Anchor Bay // 1984 // 92 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // April 27th, 2001
An adult nightmare.
Stephen King has had almost all his books and short stories turned into feature length films. Some have been exceptional (The Shawshank Redemption, Misery, Stand By Me), others are floating near the bottom of the barrel (The Mangler, Lawnmower Man). In 1984 the first of many short stories from his book "Night Shift" was turned into a movie. Children Of The Corn featured a then-unknown Linda Hamilton Terminator 2: Judgment Day) and Peter Horton (Thirtysomething). A modest hit (grossing over $15 million at the box office) and an even bigger hit on home video, Children Of The Corn bafflingly spawned six sequels and made everyone who lived in Iowa and Nebraska nervous. My favorite studio, Anchor Bay, dishes up this 1984 flick on DVD.
The town of Gatlin, Nebraska, has seen better days. Three years ago the local children started listening to a demonic power that lives in the cornfields and went forth slaughtering all the adults living in Gatlin. Now the town is deserted and all the children follow Isaac (John Franklin) and his right hand man Malachai (Courtney Gains), doing wacky ritualistic ceremonies such as carving stars in their chests and sacrificing themselves to "he who walks behind the rows." As you can guess, Gatlin is not the tourist attraction it once was.
Driving through Nebraska's lush highways are a doctor, Burt (Horton), and his wife, Vicky (Hamilton), on their way to a new life and a new job. Along the way they hit a frenzied child who runs smack dab into their car's radiator. After some inspection they notice he already had a slit throat before he was hit. Amazingly, Burt deduces that something is amiss in the small town of Gatlin.
They seem to run in circles trying to figure out what's going on, heading from one run down gas station to another until they meet up with Isaac and his band of misfit children. The group is able to kidnap Vicky, tying her up to a cross made of corn stalk. They want Burt as well, for they are about to do a sacrifice to "he who walks behind the rows." Burt, however, has other plans, and they include getting his wife back and the hell out of Gatlin.
Burt's got a good idea...but will the corn devil let them leave? And can you believe I actually used the words "corn devil" in a sentence? [Editor's Note: Yes.]
Children Of The Corn is just barely treading water as a horror film. This is not the most exciting way to spend an hour and a half of your life. The bulk of the film is Burt and Vicky driving around looking for a way out of town, and the rest of the film is of the children looking into the rows of corn listening to Isaac say things like "so take you his life, and spill his blood," and other such pontifications. Sure, there are a few times where someone gets an old sickle to the temple, but otherwise Children Of The Corn is pretty dull. Keep in mind that this was a very short story by King, so when they scripted it for screen they had to beef it up a bit (apparently making sure it was lean beef). I think that, as a rule, if a story is less than 25 pages long, let's not attempt to make it a feature-length film.
Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton work fine as the leads, but there's nothing about their performances that makes you think, "Wow, these are two electric actors giving great performances." In fact, I was hardly able to keep from falling asleep during the middle portion of this film.
The rest of the cast is ho-hum, especially the children. John Franklin (Isaac) sounds like he's reading from cue cards, and the rest of the kids sound like the just learned their lines that morning. Courtney Gains, so funny and creepy in Joe Dante's The 'Burbs, recites his lines with a growl and whine, making his character extremely one-dimensional.
The screenplay is based on Biblical principles (even the names of the children, like Job and Isaac, are obviously taken from scripture), and "he who walks behind the rows" is, I would assume, Satan. Why Satan would be hanging around a cornfield in the middle of Nebraska with nothing better to do is never explained. Apparently spreading a bubonic plague in East Africa seemed like a boring way to spend the month for him.
For you horror buffs, there are some nice moments of tension and gore, but it's kept at a minimum. The opening scene with the killing of the adults elicits some chills, and I'm guessing it'll make you think twice about heading into a small town coffee shop alone. The ending, however, leaves much to be desired. Because of budgetary constraints the special effects are very poor, and we never do get to see "he who walks being the rows." Then again, that may not be a bad thing, as in King's original story he is described in only two sentences.
Children Of The Corn is presented in anamorphic 1.66:1 and, for its age and budget, looks good. The image is sometimes soft, and there are many instances of color muting. Grain was also present, though not as bad as some '80s movies on DVD. Blacks were solid though not always, and a bit of edge enhancement was present. Anchor Bay has probably done the best they could, especially considering what the source print probably looked like.
Children Of The Corn features the original soundtrack in Dolby Digital 2.0, as well as a new remix in Dolby Digital 5.1. The remix sounds much better than expected, though rear speakers were not utilized much. Dialogue was clear and music/effects mixed well. The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is not nearly as effective as the 5.1, but if you're looking to watch the film the same way you originally saw it, 2.0 is the way to go.
Extra features include a theatrical trailer, which makes the film look much more exciting than it really is, as well as a sixteen-page collector's booklet, featuring images from the film, as well as liner notes by Michael Flesher (yeah, I don't know who he is either).
Well, once again I have let my emotions take over, already giving you the lowdown on the low parts of Children Of The Corn. This just wasn't a very fun movie. There was hardly any humor, the effects were adequate at best, and the performances are weak. I can't believe that this film actually produced five different sequels. I think that, by rule of thumb, avoid any movie with a vegetable in its title (Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is excluded).
For around $20-25 dollars Children Of The Corn is not worth the purchase price. As a rental it's hard to recommend due to the fact that it's so solemn and boring. I guess if you really want to know the story, go back and read it in King's "Night Shift." Anchor Bay it commended is bringing this title to DVD though.
Guilty of being a schlocky horror film. Anchor Bay is released on good behavior for putting the title out.
Review content copyright © 2001 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.66:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 1984
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Theatrical Trailer
* 16-Page Collector's Booklet