Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #287
Number of Views: Three
Release Date: 9 March 1984
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $14,600,000 (USA)
Running Time: 92 minutes
Director: Fritz Kiersch
Producers: Donald P. Borchers, Terrence Kirby
Screenplay: George Goldsmith
Story: Stephen King
Special Effects: Wayne Beauchamp, Eric Rumsey
Visual Effects: Paula A. Lumbard, Max W. Anderson
Cinematography: João Fernandes
Score: Jonathan Elias
Editing: Harry Keramidas
Studios: Angeles Entertainment Group, Cinema Group, Gatlin, Hal Roach Studios, Inverness Productions, Planet Productions
Distributors: New World Pictures, Anchor Bay Entertainment
Stars: Peter Horton, Linda Hamilton, John Franklin, Courtney Gains, R.G. Armstrong, Robby Kiger, Anne Marie McEvoy, Julie Maddalena, Jonas Marlowe, John Philbin
Suggested Audio Candy
Jonathan Elias “Children of The Corn”
I wish to begin this appraisal by identifying two distinct similarities between Children of The Corn and The Howling. Firstly, they both discourage us from walking behind the rows or within tall grass. Secondly, and more critically, both have gone on to spawn all manner of vastly unnecessary and progressively more feeble sequels and eventually half-hearted remakes. At least Howling II: Your Sister Is a Werewolf was good for comedy value and forms a perfect double-bill with Troll 2. The same cannot be said for any single entry into the tired Corn franchise and it has long since ceased being funny. At some point during my tenure I shall attempt at revisiting some of these shambolic rehashes and, when I do, it will be through gritted teeth I assure you. It isn’t even that they could be considered so bad they’re good; their crimes are far more heinous than that. They’re just so consistently mediocre.
Thankfully, there’s always the original right? Yes and no actually. While Fritz Kiersch’s adaptation of Stephen King’s superior tale is no slouch, it’s not a bona-fide classic either. I say that at the risk of alienating multitudes of rabid Corn devotees who still regard this as eighties horror at its finest. There are certainly high points (Jonathan Elias’ disquieting score being one), and certain characters are truly memorable but the overall film is little more than diverting for the most part. Most of the true horror lays in what lurks behind the rows and the true stars of this movie are the corn rows themselves. Swaying ominously in the wind, they conceal an ancient Djin who has the intention of turning every child in the small town of Gatlin against their parents, transforming them into cold-blooded killers. While their leader Isaac and, particularly, his right-hand man Malachi are anything but hospitable; most of the other antagonists appear to have been plucked straight out of The Brady Bunch. Fuck the Children of The Corn, I’d be more afraid if the Oompa Loompas turned up at my doorstep.
It may seem as though I have been a little scathing but I needed to lay my cards on the table before venturing forth into those corn rows once more. The truth is, there are a number of reasons why the immense popularity of this film exists in the first place. Its opening scene does nigh-on everything right; introducing us to the ankle-biters whilst showing a distinct lack of mercy as they make short work of a diner full of oblivious adults. From there we are introduced to Burt (Peter Horton) and Vicky (Linda Hamilton), a couple from the wrong side of the tracks who take temporary refuge in the seemingly deserted town while attempting to report a murder. Kiersch takes his sweet time reacquainting us with the peril although, having started so strongly, he buys himself a leave of culpability and manages to keep things ticking along while we prepare to get back to the mindless slaughter of innocents. He lightly peppers the first act with consternation and, to his credit, those corn fields do possess a rather menacing personality all of their own.
As Burt and Ernie (Freudian slip sorry) begin to learn that everything in Gatlin is not as it seems, Isaac strolls forth from the shadows. Coming across as an Amish Damien Thorne, John Franklin is rather well cast as the petulant pastor and ,each time he is on-screen, it’s impossible not to feel just the slightest bit unnerved. Given the fact that ordinarily child actors and horror are a match made in my own personal hell; he almost resembles a stunted adult and admittedly the hairs on the back of my neck begin to resemble the rows as he delivers his merciless sermons. He obviously took his parent’s advice that children should be seen and not heard a little too literally as often he remains purse-lipped and lets those demonic peepers do the talking on his behalf. However, if you think Isaac is a nutbag; then it’s high time I introduce you to his sidekick Malachai.
If Isaac is suffering from a case of small-man syndrome then his partner in crime is obviously still smarting about fellow nerd Ronald Miller discarding him and his poker buddies in Can’t Buy Me Love. Courtney Gains is easily the most emphatic performer here and relishes every moment playing the flame-haired executioner of the piece to marvelous effect. We fear Malachai almost as much as he who walks behind the rows himself and Gains convinces us that he’s actually more of a young adult and far less likely to run off creaming for mom when it all goes awry. The fact that he looks like the kind of kid who spends the duration of his walk home hoisting the underwear free from his sphincter just makes him all the more portentous in my book. You see, eventually after so long being ridiculed for his ginger mullet, freckles and lanky frame, invariably he’s going to have an ax to grind. Grind it he does and, minor or not, I certainly wouldn’t argue the odds with Malachi.
Hamilton and Horton are both fine as the desperate couple attempting to flee town before the genie is released from its bottle. But neither of them excel and aren’t given enough to do outside of looking panicked and leaving a trail of Reece’s Pieces to dissuade their antagonists. The success lays squarely on the young shoulders of the children of the title and our curiosity over where it is all going to ultimately lead. When it arrives at its special effects-laden conclusion and all hell literally breaks loose, we are expected to be teetering over the edge of our seats but Kiersch’s stilted direction leaves us a little cold in our perches. That’s not to say that it isn’t a mildly thrilling ride but, considering the early promise and two hellish gatekeepers, it doesn’t reach the heights that we know full well it could.
There have been far worse adaptations of the Master’s work but, similarly, there are a number of them which do his fiction far greater justice also. Compared to any one of its abysmal sequels it comes out smelling of roses but that’s not as great a compliment as it appears. For many of us nostalgic horror aficionados, it made its impact long ago and rose-tinted spectacles make it look relatively purty even all these years after the fact. However, a fresh audience would be advised to step behind the rows with caution as, take Isaac and Malachai out of the equation, and you’re left with a bunch of brattish kids with ADHD and a dreadful case of head lice. The most unforgivable crime committed by Children of The Corn is that it paved the way for banality. Unfortunately for Keeper, there is never a shortage of pipsqueaks looking to break into the industry. Haley Joel Osmont and Dakota Fanning have got a lot to answer for if you ask me.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 2/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: One could be excused for harboring high hopes after the opening bloodbath although you may be left wanting as there is precious little in the way of grue, despite that dastardly sickle which has long since been its selling point. Regardless of any deficiencies with the red stuff, the first five minutes do pack something of a punch, not because of excessive splatter, but because the kids most definitely aren’t alright.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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