Children Of The Corn (1984)
Starring: Linda Hamilton, Peter Horton, Courtney Gains
“Our time of tribulation has come. A test is at hand. A final test.” (Isaac, Children Of The Corn)
Films based on Stephen King books are a mixed bunch. You have your great films that are unfortunately not much to do with the book (The Shining), your great films that stick nearly 100% to the book (Pet Sematary), your non-horror films (Stand By Me) and your pieces of shit (Dreamcatcher). Having not read the short story Children Of The Corn is based on I am not at liberty to suggest which category this film falls into, but needless to say it’s sure to be one of the first two because this is a fantastic flick.
A doctor and his girlfriend are moving to the big city so he can set up a surgery. Whilst driving past a cornfield they hit a boy who steps onto the road. Realising he had already been stabbed, the doctor puts the body in his trunk and drives to the nearest town to get some help. Trouble is, the nearest town is Gatlin, a small countryside village much like any other you’d care to name. As long as you’re naming one in which the children have killed all the adults and are members of a religious cult.
There must be something about Stephen King books that makes their film translations scarier than usual. I can personally sit through 95% of most 80’s horrors without batting an eyelid. ‘Tense’ chase scenes don’t usually affect me and I can work out when the big scares are coming in most of the films, as they were more predictable back then. However, of the countless ’80s horror films that attempt to scare the viewer, only two I’ve seen so far succeed in making me feel extremely uneasy: Pet Sematary and Children Of The Corn.
The film opens with a flashback of events that took place three years before the film is set, and right away the audience is thrown into the mix with a number of ‘scythe n’ knife’-related killings and a freaky looking Amish lad who looks as if he hasn’t slept for 7 months. In time however, you may grow to feel sorry for him. Maybe.
The thing that really wins me over with Children Of The Corn is the imperfection of the two lead characters. Whereas in most films the hero is the virgin who never smokes, always does the right thing and collects injured birds off the road and gives them baths, Children Of The Corn forces you to question your feelings on the heroes. This kicks off right from the first scene, where Burt refuses to propose to his girlfriend Vicky and doesn’t seem to have time for her. Meanwhile, when Burt suggests they take the injured kid’s body into town to get help Vicky at first refuses, showing a coldness not many ‘hero’ characters demonstrate. While this could have so easily resulted in a film with characters that the audience feels no sympathy for when they get involved in later events, the excellent performances by Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton coupled with the effective script only make the characters more believable, bringing the audience closer and making it easier for them to relate to Burt and Vicky (after all, nobody’s perfect).
The real stars are the children, though. There are good kids, bad kids (the nameless ones who always seem to be there whenever someone pegs it) and batshit mental kids (Isaac, the leader of the cult). And then there’s Malachai. Never before have I hated a character more than I hated Malachai. Perhaps the young actor playing him (Courtney Gains) was tapping into the years of mockery he received for having a girl’s name, or perhaps he’s actually like the character, but this boy’s sneer makes you want to punch his head off and you really want him to get what’s coming to him (which, at the end of the day, is what the filmmakers intended). I’d love to have been at that casting meeting: “I think we should give the role of Malachai to young Courtney Gains, because he’s a complete prick”.
Although for the most part Children Of The Corn isn’t too dodgy, it does contain one of film’s biggest taboos: the brutal killing of children. Some of the adults get theirs too, especially at the start, but when you’ve got a town full of kids and they’re all a bit mental, some of them are going to have to take a kicking.
This film would have received a full 5/5 if it hadn’t been for one disappointing aspect; the ending. Perhaps this is how it ends in the book, but as soon as the dirt started moving Tremors-style and getting a little out there I was disappointed. Had the film stayed away from special effects at the end and kept to the idea of a religious cult it would have been a far more satisfying ending. As it is, it gives the impression that the kids actually knew something we didn’t and maybe weren’t so mental after all… a pretty weak end to a fantastic story.
This is also true for the last scene. The last 30 seconds are so underwhelming that when you see the words “The End” you can’t help but think that ending was just thought up at the end of shooting in order to get a final scare in there (and I use the word ‘scare’ loosely). Don’t let that put you off however. Children Of The Corn is 88 minutes long. Of these 88 minutes, 80 are fantastic. It’s just a shame those last eight were so disappointing.