptation is a mildly passable old-school 80s horror movie that’s at least watchable from start to finish.
Children of the Corn (2023) Fundamentally Misunderstands Its Source Material
If there was a Stephen King adaptation ripe for a re-imagining, Children of the Corn was among the best options. Take a look at current socio-political events – religious fanaticism and generational rifts make the idea of an extremist cult led by a child terrifying and relevant. Yet writer and director Kurt Wimmer (Spell) doesn’t touch on these potential thematic elements. In fact, it’s not even clear that Wimmer has read the source material, which is admittedly sparse. There’s killer kids, a cornfield, and mention of ‘He Who Walks’, but that’s about it. Instead, Wimmer takes the first five minutes of the 1984 original – the uprising of children against the adults – and extends it into the entire remake. While there was potential in that idea, Children of the Corn does absolutely nothing of interest with it.
In fact, it’s not even clear that Wimmer has read the source material, which is admittedly sparse.
All of the religious subtext is also missing. This version replaces it with something about big corporations spoiling the cornfields. However, no one would fault audiences that had trouble piecing some things together. That initial plot point disappears altogether once the killing starts. Maybe there was some excessive post-production editing, but the final story often strays into incoherent territory. There’s a prologue with a teen killing adults at a group home and a sheriff poisoning a bunch of kids – much of this plot point also seems to fade into the background. Simply put, what little storytelling exists tends to be very choppy.
The 2023 Re-Imagining Lacks Much Imagination … And Scares
Thought it’s often a poorly made B-movie, the original Children of the Corn was never boring. And it’s evil duo of Isaac and Malachi were often at least mildly chilling. In their place, the Children of the Corn remake offers a little girl named Eden. Not only is she not a devout cultist preaching fundamentalist rhetoric, Eden more closely resembles the annoying child neighbour from an 80 or early 90s sitcom – the kind of sitcom that would air on a Friday night. And this isn’t the fault of the child actor. Rather the blame lies with Wimmer’s screenplay. Only one other character remotely has any sense of personality or definable traits and that’s Elena Kampouris’ ‘Boleyn Williams’. It’s Kampouris’ performance that stands out as the one bright light.
Behind the camera, Wimmer struggles to pace the story and build any sort of momentum. In addition to a lack of scares, there’s not much in the way of slasher action or gore, leaving little for horror fans.
Nothing else about this Children of the Corn re-imagining works. Behind the camera, Wimmer struggles to pace the story and build any sort of momentum. In addition to a lack of scares, there’s not much in the way of slasher action or gore, leaving little for horror fans. Though King’s short story and the 1984 original were always vague about ‘He Walks Behind the Rows’, Wimmer’s interpretation is an absolute mess. That is, Wimmer really has no interpretation, offering nothing about the entity yet also choosing to show it via some poor CGI effects. The result is a potentially haunting and ambiguous entity turned into a purposeless, lumbering beast.
Children of the Corn – Remake or New Adaptation – Is Just Plain Bad
No one’s going to mistake the original Children of the Corn for a masterpiece of horror cinema. King’s original short story was threadbare for starters – not the best source material for a feature length movie. And the 1984 original is a low-budget affair with a handful of decent jolts and two good actors in the lead roles lost amidst a poor B-movie. Only nostalgic 80s horror fans likely have more nice to say about the creepy kids thriller. But the 2023 remake makes the original movie – and some of its sequels – look like a masterpiece. Specifically, the remake is purposeless, dull and boring, and sometimes incoherently plotted. At present, it’s an early candidate for ‘Worst Horror Movie of the Year’.