Children Of The Corn (1984) Review (R)

Despite this film being a little dated, some occasionally/frequently bad acting, isn’t exactly executed logically at times, has some really terrible FX towards the end and was made on a shoestring budget, you would think that it’s a given that this a terrible film. But… It’s not. It’s actually one of the better big screen adaptations of  Stephen King’s work (of the 1980s). I’m not saying that it adheres to the King short story. It doesn’t. I’ve read it. I actually liked the film’s less nihilistic ending, too. But, there are some major flaws with the story.

One of the common things I see in watching old films (this one being 27 years old) is that there are sometimes re-edits or there ar e deleted scenes that are re-inserted into the the film. I am not a fan of this. I like to see the film as it was released unless it’s that rare director’s cut that improves on the theatrical release a la Blade Runner (which had studio interference among other things). I watched the Children of the Corn on a popular streaming service and right out of the gate I felt like I was watching a different film than the one I had seen so many years ago. I could be wrong and the version I saw was how the film has always started, but my memory says otherwise.

The opening diner sequence reveals what has happened in the town of Gatlin far too early in the film. That’s not the biggest disappointment, though. The film has a pretty good setup, hinting at the horror that is He Who Walks Behind The Corn. You wait the entire film, there’s tension built up by the weird situation and you get… Well, the movie is still a lot of fun, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Stephen King’s original short is two things. One is King treading in the waters of Lovecraft. This is very reminiscent of those stories where ordinary folks stumble into one of those situations where a hidden mild-mannered corner of  the world has become the gateway to another dimension or harbors dark secrets where the townsfolk have come under the influence of some horribly monstrous ‘bigger than Man’ entity. Children Of the Corn definitely fits that bill. The other thing King was attempting was to say something about religious groups being led by less than scrupulous leaders. I really don’t see this as an attack on religion. It’s a morality tale, if anything. It’s no accident that King made the zealots children/young adults.

The film definitely has its shortcomings. I think the filmmakers could have expanded the short story much more successfully than it does. Perhaps they could have even taken out the supernatural elements to make this work a little better than it does with such a low budget. It could have even kept some of the supernatual stuff that didn’t require big money, such as the Stephen King horror staple: the clairovoyant kid. It does deliver on being creepy at times, just less so with that added opening sequence  (if it was, in fact, added).

This is one of the closest brushes with slasher material that King has come to. Just the shots of  various farm tools being wielded as weapons is probably enough to drive non-horror fans away. This seemed to be in the same neighborhood of acceptability as the 70s and 80s zombie flicks and slasher films in general.  Even though I watched most of them (and enjoyed some of them), I think I was more comfortable when society was a little more repulsed by them. Hell, zombies are cool now… even kool with a ‘k’.

Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton are both great as the protagonists that are going about their life when they get hit by the metaphorical tornado. Hamilton used to be a regular in genre flicks, if not quite being a card carrying scream queen. Horton probably should have been in more of these. He’s great here as the hero. The film has an offbeat creepiness to it. King’s villains can be somewhat ‘garden variety’ and theyhave a ‘common-ness’ here. It’s their actions, not their appearance (see The Dead Zone, The Shining, The Stand, etc)…

However, red headed and scarecrow-like  “Malachai” (Courtney Gains) has to be one of the more distinctive horror genre henchmen/villains. The real highlight for me, though, has to be Job, one of the two kids who haven’t been corrupted by Isaac and company. Job (Robby Kiger) has many of the film’s best lines and would later go onto another of my favorite films involving kids and horror: The Monster Squad. Not to be held up with classics of the genre, but still good fun for horror enthusiasts.

3.5 of 5

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