Lord of the Flies Meets The Wicker Man In This Stephen King Movie
A couple crossing the country find themselves lost in rural Nebraska when they stumble upon a mysterious group of children living in a town without adults. Based on a short story from horror scribe Stephen King’s “Night Shift” collection, it’s hard to believe Children of the Corn has spawned seven sequels and a remake since its 1984 debut. By that standard it’s one of the most successful horror franchises of the 1980s.
Linda Hamilton (The Terminator) and Peter Horton (Thirtysomething) star as the couple in this terrifying horror adventure set in the isolated cornfields of Nebraska. Encountering a creepy child preacher overseeing a town of children and the menacing “He Who Walks Behind the Rows,” something about its fundamental appeal to horror fans has remained unchanged.
Burt (Peter Horton) and Vicky (a pre-buff Linda Hamilton before she really leaned out for Terminator 2) are not your usual horror movie protagonists. Burt is a doctor moving across the country with his girlfriend. She is looking for a proposal from him in their seemingly care-free life together. They are established adults with real lives, not the usual high school or college kids that fill up horror movies. They’ll soon regret stumbling upon Gatlin, Nebraska. It’s one of those towns that exists as little more than a gas station stop along the rural highways of America. This time children aren’t the victims but the killers.
A child preacher named Isaac (John Franklin) and his unhinged lackey Malachi (Courtney Gains) serve the fearsome “He Who Walks Behind the Rows” in Gatlin. Isaac preaches a twisted, sinister religion that involves human sacrifice and obedience to “He Who Walks Behind the Rows.” Something has happened to all the adults in Gatlin, leaving the town’s children controlled by Isaac’s weird religion.
There are many reasons why Children of the Corn has been so successful as a concept over the years. King’s original story and this movie fuse elements that had been brewing since the 1970s, from the pagan worship of isolated communities seen in The Wicker Man, to the rise of influential TV evangelists. The child preacher Isaac is completely unsettling, delivering a twisted version of the occasional hellfire-and-brimstone message heard from some Christian preachers of the time. John Franklin, the child actor playing Isaac, looks 12 going on 50. The bizarre crucifixion imagery and twisted inversion of Christian rituals just adds to the spooky religious tone.
… one of the better adaptations of Stephen King’s stories
… one of the better adaptations of Stephen King’s stories
The fear of rural life deliciously adds to the atmosphere. Children of the Corn takes the normally tranquil cornfields and turns them into a sinister force of evil, demanding human blood. It’s hard looking at a cornfield the same way after seeing the movie. Compelling children to commit these heinous acts adds a smart layer of sheer terror.
Some things don’t work out as well in Children of the Corn, making it less than the classic it should be by all rights. Courtney Gains as Malachi, playing one of the most important child characters in the film, gives a terrible performance. It’s not good even by b-movie standards, over acting his way through every scene. The movie’s suspense holds up in spite of the performance, mostly thanks to the rest of the cast doing fine jobs in their roles.
The plot is dated by today’s technology. The entire first act’s dramatic problem is sluggish paced and would be ended in a second with a cellphone available. That isn’t uncommon to horror scenarios from before the 1990s, when the technology first became widely available. The special effects aren’t terrible for 1984 but Children of the Corn didn’t have a huge budget. He Who Walks Behind the Rows would almost certainly be a more impressive CGI creation if made today.
While Children of the Corn is not a horror classic, it certainly remains a strong genre contender from the 1980s that spawned a huge franchise of forgettable sequels with its inventive and frightening concept. It is one of the better adaptations of Stephen King’s stories and remains an important horror film from the 1980s.
Children of the Corn has never looked better on home video by a wide margin with this new 2K remastering from Arrow Video. The included booklet claims a 4K film scan and restoration but all other press material from Arrow Video indicates the film has received a 2K transfer. The new source’s resolution is possibly up in the air. But it doesn’t really matter, as this excellent catalog presentation is sharper with a much tighter grain structure than prior BD releases. The slightly tweaked contrast shows off the improved fine detail in nearly impeccable clarity.
The uncut 92-minute main feature receives a beautifully clean AVC encode at top-notch parameters on a BD-50. Shown at its intended 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Children of the Corn offers impressive definition and texture for its era on Blu-ray. This is first-class work by Arrow Video restoring the horror movie that retains film-like fidelity. For videophile fans this new set is a nice upgrade.
The included booklet’s blurb on the transfer:
The original 35mm camera negative was scanned in 4K resolution at EFilm, Burbank. The film was graded and restored on the Nucoda grading system at R3store Studios, London. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches and other instances of film wear were repaired or removed through a combination of digital restoration tools and techniques. There are many instances of optical and animated special effects which could only be restored to an extent without creating unwanted digital artifacts.
The original 4 track stereo mix was transferred from the original Dolby mag reels and was remastered to 5.1 by Lakeshore at Deluxe Audio Services, Burbank. Composer Jonathan Elias’ derivative but entertaining score recalls Jerry Goldsmith’s acclaimed score for The Omen.
It’s nicely spread around the surround field, making up for the mostly forgettable surround design. Some stray audio cues offer mild channel separation from the rear. The included 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack sounds full and has appreciable bass, though it’s not radically different in tone and sweep than the 2.0 PCM stereo track.
For a horror movie, it’s an underwhelming surround experience likely limited by the original budget and production. Both offer clean, intelligible dialogue without any real balance problems.
Optional English SDH subtitles play in a white font.
Children of the Corn is one Arrow Video release you’ll want to pick up early for its first pressing bonus items, a mini-poster and booklet. The fully illustrated collector’s booklet features new writing on the film by John Sullivan and Lee Gambin. The included slipcover is also a premium effort that really highlights the entire Blu-ray package. A reversible sleeve includes original art and newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin. It’s safe saying this is a loaded release made with collectors in mind.
Arrow Video brings over all substantial special features from the now obsolete 2009 Starz/Anchor Bay disc, while adding a new commentary and several extended, new featurettes. This set is now the definitive version for the movie on home video, though 88 Films did issue the movie in the UK with a 83-minute documentary on Don Borchers that isn’t really missed here.
- Brand new audio commentary with horror journalist Justin Beahm and Children of the Corn historian John Sullivan
- Audio commentary with director Fritz Kiersch, producer Terrence Kirby and actors John Franklin and Courtney Gains – This older commentary is kind of a kludge, which swings from faded memories to mocking their own performances at times.
- Harvesting Horror: The Making of Children of the Corn (36:15 in HD) – A retrospective piece featuring interviews with director Fritz Kiersch and actors John Franklin and Courtney Gains carried over from the Anchor Bay BD.
- …And a Child Shall Lead Them (50:52 in HD) – A brand new interview with actors Julie Maddalena and John Philbin, who played Rachel and Amos.
- It Was the Eighties! (14:07 in HD) – An interview with actress Linda Hamilton.
- Field of Nightmares (17:19 in HD) – A brand new interview with writer George Goldsmith, who says the film was a metaphor for the Iran hostage situation!? This was actually the most interesting of the new interviews.
- Return to Gatlin (16:29 in HD) – A brand new featurette revisiting the film’s original Iowa shooting locations, some of which no longer exist as shown in the movie.
- Stephen King on a Shoestring (11:18 in HD) – An interview with producer Donald Borchers.
- Welcome to Gatlin: The Sights and Sounds of Children of the Corn (15:29 in HD) – An interview with production designer Craig Stearns and composer Jonathan Elias.
- Cut from the Cornfield (05:30 in HD) – An interview with actor Rich Kleinberg on the infamous lost Blue Man Scene.
- Disciples of the Crow (18:56 in HD) – The 1983 short film adaptation of Stephen King’s story
- Storyboard gallery
- Original Theatrical Trailer (01:28 in HD)
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This is one of the better Stephen King adaptations and remains an important horror film from the 1980s.
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