Children of the Corn (1984) Blu-ray Review: Killer Kids Get Religion

Cult movies aren’t the same as good movies. Good movies generally have decent production values, interesting stories and scripts, nuanced performances, and resonant themes. Cult movies can have any or all of the above, but can often dispense with most or even all of the markers of quality to create their cult moments. That weird scene, that creepy image, that one thing you couldn’t believe you were seeing. Children of the Corn misses a lot of marks as a good movie, but it sure has more than its share of cult-making moments.

The premise helps a lot – in the small town of Gatlin, Nebraska, one day all the children rise up and slaughter their parents. Every adult in town is apparently dead in hours, all at the behest of a creepy kid named Isaac. Three years later, the strange little community of murderous children is uncovered by a couple driving by the road in another scene that sticks in the mind: an escaping kid, standing in the middle of the road, bleeding from the throat, whom the couple brutally runs over in their car.

Our vehicular-manslaughter-commiting protagonists are a doctor on the way to a new job, Bert (Peter Horton) and his not-quite fiancee Vicky (Linda Hamilton), who examine the kid’s body, throw it in their trunk, and drive off to find the nearest town. What they find is Gatlin, which looks completely abandoned. No cars running, no businesses operating, and very weirdly, corn grows in strange places – out of the sidewalk, inside of buildings. At the same time, inside the creepy kid’s religious community, evil preacher child Isaac (John Franklin) is in a growing conflict with the older Malachai (Courtney Gains). Isaac is the conduit of the word of their god, He Who Walks Behind the Rows, but Malachai thinks he isn’t being fanatical enough. They’ve left two kids in town alive who don’t subscribe to their new murder and corn based religion. I guess after mass murdering the town’s adults, Malachai thinks Isaac went soft.

The plot unfolds in rather typical horror movie ways – the couple searches around town, there’s a couple of jump scares, eventually leading to foot chases and violence. The last half hour is more by the numbers than the first, where Bert and Vicki’s investigations get weirder and weirder.

Maybe the film would be more effective if Bert and Vicki’s sense of confusion were shared by the audience. Whatever the movie gains in its early shocking scene of murdering kids, it loses a sense of mystery. Then there’s some truly terrible special effects at the end.

Children of the Corn has some good and more bad child acting. John Franklin as Isaac cuts an eerie figure, though the actor was actually in his 20s at the time, his short stature attributable to a growth hormone disorder that kept him at around five feet.

Based rather loosely on Stephen King’s story, Children of the Corn was directed by first time director Fritz Kiersch. The film’s effectiveness is largely the responsibility of an interesting production design. The corn stalks in the buildings may, the corn crucifixes and one weird image of a cop suit filled with weirdly shape corn stand out, as do the defaced religious paintings Bert finds when searching through town for any evidence of adults.

Children of the Corn lacks the relentless pace of modern horror movies, which to my mind is an element definitely in its favor. There’s a couple of stupid jump scares, but none of the jackhammering enormous-noise-thing-flashing-in-front-of-the-camera sameness that has infected horror movies since at least the early ’00s. It’s the sort of movie that probably works best if you see it when you’re too young for it, to let some of the creepy images worm their way into your consciousness. As just a movie, Children of the Corn is passable. But there’s no question why this weird little movie has developed a following.

This release of Children of the Corn by Arrow video also has a terrific array of extras. A number of these are carried over from a previous Anchor Bay release, but this release also contains a slew of brand new extras. This includes a brand commentary track by Justin Beahm and Children of the Corn historian John Sullivan, which is heavy on detail and factoids about the history of the film, and a second track with the director, the producer, and actors John Franklin and Courtney Gains which focuses on the production. There are eight featurettes on the disk, four each from a previous release and four new to this disc, totaling almost three hours of supplementary video material, consisting mainly of interviews with the production team and the actors. Included as well is a short film, Disciples of the Crow, which is a short adaptation of Stephen King’s story made a year before this feature.

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Kent Conrad

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