CHILDREN OF THE CORN (1984)
Directed by Fritz Kiersch
Available on Arrow Video Children of the Corn Trilogy UHD Blu-Ray
Having landed a job at a doctor’s office in Seattle, Burt and his girlfriend Vicky are on the road to their destination when they accidentally hit an already fatally-injured child emerging from the corn rows. Though unable to save the kid, the duo end up in the nearest town, Gatlin, to call for help. Unfortunately, help won’t be coming as ‘the nicest town in Nebraska’ is run by a cult of murderous, deity-worshipping children led by preacher-boy Isaac and his ruthless second-in-command, Malachai. Will the couple be able to escape Gatlin alive?
Based on the Stephen King short story of the same name, CHILDREN OF THE CORN is one of the number of horror films of the 80’s that has gone on to spawn numerous sequels, rivalling that of Jason Voorhees-led output with a total of 11 movies having been made. For fans of the series, cult label Arrow Video have put together a tasty release featuring the first three movies of the Corn franchise, one that is chock full to the brim with special features. But more on that later.
Setting itself apart from the rest, CHILDREN OF THE CORN ramps up the fear to win over horror audiences everywhere by populating its fictional town of Gatlin with children as its only residents. But first, in order for that to happen, the adults need to be dealt with…
Some movies like to open up with a bold statement scene that sets the tone for the rest of the movie and CHILDREN OF THE CORN is no different. The opening scene in the cafe where we see young Job witness the slaughter of his father and the other adults, approved by Isaac watching through the window, is one of the greatest scenes in horror film history. It turns what is a simple, all-American scene in a diner into a dark and brutal environment, even though we don’t actually see much. In fact, we only witness the lead up and the aftermath of the murders but the way it is edited fools you into thinking you’ve seen much more with your mind filling in the blanks. But what turns a group of town kids to attack and kill their elders? We eventually find out when a young couple, played by Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton, end up in Gatlin and face the wrath of the youngsters, led by the imposing, cruel teen, Malachai, and under instruction by self-proclaimed messenger, Isaac. What will they have in store for these outlanders in their tight-knit community?
With the movie set in the mid-West, you can expect that religion play a big part in the towns there, but the God that the young residents of Gatlin follow ain’t your typical one. John Franklin’s Isaac cuts the striking figure as the wise-beyond-his-years preacher who’s managed to trick the youth of Gatlin into following his every command as the voice for their Lord, He Who Walks Behind The Rows. We’re not sure what ‘He’ is, but it seems like a blood sacrifice is normally on offer, but he has other plans for Vicky and Burt. With Malachai quite the bloodthirsty deviant, it puts him at loggerheads with Isaac as we witness a power struggle between the two, with the kids blindly following whoever seems to be in charge. The power of the deity himself is only realised towards the end of the film and even then it’s quite the mystery with some CGI effects and underground disturbance our only ‘vision’ of what he might be.
In CHILDREN OF THE CORN, the locations are every bit as important to the film as the story, with the rows upon rows of corn providing a maze-like claustrophobia for our characters. Imagine running through the towering corn yourself… anything and anyone could be hiding in there. The scenes where we follow Joseph running through the rows at the beginning and Vicky and Burt driving through the fields, lost, trying to find their way out, made me anxious as hell. It’s like being trapped beneath the surface and finally coming up for air – I breathed a sigh of relief when the scene exited this fields. On the flip side, you’ve got the deserted town of Gatlin and the isolated gas station. The quiet, empty locations also ramp up the tension in a different way, as you’re expecting something to happen at any moment but there’s no-one around to help…
The film manages to bring together its ideas with ease, thankfully backed by some solid performances from the cast involved. The way in which Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton as Burt and Vicky interact with the kids, whether it be with the cute siblings Sarah and Job, or against the likes of Malachai and Rachel, is tremendous. You buy into the whole scenario of them being up against the horde, whether it be Burt wrestling against Rachel, or Malachai throwing around Burt’s ‘woman’ Vicky, as she’s taken to the clearing to face the same fate as the ‘blue man’. Likewise, the kids give it their all to portray this community where they have fully given themselves to their beliefs, even willing to sacrifice themselves when the time comes. That’s some dedication!
Though it might not be the first cult horror film on a film fan’s lips, there’s a lot of love out there for CHILDREN OF THE CORN. One of the main reasons I enjoy this eerie flick is that it differs from its contemporaries in such a way that I can’t think of another movie like it. It might not be the best horror out there, but this little movie has rightfully earned its place in horror history and is even referenced in pop culture, such as episode 16 of season 4 of South Park, The Wacky Molestation Adventure. Even thought it features the acting chops of future Sarah Connor, Linda Hamilton, the movie is far under-appreciated by the masses but thankfully the horror tribe have held it close enough to their hearts to warrant this terrific release not to mention its numerous sequels.
The Arrow Video trilogy boxset contains a brand new 4K restoration from the original camera negative of Children of The Corn which is presented on the UHD disc. Included in the set is a terrificly crisp high definition 1080p presentation of Children of the Corn on Blu-Ray. Both versions contain the same special features you see below and feature DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0 audio options for all three films with optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing.
The set also comes with a 60-page perfect bound book featuring new writing by John Sullivan, Lee Gambin, Stacie Ponder, Craig Martin and Guy Adams. As with most Arrow Video releases, the discs feature reversible sleeves featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin.
Audio Commentary with Cast & Crew – Courtney Gains (Malachai), director Fritz Kiersch, producer Terry Kirby and John Franklin (Isaac). The commentary is quite entertaining, jokey and insightful, with the four having fun reminiscing about the making of the film. They discuss things like where they shot the interiors and exteriors, how location scouting for the corn fields didn’t work as planned with the corn dying or having been ploughed when it came to shoot, as well as issues with making the film within the budget they had. Their love and fondness for this movie shines through in the commentary so it’s well worth a listen.
There’s another audio commentary on the film, this time with Children of the Corn historian and webmaster of ChildrenOfTheCornMovie.com, John Sullivan, and journalist and writer of horror, Justin Beahm. Another interesting exploration of the movie for film fans by hardcore CotC fans.
Harvesting Horror (36 minutes) – a retrospective documentary featuring interviews with Fritz Kiersch, Courtney Gains and John Franklin from the Anchor Bay release. There’s lots of great detail here provided by the cast and director. It’s great to hear about how Gains and Franklin got their parts on the film, with John 23 years old at the time but looking 12 years old due to a growth hormone deficiency which made him perfect for the part of Isaac. Kiersch talks about the four week shoot and how they had a $1.3 million budget but only $800k left to play with after paying Stephen King, and how they had to be creative when shooting things such as the rising ground in the corn fields at the end of the movie. They discuss what it was like shooting in the Mid-West and the problems they encountered and how they addressed these, the main one being that the crew had to spray the corn green due to it dying off. This documentary provides plenty of insight into the making of the movie though has facts that you will encounter multiple times throughout the special features, which is to be expected as this film, in reality, is smaller than it first appears.
It Was The 80’s! (14 minutes) – Another Anchor Bay produced special feature, this time an interview with Linda Hamilton who stars as Vicky in the film. Hamilton talks about how she auditioned and won the role and her love for Stephen King stories so she was excited to be a part of it. She also talks about her love of the physicality that was demanded for the role. Her gusto for getting her hands dirty and being involved in physically demanding scenes repaid her well, having gone on to become one of the iconic female action stars in cinema in The Terminator series.
… And A Child Shall Lead Them (50 minutes) – New interviews with actors Julie Maddalena (Rachel) and John Philbin (Amos) as they remember Gatlin and being a part of the film. It was John’s first movie and Julie’s second. Both had fun working on CotC and enthusiasm for their roles. They talk about what it was like working on the film, with Julie playing the priestess Rachel who gets stabby with the character of Burt, and John playing Amos who’s hit the age of 19 and therefore must sacrifice himself to He Who Walks Behind The Rows. The duo give a great deal of insight from their own perspective of working on the movie, providing similar but different experiences to that of the other, main cast members.
Field of Nightmares (17 minutes) – a new interview with screenwriter George Goldsmith who rewrote the script Stephen King had produced for the movie. As a lifelong martial artist, Goldsmith lived in a dojo whilst developing his writing career. It proved the right move as it led to getting his foot in the door, writing ‘Matters of Martial Arts’, starring John Saxon, and ‘Force Five’. In the interview, he also talks about the disagreement he and King had on the rewritten script. In his CotC screenplay, Goldsmith introduced new characters Sarah and Job so the audience could see Gatlin through their eyes, something it seems King didn’t approve of. It sounds like the original script was more heavy on the relationship with Vicky and Burt with friction between the couple, however I prefer the happier relationship we see on-screen and I think the characters of Sarah and Job work well.
Stephen King on a Shoe String (11 minutes) – An Anchor Bay produced interview with Cildren of the Corn producer Donald P. Borcher. He explains how he’d just been promoted to Vice President of Worldwide Film Production for New World Pictures and Children of the Corn came up. He discusses working with casting director Linda Francis to find the right cast, the changes he wanted for the script and how the test screening went down at the Red Rock Theater in Las Vegas.
Welcome To Gatlin (15 minutes) – Interviews with production designer Craig Stearns and composer Jonathan Elias. Stearns talks about how he had worked with John Carpenter before working on CoTC and how his main focus was working out how to deal with the blasphemy of the plot within the design. He also talks about the local community got involved in the shoot. For composer Elias, Children of the Corn was his first feature length movie. Having worked with John Barry doing electronic music, CotC was his first solo venture as composer and so he had to learn how to pace his music and get used to seeing footage in a fractured way. It was interesting to hear him talk about using a group of kids and a couple of women to capture the choir sounds for the score.
Return to Gatlin (16 minutes) – a look back at the filming locations with John Sullivan. As well as being on a commentary track on the disc, CotC superfan Sullivan hosts this featurette in which he talks to the locals and shows the iconic locations which featured in Gatlin in the movie, which was actually shot across Whiting, Hornick, Salix and Holly Springs. Unfortunately, some of the locations have been knocked down and some have been changed, but there’s plenty that still exist.
Cut From The Cornfield (5 minutes) – Actor Rich Kleinberg discusses the scenes he shot which unfortunately ended up on the cutting room floor due to running time. He starred as the blue man, the police officer that got his throat slashed by the wicked children of Gatlin in scenes that went unscreened. He discusses how much he adores the film and shares how plenty of the older actors were from the community theatre.
Storyboard Gallery (5 minutes) – A slideshow of sketches from the storyboard from Children of the Corn.
Disciples of the Corn (18 minutes) – A short film adaptation of Children of the Corn, directed by John Woodward, that was made in 1983 – a year before this feature film. Featuring a couple of scenes of animal cruelty, this short film focuses on the cult of the corn and the crow. It seems as though they’ve stuck to the idea of Burt and Vicky having a bit of a troubled relationship as the duo are bickering when they encounter the runaway. The short film is creepy and effective, and manages to pack a lot into its running time.