Disclaimer: this post on a movie that came out 29 years ago contains spoilers.
Children of the Corn seems to be best appreciated by those who saw it when they were children themselves, mostly those of us who were children in the 80s when the special effects on display in this film were not as laughable as they seem to be today. I bet I’ve seen this movie 30 times, and I never tire of it. But part of this look back at an 80s Essential has to factor in whether this movie is as relevant to a viewer of today as it was to the viewer of the 80s. In this case, I say hell yeah.
Taken from a Stephen King short story, this dark tale of a young couple (Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton) traveling across the country, who run afoul of a murderous cult of children in the Midwest, does have elements that are outdated, I’ll admit. I could do without the voiceovers by the young boy named Job, who along with his sister Sarah was the only child not to be completely on board with the day the kids of Gatlin killed all the adults. And as I said above, some of the effects are hokey, especially when He Who Walks Behind The Rows shows up at the end. But overall, the story still works for me.
When I was young, it was the demon He Who Walks Behind The Rows that bugged me the most. The way that the corn moved, even going as far as trapping one character briefly, was a real booger bear, especially combined with the weird chanting choir of hell soundtrack music. Issac himself was pretty darn creepy as well, with his black hat and his scowling face, and it didn’t help that just a few years after this movie came out we got Poltergeist 2, which featured another evil preacher who wore the same black hat. Malachi, Isaac’s henchman, is just a sadist using religion to justify cruelty, so he goes a little higher on the list. I don’t mind telling you that I get positively giddy when I see the fear on Malachi’s face every time the reanimated corpse of Isaac informs him that He Who Walks Behind The Rows wishes to speak with him. Booyah.
But the most terrifying creature in this film, the one who no one ever seems to mention, is Rachel. That’s the teenage girl who stabs Peter Horton during the ceremony in the church where they cut a pentagram into the chest of 19 year old Amos as he prepares to “make his transition.” She is a classic religious fanatic, convinced that anyone who doesn’t go along with Issac deserves to die. After the fall of Malachi and Isaac, the other children seem confused while neutralized as a threat, but not Rachel. Even after the demon has been defeated by an ass full of gasahol, Rachel’s face still has the same expression of glee and smugness she wore in the church, right up until Horton’s character knocks her the fuck out.
I’ve seen people who look like that, and I knew kids like that in school, people who refuse to deal in logic, and they scare the shit out of me. In fact, one of my relatives had a run-in with an angry woman who doesn’t believe in dinosaurs or the Big Bang just last week, and while he laughed it off, I was profoundly disturbed to be reminded that these people are all around. That’s what makes Rachel so scary, and this film, like The Wicker Man, so evergreen. If you really think the folks down at the Jesus Wept Free Will Baptist Church of Doodlebug Junction Alabama wouldn’t wipe out everyone who didn’t agree with them if they thought they could get away with it, then you need to check your “not living in the Bible Belt” privilege. My advice is to stick to the main highway when you’re traveling.
Something else I noticed on my most recent viewing: Horton and Hamilton had to walk off and leave their car at the end because it was trashed by the cult. They seem like pretty responsible people; do you think they filed an insurance claim? And do you think “destroyed by batshit insane religious kids” is covered?
If you don’t like this film, you might want to check out the 1983 short film Disciples of the Crow, because it follows King’s story more closely. You should probably skip the rest of the Children of the Corn franchise, however, unless you’re into pain.