Sunday, August 4, 2013

Children of the Corn (1984)

The children of the corn farming town of Gatlin, Nebraska get a bit of the real old time religion courtesy of (what will turn out to be a rather unimpressive looking) "He Who Walks Behind The Rows", some kind of cornfield-dwelling supernatural entity.

Under the leadership of young preacher Isaac (John Franklin) and his right-hand boy Malachai (Courtney Gains), the kids slaughter all of Gatlin's grown-ups and start their own little religious wacko dictatorship. Only little Job (Robby Kiger) and his prophetic sister Sarah (Anne Marie McEvoy) aren't in on the whole evil kid shtick, but they're mostly left in peace because Isaac says so.

Three years after the initial slaughter, Burt (Peter Horton) and Vicky (Linda Hamilton, a bit wasted on screaming and hanging from corn crosses) accidentally (or is it?) come into the sphere of the town's influence, and soon they have to fight for their lives against the crazy kids and their godhood - or well, Peter does, while Vicky isn't actually allowed to do much.

Famously hated by Stephen King on one of whose not-excretion based stories this is based, and who didn't have a problem taking money for the rights or with directing Trucks, Fritz Kiersch's Children of the Corn is in actual fact a pleasant little low budget affair. Sure, George Goldsmith's script sometimes lacks the imagination to pump the very short story up to feature length and tries to fill time with a bit too much running around between cornfield and town than is good for the film's pacing on one hand, and doesn't explore the children's weird religion as much as one would wish for on the other hand. Sure, Kiersch clearly wasn't able to find a way to make He Who Walks interesting or convincing to look at.

However, for every missed chance, the script also contains something good. I particularly enjoy the mix of bible-bashing Christianity and real unpleasant paganism (you know, the sort with human sacrifice) the little we do see of the kids' religion has to offer; my, it seems the film suggests all hate-based religions are the same at their core. At times, especially in its treatment of Sarah and Job, Children is also rather clever about how it presents the way its children see the world, with Sarah and Job even half playing when they're trying to help Burt escape from a farm-tool carrying horde of their peers.

The children's acting on the other hand is generally horrible. The cleverly mock-biblical tone of the dialogue can't have helped with their performances, either, as fitting as it is thematically. Of course, it's difficult enough to find one good child actor anyhow, so it's pretty much impossible to get six or seven for a single film. Consequently, Children doesn't feature a single one. John Franklin and Courtney Gains are at least very enthusiastic scenery chewers, with Franklin also looking appropriately creepy for his role, so there is at least quite a bit of enjoyment to be found in the performances of these two. Actual creepiness, not so much.

Kiersch's direction of the whole affair is variable. He likes unnecessarily contrived fake scares a bit too much for my tastes, but he is also quite good at taking the creepy basic idea of his film and turning it effectively into pictures, so that the ever-present corn - also thanks to a lot of cleverness in the film's production design - takes on a malevolent personality.

Clearly, Children of the Corn isn't one of the overlooked masterpieces of the horror genre, but I think it is still a film it's easy to have a good time with. In fact, I found re-watching it after twenty years or so a much more enjoyable experience than I remembered. There is something to be said for the simple pleasures in life, and what could be more simple and more pleasurable than watching a movie about children worshipping a cornfield-based godhood with a rather Lovecraftian name, and killing off all unbelievers and grown-ups?

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