Written by: Tera Kirk
Directed by: Fritz Kiersch
Cast: Peter Horton, Linda Hamilton, R.G. Armstrong, John Franklin, Courtney Gaines
I know, I know–Stephen King hates it, but the 1984 version of Children of the Corn holds a special place in my heart. Is it because in high school my best friend showed it to me without my mom’s knowledge because “You’ve lived in Nebraska your whole life and have never seen this movie?!“ The alleged teenagers saying things like: ”Outlander! We have your woman!”? The fact that the kids kill all the adults in town by poisoning the after-church coffee? Thirty years and seven sequels later, this flick is still a lot of scary fun—bad special effects and all.
While driving through Nebraska where nothing interesting ever happens, not-exactly-happy couple Burt and Vicky accidentally hit a little boy with their car. Except…what’s with these stab wounds? This crucified corncob doll in the kid’s briefcase? All these weird religious sermons on the radio? Naturally, they put his body in the trunk and try to look for a police station.
Instead, they find a bunch of children with Biblical names and a very vengeful god.
This film focuses more on the children and their weird religion than King’s original story does, fleshing out their beliefs and giving them personalities. Job may not want to be involved in the murder cult, but he has no qualms about cheating at Monopoly. Also there is something really creepy about him and his sister playing dress-up in their dead parents’ clothes. But it’s Isaac the prophet and his right-hand man Malachi who stick out for me. Each of them is trying to do the right thing according to his (warped) values. John Franklin and Courtney Gaines are perfectly over-the-top as devout followers of He Who Walks Behind the Rows; Malachi regularly says “Seize him!” without a hint of irony. I also really love the music. The chanting (“Glorious! Glorious! Glorious!”) is equal parts eerie and catchy.
The movie’s only real flaw is when He Who Walks Behind the Rows actually makes an appearance. Sure, the special effects take a big chunk of the blame–those weird lights when He takes Isaac, for instance–but also, eldritch horrors aren’t meant to be seen. Anything the audience imagines is going to be more terrifying than whatever is explicitly shown to us. (Frankly, I’m still giggling at “eyes the size of footballs” twenty years after first reading that story.) But as cheesy as it gets sometimes, there’s something almost primally terrifying about children offering all the adults in town to a bloodthirsty god.
About the author: Tera Kirk has loved horror movies since before her mom allowed her to watch most of them. (One of her fondest childhood memories is being terrified of the trailer for Stuart Gordon’s Dolls.) She has written for Monsters At Play, and reviews video games for GameCritics.com. Her more-or-less personal website is Sweet Perdition.