Anchor Bay // 1984 // 92 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // October 25th, 2004
Burt Robeson: I spy, with my little eye, something that starts with C.
Anybody want a second helping of Children of the Corn? Anchor Bay decides to double dip with a brand new Divimax edition of the 1984 cult movie in honor of its twentieth anniversary. If you didn't indulge in the bare-bones disc the first time around, now is your chance. Want to upgrade, but unsure if it's worth it? Maybe I can help out as we explore the plentiful bounty of "He who walks behind the rows" one more time.
There is another review of Children of the Corn on this site, so I'm going to expedite the plot discussion here. Burt (Peter Horton, thirtysomething) and Vicky (Linda Hamilton, The Terminator) are traveling cross-country after his graduation from medical school, when they accidentally cream a kid standing in the middle of the road in a cornfield in rural Nebraska. Strangely, they discover "He's dead already!" when they examine his slit throat. (Now if he really were dead...how was he standing?) Despite the new doctor's rash diagnosis, they head to the nearest town, called Gatlin. It turns out to be a little hamlet where the kids have refused to eat their vegetables; instead, they've taken up making religious icons out of them (corncob crosses and other cute folk art!). They've killed all the adults, so now Burt and Vicky are stuck in a town with psychopathic kidlets who want to serve them to their "god," who seems to be some kind of gopher (?) living under a crop of corn. All hell breaks loose as prophecy and produce collide in a feature-length movie made from a very short story by Stephen King.
This movie was shot in and around Iowa in 1983 for $1 million, and most of that budget was spent on getting Stephen King's name above the title. It opened in 1984, and harvested a healthy box office take of three million dollars in three days. It seems people were ready to see a gang of "Veggie Tale"-loving kids kill all the adults and take over small-town Nebraska. This movie has spawned six sequels (with a seventh rumored to be on the way) thanks to the cash crop that continues to come out of the series. Like it or not, Children of the Corn has legs, and has the straight-to-DVD sequels to prove it. It's part of pop culture, and has reached the kind of status the original Stepford Wives achieved as a cultural reference. I know a woman who calls her employees "my Children of the Corn" (they run a branch of a staffing company...beware!). There is a guy I know who named his son Malachi -- not after the Biblical character, but after the lanky red-headed evil henchman in this movie. It's a funny thing, but most people are as familiar with this film as they are with any theatrical release of the early '80s. Frightening indeed.
Now...is the film a classic? It's a twisted take on the old '50s and '60s B-movies that were shocking and fun, but never really scary. Children of the Corn shows very little graphic violence (almost all of it happens off screen), and actually hearkens back to Village of the Damned more than Halloween or the "slasher" films that ruled at the time. The director thought he was making an important film on the dangers of peer pressure and groupthink; but honestly, it was just a fun romp with some genuinely earnest performances from a young cast. Aside from some jump scenes, it's not that scary.
Children of the Corn today even seems almost quaint. You could not make the movie today without recalling that the scariest kids from our recent history operated as loners. One of the reasons the movie is not as scary as it could have been is that we see the kids too much. They come across as out-of-control zealots who seem comical even as they're cutting each other and drinking blood from corn bowls. They don't have the silent creep factor that made Jason Voorhies or Michael Myers so chilling (at least the first few times). They talk a lot, and quote the Bible. They also dress like Amish kids...maybe Quakers, or at least like the old man in Poltergeist. The script hacked away hardest at poor Stephen King, who had to see his short story stretched to unrecognizable limits. At least he gets cash out of the deal.
This Divimax edition trumps the other release with special features. Gone is the sixteen page booklet that came with the bare bones release, but you get real extras with this special edition. Harvesting Horror : Children of the Corn is a thirty-seven minute look at the making of the film featuring director Fritz Kiersch (Tuff Turf) and stars John Franklin (Isaac) and Courtney Gains (Malachi). They like to talk about how everyone went on to bigger and better projects; but poor John just does Children sequels and Cousin It in The Addams Family, while Courtney at least went on to small parts in flicks like Sweet Home Alabama. You also get these three (plus the producer Terrence Kirby) on a commentary track, where they rehash all of the documentary material and talk about their golden days of picking up Goth and metal chicks after starring as cornfield killers. No Linda Hamilton or Peter Horton to be found anywhere in the vicinity. Also included is a trailer, still galleries, and a link to the screenplay (found on the Web). None of the mythic deleted scenes are included, like the killing of the "blue man" (the cop, not the performance artist) or Isaac's prophetic dream (I smell new material for that 25th anniversary release). The transfer has been upgraded to anamorphic, but it's still a problem. Children of the Corn is still plagued by a crop of grain and artifacts. The whole thing looks very soft, and there is a fair amount of edge enhancement to be found. It's a minor step up from the previous transfer. You get the audio in either 5.1 or surround stereo. It sounds pretty good, and really punches up all those Omen-influenced choral cues by Jonathan Elias.
This seems to be the year of the double-dip for horror releases, and I can think of quite a few more worthy contenders for release than this one. Is it worth it? Yes, but the transfer does not seem to have anything to brag about, other than being anamorphic. Children of the Corn is more fun as a pop culture reference than as something to sit down and watch. I forgot that the annoyingly good little boy narrates it (ugh), and the rotoscope effects make you long for CGI (something I never expected myself to pine for). If you have the old copy, rent or borrow this new one to look at the extras, and save your twenty bucks for something a little more satisfying.
Fun, but not scary. Fans should be pleased they finally have a bumper crop of extras to add more meat to this re-release. Still, Children of the Corn seems a little long in the tooth and past its harvest date. Couple it with Village of the Damned and you've got a pretty good evil children marathon in the works. You can never get enough of kids running around with scythes and sickles.
"Death to the outlanders!" I had fun, so the Children of the Corn are free to fling veggies anywhere they please (though I still think they are about as scary as any Sunday School group). Another very nice release from Anchor Bay for a deserving cult film, but also another double dip from their library. They deserve two visits from Malachi and Isaac just for continuing to re-release movies we've already bought on DVD.
We shall see how the Lord favours you...
Review content copyright © 2004 Brett Cullum; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 1984
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Documentary (37 minutes)
* Commentary with Director Fritz Kiersch, Producer Terrence Kirby, and Actors John
* Franklin and Courtney Gains
* Still Gallery
* Link to Screenplay
* Fan Page