Anchor Bay // 1984 // 92 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Brendan Babish (Retired) // July 10th, 2009
And a child shall lead them...
Like many of those looking forward to the Children of the Corn (Blu-ray) rerelease, I have fond memories of watching this in my youth. Or, to be more accurate, I know I watched it many times while a child (I had permissive parents), but remember little of the film itself, save for a few vague images, mostly of corn and a scythe. Still, I was looking forward to re-watching it and being genuinely scared, or at least entertained by a low-budget 1980s horror movie. Sadly, I wasn't satisfied on either count.
Children of the Corn takes place in a small agrarian town in Nebraska named Gatlin. One day, without warning, the town's young people (teens and younger) rise up and brutally kill off all the adults. Why? Well, that's not exactly clear, though it does have something to do with an evil cornfield. When adult couple Burt (Peter Horton, Side Out) and Vicky (Linda Hamilton, The Terminator) start poking around the seemingly abandoned streets of Gatlin, you know there's going to be trouble. Neither the corn, nor the young cult that lives amongst it, takes kindly to outsiders.
While the nostalgia element is especially subjective, I have difficulty imagining many people appreciating this film unironically. Horror movies featuring children as the perpetrators are always tricky, since children are inherently less scary than Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees types, and also because children tend to be bad actors. The children here definitely aren't that good, though to be fair, even James Lipton would have trouble delivering some of this sensationalistic dialogue. Still, it doesn't help that it's children, or teenagers, bellowing lines like "Do it now, or your punishment shall be a thousand deaths, each more horrible than the last!"
Additionally, the film's foundation is a muddled concept. At times, Children of the Corn plays like a heavy handed polemic against false religions, particularly those that advocate violence. Burt's awkward speech near the film's conclusion makes that all too clear. The problem is, there really is an evil supernatural force living in the cornfield. This means that the young cult, led by the messianic half-pint Isaac (John Franklin), isn't delusional. These are not the Branch Davidians or Heaven's Gate; this fact neuters any aspirations this film has at being a social commentary (aspirations that were misplaced in a horror movie in the first place).
The film does little right, and has an accordingly discordant ending. Without giving anything away, it manages to be odd and cheesy, undermining the previous 90 minutes. That said, Children of the Corn has just enough redeemable features to prevent one from enjoying it ironically. Both Horton and Hamilton give credible performances, and the eerie soundtrack by Jonathan Elias would probably be even scarier without the accompanying film. So I'm not really sure who the movie is going to appeal to, but it's probably a small group when you take out fans of horror and 1980s kitsch.
Despite my reservations about the movie itself, I am a huge fan of Anchor Bay's presentation. This is no perfunctory Blu-ray release. There was real thought and effort put into upgrading the movie for its 25th anniversary.
First off, Children of the Corn looks better than any low-budget film from the early 1980s has a right to look. The colors are a little muted, which actually seems fitting for a rustic Midwestern town, but the picture is clear and clean of almost any dust or scratches. Befitting a town in neglect, the picture here shows rotting wood, moldy curtains, and endless miles of corn in pristine detail.
The film features a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack, which nicely accentuates Elias' previously mentioned score. Other than that, the rest of the soundtrack mostly uses only the center channel and rarely employs any of the back speakers. Perhaps some of the chase scenes could have better employed the rear channels, but all in all the mediocre soundtrack is not too much of a lost opportunity, since most of the film's scares come from the score and treats of violence.
Where this Blu-ray really stands out is in the extras created for this Blu-ray rerelease, including a bevy of new featurettes presented in HD. "It Was the Eighties!" is an interview with the slightly delusional, but good-natured, Linda Hamilton in which she discusses the enduring quality of the film. "Welcome to Gatlin: The Sights and Sounds of Children of the Corn" is a 15-minute featurette with Production Designer Craig Stearns and Composer Jonathan Elias, who discusses his effectively creepy score. "Stephen King on a Shoestring" is a short featurette in which Producer Donald P. Borchers discusses the myriad difficulties of creating a horror film with financial constraints. Lastly, there is the lengthiest featurette, "Harvesting Horror: The Making of Children of the Corn," which clocks in at over half an hour. This featurette includes many of the same individuals (Director Fritz Kiersch and actors John Franklin and Courtney Gains) that appear on the accompanying audio commentary. Here they augment that discussion with further comments on their experiences working on the film. Though I am not a fan of this work, I did find the fondness with which they recall the project touching and endearing. In addition to these featurettes, which in toto provide plenty of grist for fans of the movie, the Blu-ray contains extras previously appeared on the Divimax DVD version, most notably the aforementioned commentary track. Considering the picture quality and generous extras, this is probably worth a double dip for fans.
Guilty of being the worst kind of horror movie: neither scary nor unintentionally funny.
Review content copyright © 2009 Brendan Babish; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 1984
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Image Gallery