Perhaps not the most celebrated of Stephen King adaptations, but Children of the Corn, adapted from the horror author’s short story, captured a small slice of cinematic real estate for itself back in 1984. Back in the days of VHS, Fritz Kiersch’s thriller wasn’t likely to topple Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining as a genre classic, and yet it’s a tense, effective little shocker that makes hay from the frisson between past and present cultures.
Vicky (Linda Hamilton) and her doctor boyfriend Burt (Peter Horton) are driving through Nowhereland, USA when they hit a child on the road. As a medic, Burt quickly realises that the child’s throat was already cut before the impact, and that the boy was left standing on the tarmac like a scarecrow. They put the body in the trunk, but find themselves unable to avoid the nearest small-town of Gatlin, where a group of malevolent children have taken control of the area, and hoping to make another sacrifice to “He Who Walks Behind The Rows.’
Children of the Corn is a long, slow burn that feeds on Vicky and Burt’s helplessness in the face of a largely unseen enemy. When the children do show themselves, they take the formidable form of Isaac (John Franklin) and Malachai (Courtney Gains), both of whom strike sparks with their dour appearance. Vicky and Burt’s savvy, urban superiority doesn’t count for much when the children are in pursuit, and their incredulity about the situation is well-handled, although the climactic effects leave something to be desired.
What America is built on is one of the staples of cinematic horror, and King was clearly onto something here, linking to The Wicker Man and the idea of a crop-saving sacrifice that’s out of sync with the modern world. Sequels, reboots and a pop-culture urban-legend status followed, but the original Children of the Corn still delivers a few good chills and scares, even by 2020 standards.