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Children of the Corn (1984)

Stephen Kings Children of the Corn

In their world adults are not allowed... to live.

Directed by:

Fritz Kiersch

Rating: 6/10

Running Time: 92 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 18

On DVD

Country: United States

There are certain culinary terms which have become so much a part of negative critical language – 'cheese', 'lemon', 'tomato' – that it it difficult to take seriously any film which uses them in its title. Likewise you might suppose that a person who came up with a title including the word 'corn' was just asking for trouble – but if that person turned out to be the astronomically successful author Stephen King, he probably had a fair idea of what he was doing. While Fritz Kiersch's low-budget horror 'Children of the Corn', based on one of the short stories from King's 'Night Shift' collection, certainly has its fair share of corn (in every sense), it is served up alongside a generous portion of genuine eerieness, guaranteeing the film's status as a cult classic about, er, a cult.

Three years ago, in rural Gatlin, “the nicest little town in Nebraska”, the local children slaughtered all the adults and buried them in the cornfield on the instructions of a newly arrived boy named Isaac (John Franklin) who claimed to preach the sacred word of “He who walks behind the Rows”. Three years later, Isaac's cultish hold over the children continues, all the trappings of modern life are forbidden, strange sacrificial rites are performed on anyone who turns nineteen, and dissent is swiftly punished by Isaac's enthusiastic enforcer Malachai (a bestial Courtney Gains). Destiny draws city couple Burt (Peter 'Thirtysomething' Horton) and Vicky (Linda Hamilton, just before she made it big in 'The Terminator') into this ghosttown of repression and backwardness, where they must contend not only with gangs of underage religious zealots baying for their blood, and a vicious power struggle between Isaac and Malachai, but also with the evil that lurks amidst the corn…

'Children of the Corn' taps into urban anxieties about the peculiar ways of America's corn-fed bible-belters – but far more chillingly memorable is the sight of children armed with machetes, hooks and scythes, chanting “Kill! Kill! Kill!”. For like 'Lord of the Flies', 'Village of the Damned' and 'Would You Kill a Child?' before it, 'Children of the Corn' takes the innocence normally associated with children and inflects it with a sinister malevolence, creating images that are unnervingly creepy. This is most effective in the opening sequence, when the children exchange knowingly naughty glances before massacring their own parents – but it is not long before the film gets mired in seemingly endless scenes of Burt being chased through town by teenaged terrors, all choreographed to Jonathan Elias' hilariously portentous soundtrack (a sort of eighties rock opera version of the Carmina Burana). Burt and Vicky make an anodyne pair , and I quickly found myself rooting for the kids.

And then there's the creature. Kiersch manages to pull off some special effects that are impressive for all their simplicity, like the rapidly moving soil in the cornfields, or the cornstalks that part of their own accord – or even try to hold Burt down (in a rather half-hearted reprise of the notorious tree-rape scene from 'The Evil Dead'). None of this, however, can excuse the monster's cheap and nasty (and I mean 'nasty' in the worst possible sense) manifestation in the film's final sequence – a truly laughable apparition that is the very embodiment of corniness. I guess you reap what you sow.

It's Got: John Franklin playing Isaac as a cross between Oskar from The Tin Drum and Malcolm from Malcolm in the Middle; Courtney Gains making his menacing Malachai pronounce the word woman as though they are some foreign species; a curmudgeonly old garage attendant (R.G. Armstrong) actually uttering the old cliché "They dont cotton to outsiders"; an axe-blade hacking through a door à la The Shining; the truly bizarre line "He was already dead when he stumbled out into the road"; crucifixes made of corn; Linda Hamilton dancing and lip-synching to School is Out; and 6 sequels to date.

It Needs: Tighter plotting, less aimless running to and fro, and either a more convincing effect for the monster in the climax - or else no monster at all.

DVD Extras 16x9 anamorphic; scene selection; choice of 2.0/5.1/dts; optional subtitles for the hard of hearing; full audio commentary by director Fritz Kiersch, producer Terrence Kirkby, and stars John Franklin (Isaac) and Courtney Gains (Malachai), with Kiersch revealing that Linda Hamiltons fright in the dream sequence was real thanks to her unawareness that there was an actor hidden under the blanket, Gains saying of his dog-killing scene "metal chicks in the eighties loved it", and all four sounding as though they are greatly enjoying their reunion; Harvesting Horror: Children of the Corn (36min), a featurette which includes John Franklin on his growth hormone deficiency (he was 23 during filming, but looked 12 – and he now, some two decades later, looks 23) and the origin of Isaacs odd haircut (Franklin had just finished playing a child vulcan in an advertisement), Courtney Gains on perfecting the "Im-gonna-eat-you-alive stare" and on giving people nightmares, and Fritz Kiersch on spray-painting yellow corn and realising special effects on a minuscule budget; bios of Stephen King, Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton (who had actually been married to Horton for a year in 1979); extensive picture galleries (kids title gallery/original storyboard art/poster and production stills. Note that Children of the Corn is also available in an Anchor Bay boxset with Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice and Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest. DVD Extras Rating: 7/10

Alternatives:

Lord of the Flies, The Omen, Village of the Damned, Would You Kill A Child?

Summary

As ye sow, so shall ye reap – and for all its initial creepiness, in the end this Mid-western gothic yields a big cropful of corn.

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