Stupid parents – first they’re telling you to go to bed, then they’re making you get out of bed at some ungodly hour like noon. It’s no wonder the child cult of Children of the Corn killed all the adults in their remote Nebraska town, in this 1984 horror movie.
Like most films, Children of the Corn is a Stephen King adaptation. And you can trust King to inject intelligence into the corniest of premises (sorry). True to form, this satanic Stand By Me presents a warped parody of conservative Christian sects; the cult is like the adolescent Amish, or the Manson Family: the early years.
They’re led by the pint-sized, helium-voiced preacher Isaac, played by John Franklin. He’s a sort of Jim Jones Jr. – but instead of Kool-Aid, they poison the coffee; a sure-fire way to kill grown-ups. Isaac looks like a tiny adult but sounds like a cartoon mouse, making him one of the most bizarre villains in horror history. Here are some of my notes on the guy:
Evil Mayor of Munchkinland
- Masaru from Akira – except not, you know, blue
- Anakin Cornwalker – only a far better actor
In fact, all the performances are strong, even the kids – particularly Robby Kiger as Job, Anne Marie McEvoy as Sarah, and Courtney Gains as Malachai (pronounced “MALACHAIIII!”); Isaac’s violent henchman, and the scariest redhead since Ginger Spice. This means the unfortunate plot requirement of a grown man repeatedly slapping a ginger child in the face.
The adults, Burt and Vicky, are played by Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton; a woman who spent 1984 running away from children, Terminators and James Cameron. They arrive in the town, Gatlin, to find it as empty as M. Night Shyamalan’s ring-binder of original ideas. Vicky ponders: “There’s something very strange about this town…” Surely not – what is it you find strange, Vicky? The spooky children? The enormous rats? The corn all over the place?
But the town isn’t strange enough to deter Burt and Vicky from having a general nose around, saying things like: “What is it with this corn?!” Eventually they encounter the creepy, dead-eyed children lurking in the cornfields; they don’t know if they’ve stumbled across a child cult or accidentally wandered into an outdoor Justin Bieber concert.
The idea of being chased by children is scary in itself, with their tiny hands and sticky fingers. But these kids babble in olde bible talk, engage in some first-rate movie shouting (“OUTLANDER!”), and worship a corn-dwelling deity only referred to as: “He who walks behind the rows…” Walketh, surely.
But for all its satire of religion and radio/televangelists, the film ends up disappointingly co(r)nservative; while The Wicker Man succeeded in destroying the traditional values of the smug out-of-towner, this film (let’s call it The Wicker Boy) reasserts them, stressing the need for adults and the importance of the nuclear family – bad news if you, like me, thought the parent-sacrificing child cult were meant to be the good guys.
By no means the best Stephen King adaptation (but far from the worst), Corn of the Flies is surprisingly eerie and weirdly funny – sometimes deliberately, though usually not. Either way, it’s acres of fun; a cornucopia of classic horror, which sowed the seeds for no fewer than seven sequels.
With its strange story, stranger villains and haunting atmosphere, there are times when Corn of the Dead pops like popcorn. Director Fritz Kiersch creates a sun-drenched landscape of disrule and isolation, his camera lurking low in the cornfields, accompanied by Jonathan Elias’ creepy choral score. Unfortunately, the FX-heavy climax breaks the spell; the visual effects are so bad, it looks like they ran out of money. Maybe they spent it all on corn.