Children of the Corn: ‘Your punishment shall be a thousand deaths, each more horrible than the last!’

Stephen King is known for his great horror stories that become classic horror films (Carrie, The Shining – just to name a few). Is Children of the Corn one? Nope. My reaction to this 1984 cult classic was: it’s not the best thing that you’ve ever seen, but you kind of enjoyed it. Based on the short story, this film suffers from adapting a short story and stretching it into a full-length feature film.

This film is about the children of Gatlin, Nebraska who have been brainwashed by an entity and commit ritual murders of all the adults in the town to ensure a successful corn harvest. Burt and Vicky – an out of town couple are driving through the town and hit a child who dies on the scene. While trying to find a way to get help, they become discover the empty town of Gatlin and where all the adults are dead and become victims of the town children’s next sacrifice in the ritualistic killing to save the corn harvest.

One thing this film suffers is the differences from the Stephen King short story to the George Goldsmith screenplay. The film has been considerably altered, while the certification is an 18 in the UK, maybe some of the alterations made to the script were due to the nature of the way the children were used. For example, Malachai, one of the main antagonists has a pregnant teenage girlfriend in the short story, while in the film she is non-existent, this could merely be to try and avoid backlash from parents who think murdering children set a bad example. While in the story, our two main adults are bickering spouses, In the film they are a young couple in love played by Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton, better known as Sarah Connor from Terminator. While this change might be an attempt for the audience to care for their survival and root for them, honestly, I couldn’t give a damn about them. They were poorly written, as both felt like wet blankets – at times I found myself laughing at them, especially Burt – he makes some questionable errors – but hey, at least it shows that you can have an idiot as a protagonist!

It is the children that carry the film, dressed like they are the poor children from Oliver Twist. These children are unfortunately like most of the characters: very two-dimensional, but their performances are something special. Malachai and Isaac, the main children and villains surprisingly stood out in the film. If Malachai approached me, I would run, it’s not that his performance was particularly scary and while you may laugh at some point, if faced with him, you would know not to mess about. Then there is Isaac, our 12-year-old leader, portrayed by a 25-year-old man at the time. 25! Really!? He didn’t stand out as much as Malachai, but his performance felt like a cross between Donald Trump and Joffrey from Game of Thrones: a spoilt man-child who likes power and control. But while they may not be scary, you enjoy them more than the other characters.

One of my favourite things about this low budget “horror” (and I use that term loosely) is the soundtrack. While it is not the scariest soundtrack that relies on a sudden increase in volume or that nasty build up that makes audiences anticipate the next jump scene – it goes for the alternative route by embracing the religious undertones of the film. Some of the scores have a children choir singing in it, the synchronisation of the singing, is very eerie and creepy, while other tracks opted for creepier score – while it won’t scare you or enhance the possible response of being scared, it opts for being spine-chilling, whenever the score came on and it felt ritualistic with the choir singing, I immediately got chills on my arms, and it added to the characters of the children.

Would I say this film is a horror? That is a difficult question to answer because while the story has all the conventions of a horror, it can’t help but feel relatively safe. While the scenes in which the children kill the adults in the opening is shocking and surprising, the entity known as “He who walks behind the rows” remains very much mysterious, so the film doesn’t actually feel like your typical horror. It takes a more plot driven route as the introduction of new characters Sarah and Job, the only kids not brainwashed, leads to Burt trying to save the kids and ending on an optimistic ending. It starts to feel less like a horror story and more like an adventure as there becomes a way to solve it. This direction was done to give the film a closed ending, however, I can’t help but want an ambiguous open ending.

I may sound like I’m hating Children of the Corn: that is not my intention as I thoroughly enjoyed it, but it is one of those movies that if you are watching it for the first time, you kind of need to take it with a pinch of salt. If you were a kid when it was released it likely scared you, however, seeing it in this modern day, it is more entertaining and I understand why it gained a cult following. Although it does surprise me that they managed to make 8 sequels out of one short story – but I would watch the sequels after seeing this. Nevertheless, it is also one of those films where it’s easy to pick holes in, and question the decisions made by the characters and the director – for example, remember earlier when I mentioned that kid that died and was stuffed in the boot of the car? He never left that boot, he is probably still decomposing in the boot of an abandoned car in the fictional town of Gatlin. R.I.P. boy who got slit in the throat, hit by a car and stuffed in the boot. We haven’t forgotten you, others have.

Children of the Corn
Director: Fritz Kiersch
Scriptwriter: George Goldsmith
Starring: Peter Horton; Linda Hamilton
Released: 1984
Running Time: 92 minutes (1 hours 32 minutes)

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