Oct 23, 2017


There is a moment in CHILDREN OF THE CORN, a 1984 film based on a Stephen King short story, when we first meet the happy (and very 80s yuppie) couple of Linda Hamilton and Peter Horton gloriously celebrating his graduation from Med school where there is absolutely no question in the audience's mind that they are doomed.  Moments before this, we witness the children of the small, fictional town of Gatlin, Nebraska band together and massacre all the adults – poisoning them through their adult drink of coffee and slicing the throats of others.  Led by the charismatic (and loud) Isaac and his vicious henchman Malachai (who seems to revel in killing adults – and anyone who disobeys this new order) the children are very Biblically inclined with names like Job, Rachel, Sarah and Amos.  It begs the question, just how messed up is this town that someone in modern times actually named their child Malachai?

These kids aren't playing.

Just in time for Halloween, Arrow Video has released a new, beautiful hi-def transfer of CHILDREN OF THE CORN packed with extras. It’s another notch in the impressive roster of Stephen King film adaptations.  A writer-director friend of mine recently posted his “definitive” list, ranking his top King novel picks (and I won’t dare to argue with him since the list was “definitive”).  Many of the comments noted how that list could easily translate into a films list as well, as 99% of them had been adapted as a film or TV movie. I doubt that there is any other author that has had the majority of their work adapted, many of which are now considered iconic classics like THE SHINING (I must note though that CHILDREN OF THE CORN did not make his list).

Isaac is the leader of the Children, and really needs some corner time.

CHILDREN OF THE CORN was first published in the March, 1977 issue of Playboy magazine, then included in the collection of short stories, NIGHT SHIFT, a copy which can be seen as an easter egg on the dashboard of Horton and Hamilton's car.

Linda Hamilton and Peter Horton as the doomed yuppie couple.

The film itself is not exactly one of the best King adaptations, but does have its charms, especially in the first hour which features Hamilton and Horton making every horror mistake in the book to put them in the direct line of jeopardy. It's one of those horror pictures that will have you yelling at the screen thanks to the utter ineptitude of the protagonists whose actions scream KILL ME to the adolescent murderers that stalk them.

Not your typical Sunday School.

The following may contain SPOILERS.  You have been warned.

While traveling down a Nebraska back-road, Horton hits one of the escaping children with his car who has just had his throat slashed by Malachai. Wanting to (rightfully) report the dead person, the couple at first heed the crazy old man at the gas station’s warning (a staple of the horror genre) to stay away from the town of Gatlin, but the road signs seem to all want them to end up there anyway.  The town is empty with all the phone cords cut and corn seemingly engulfing the town, but does the couple get out of there upon discovering this?  Nope, of course not.  They instead keep investigating including entering a deserted and ruined farmhouse where they find Sarah, a young girl with cognitive powers.  She’s one of the of good kids (there are two – she and her brother Job who was forced to watch Malachai slash his father’s throat) however Isaac has dispatched Malachai and some of the others to collect the “interlopers” and Hamilton soon finds herself captured and being crucified (thankfully no nails in hands or feet, just tied) to a corn-husk cross in the middle of a field.  The rest of the picture features Horton trying to outrun the children and attempting to retrieve Hamilton, so they can do what they should have done in the first place - get out of town ASAP.

Malachai not happy, probably because his parents named him Malachai.

Beginning with the children’s names, the picture is packed with Biblical references and imagery, including what may or may not be an attack by Satan who seems to be inspiring the situation.  The adults are all murdered following a church service, narration from Job revealing that Isaac was having his own revival out in the corn field.  The Satan element is one of the more confusing elements of the picture as it is introduced late in the game and isn’t overly explained.  There is a benefit to the ambiguous nature of the overall “big bad” but it leaves the audience with a lot of questions, the biggest one being does this power intend to spread beyond the limits of Gatlin.  This is part of the reason that the second half of the picture is not as strong as the first, the first hour primarily focusing on Hamilton and Horton exploring the strangely empty Gatlin and the audience waiting for the children to appear and make their yuppie lives a living hell (literally).

Malachai making sure Linda Hamilton thinks twice before having children.

Extras on the disc, as per usual with Arrow Blu-ray releases, are exceptional including a visit to the locations used to double for Gatlin, an interview with an actor whose big scene as the “blue man” (an integral figure in the plot) was cut, trailers and advertising materials and the 1983 short film DISCIPLES OF THE CROW which was the first filmed adaptation of the King story.

Another doomed church service in the short DISCIPLES OF THE CROW (1983).

DISCIPLES OF THE CROW is an interesting addition to the package as the material, while similar (couple terrorized in small town by homicidal children) it couldn’t be more different.  First, the happy couple of Horton and Hamilton are replaced by an angry, arguing couple (Burt and Vicy) that barely like each other.  The location is also lifted from Nebraska to Oklahoma and instead of corn, the children worship a crow god (hence the title).  As with CHILDREN OF THE CORN, the massacre follows a church service, again religion not helping the poor, unsuspecting adults who find themselves dead at the hands of their children.  The fact that couple spend the entire time arguing (Burt is particularly a jerk) makes the couple less likable than Hamilton and Horton which completely changes the overall tone of the material.  It’s a highlight on this disc and worth watching, and kudos to Arrow for including it.

Wonderful artwork that adorns the packaging for Arrow's new Blu-ray disc release of CHILDREN OF THE CORN, now available.

While CHILDREN OF THE CORN is not as memorable (or nearly as good) as more prominent King adaptions like CUJO, THE SHINING or IT (to name a few), it does have its moments and horror film fans will not be disappointed with Arrow’s Blu-ray disc release.


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