Children of the Corn (1984) 4K Ultra HD Review: Beating Up Kids in 4K

In the cottage industry of Stephen King adaptations, it’s strange that one of his early stories about killer kids has become his most adapted. Children of the Corn has spawned 11 different films – straight adaptations, sequels, prequels. Maybe the premise is resonant: religiously activated children turning their rural surroundings into a low-tech Logan’s Run with the help of a corn god seems to maintain people’s interest.

While changing several of the details of the original short story, this first adaptation of Children of the Corn maintains the outlines of the story. A couple traveling through rural Nebraska run over a child in the road. When the man, a doctor, examines the body, he finds it was already dying when he hit it. The boy’s throat had been slit, and very recently. They try and take the boy to the nearest town, but the roads seem to shift and the signs all point the wrong way. Eventually, despite being warned off by an old man, they end up in Gatlin, which seems entirely abandoned.

Of course, we know it’s not, because we saw the first 10 minutes of the movie where the town’s children slaughtered the inhabitants. I previously reviewed Children of the Corn here, when Arrow released the film on Blu-ray in 2017. My feelings on the film remain the same: there are some good suspense sequences, and some very striking imagery. In particular the folk-art stylings of religious iconography grown out of corn are creepy. The corn growing over all of the town, even inside towns, is an insidious touch.

But the pace is a little slow, and that the film holds little mystery for the audience cuts down on the intrigue. It does have the visceral fun of a grown man having to beat the crap out of a bunch of younger kids. They’re all little murderers, so they deserve it.

Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of the film is a special effects laden finale that doesn’t work. The corn god, He Who Walks Behind the Rows, sounds terrifying. The vision of it burrowing through the dirt in the corn fields is intriguing. But then it’s either a terrible optical light effect or that hoary standby of practical effects, the weird colored billowing cloud. Neither fire the imagination.

But each looks better… or at least clearer… than ever on this new 4K Ultra HD release. The booklet in the release says it’s a new 4K Restoration from the original negative. It’s a film from 1984, so there’s plenty of grain present and Children of the Corn has a muted autumnal color palette to begin with. It’s not a flash film, and it was shot on a limited budget. There are several scenes that do look extremely grainy, but the colors and skin tones are more vibrant than the previous release, and the blacks look spectacular. Scenes in the cornfields look particularly vivid, and there’s a lot of corn in this movie, so that’s saying something.

The soundtrack has also been upgraded. Arrow’s 2017 release was 2.0 and 5.1 DTS. This new 4K UHD release boasts the same number of channels, but in uncompressed audio. It’s not a terribly dynamic soundtrack, but it’s still an appreciated upgrade.

Whether it’s worth it for current owners of the Blu-ray depends on how much one needs to watch Children of the Corn in the best possible video. The suite of extras available on this disc is voluminous, but there aren’t any that were not available on the previous release. It’s not a film I watch often, though I can appreciate its merits. It’s also not a 4K disc to show off a system, but it’s undoubtedly an improvement over the previous release, and looks great for a low-budget ’80s film.

Children of the Corn has been released on 4K Ultra HD by Arrow Video. One should note, this release only has the 4K disc, not a standard Blu-ray disc with the film. Extras on disc include a pair of commentaries: one with director Fritz Kiersch, producer Terrence Kirby and actor John Franklin and Courtney Gains, and one by journalist Justin Beahm and Children of the Corn historian John Sullivan. Video extras include “Harvesting Horror” (36 min) a retrospective doc; “It Was the Eighties!” (14 min) an interview with Linda Hamilton; “. . .And a Child Shall Lead Them” (51 min) interviews actors Julie Maddalena and John Philbin, “Field of Nightmares” (17 min) an interview with writer George Goldsmith; “Stephen King on a Shoestring” (12 min) an interview with producer Donald P. Borchers; “Welcome to Gatlin” (16 min) interviews with production designer Craig Stearns and composer Jonathan Elias; “Return to Gatlin” (17 min) which is a tour of filming locations, and “Cut from the Cornfield” (6 min) where actor Rich Kleinberg talks about a lost scene. There is also a short film adaptation of Children of the Corn, “Disciples of the Crow” (19 min.) There are also trailers and a storyboard gallery. Included in the booklet is a pair of essays about the film.

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Kent Conrad

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