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Children of the Corn (1984)

Anchor Bay Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 8/25/2009

All Ratings out of

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/5/2009

Ah, the 1980s. Stephen King remains a household name today, but only those who lived in the 80s know how popular King truly was in his heyday. Not only did his books fly off shelves, but it felt as if they were all turned into movies. From 1980-1989, no less that 15 feature films were made which had their origins in King stories. (There were also some short films and direct-to-video projects in there as well.) A few of these movies were good, but most were awful. Despite that, people still went to see the movies due to King's name. Maybe some of these movies have improved with age. Given that, let's check out Children of the Corn on its 25th anniversary.

Children of the Corn takes place in Gatlin, Nebraska. As the film opens, we see the children in this small, idyllic town suddenly snap and begin attacking the adults. The story then leaps ahead one year. Burt (Peter Horton) and his wife Vicky (Linda Hamilton) are driving cross-country for his new job. As they near Gatlin, they hit a young boy who is running across the road. Stunned by the accident, they venture into the town looking for help. There, they find that the streets are deserted and most everything is covered in corn husks. They soon learn that all of the adults are dead and that a boy named Isaac (John Franklin) now commands all of the town's children, along with his main soldier, Malachai (Courtney Gains). Isaac has introduced a new, dark religion to the children and they are commanded to kill any interlopers. Burt and Vicky are aided by Job (Robby Kiger) and Sarah (AnneMarie McEvoy), but escaping from Isaac's fervor is easier said than done.

Here's the catch-22 when it comes to adapting Stephen King; His novels are often too long and detailed to be crammed into a two hour movie, and thus the original story suffers and major characters and/or situations are lost. Conversely, his short stories (which, when they are good, are great), are just that -- short stories. They don't always include enough information to make a coherent feature film. Children of the Corn certainly suffers from that second aspect. Basically, the story is a one-note tale; driven by a religious madness, the kids of Gatlin kill all of the adults and attack a couple who come to town. That's it. Unfortunately, screenwriter George Goldsmith hasn't been able to pour much more into story. Thus, we get the curse which haunted many a film from the 1980s -- long scenes of characters doing nothing. We watch Burt and Vicky in a motel room (where Linda Hamilton does an awful dance). We watch them driving. Once the accident occurs, we watch them drive some more, debating where they should go. Once they get into Gatlin, we watch them running around. While watching Children of the Corn, there is certainly no doubt that it's based on a short story.

The lack of a detailed plot certainly hurts the film, but its greatest obstacle is its low budget. Shot for a under a million dollars ($500 thousand of the initial budget went to King), the movie certainly tries to make the most of if. At first glance, it's somewhat impressive that a small movie like this can show the completely deserted streets of a small town. That must have taken some effort. But, upon closer view, we realize that the movie is pretty lackluster. Again, much of the running time is comprised of talking, driving, or running. The gore effects are scant and stay in the "fake knife with blood pump" realm of things. (Although, I do remember Fangoria reporting years ago that some gore had been cut.) Of course, we one think about Children of the Corn and "cheap", the finale comes to mind. We are treated to some crazy optical clouds and an animated face in an explosion. But, the final word in cheap is the portrayal of "he who walks behind the rows". This unseen force, presumably a demon or Satan himself, is represented by an object (we learn that it's a wheelbarrow on this Blu-ray Disc) being dragged under a carpet (or tarp in reality). That's the monster? If that's true, then my cats play "he who walks behind the row" all the time with a long carpet that we have!

The somewhat shoddy nature of the movie is a shame, because the central premise is certainly interesting and some shots, such as the "Blue man" are creepy. As it stands, Children of the Corn has become a period piece, and it's main appeal will be seeing Linda Hamilton and Peter Horton in early roles. As for the rest of the film, well, it's just corny.

Children of the Corn wants you too Malachai on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing some grain and some minor defects from the source material. For the most part, the colors are good, but some look washed out at times. The image is never overly bright, but some of the finale is a tad dark. Overall, this is probably the best that Children of the Corn has ever looked on home video. The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.5 Mbps. The track delivers clear dialogue and sound effects. Unlike some older tracks which I've heard lately, the dynamic range is good. The stereo effects are fine and match the on-screen action. The bass effects aren't bad -- this isn't overwhelming subwoofer action, but they are acceptable. The surround sound action is sporadic and is mostly noticeable during the finale.

The Children of the Corn Blu-ray Disc contains a few extras. "Fast Film Facts" offers pop-up factoids about the movie during playback, but they are often too vague and leave the viewer wanting to know more. "Welcome to Gatlin: The Sights & Sounds of Children of the Corn" (15 minutes) features comments from Production Designer Craig Stearns, who reminisces about the look of the movie and how it was put together, and composer Jonathan Elias, who discusses the music. "It Was the Eighties!" (14 minutes) is a modern-day interview where she gives a very detailed account of working on the film. In "Stephen King on a Shoestring" (11 minutes), Producer Donald Borchers talks about the making of the movie and the challenge of shooting a big movie on a small budget. (He also claims that Sam Raimi was considered as director.) "Harvesting Horror: Children of the Corn" (36 minutes) is a detailed making of which features interviews with Director Fritz Kiersch and actors John Franklin and Courtney Gains. While there is no on-set footage, the speakers give in-depth stories about the film's production. The final extra is the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the movie.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long