Saturday, May 21, 2011

Stephen King Month: Children of the Corn (1984)

Of all the Stephen King movies that Hollywood churned out in the '80s, Children of the Corn is among the least likely to turn into a long-running franchise, but that's exactly what happened: The 1984 original spawned six loosely related sequels and a 2009 made-for-TV remake, and there are rumors of a theatrical remake on the way. So what's the appeal? It's not that this movie is particularly compelling or well-made -- it's serviceable at best, and frequently dull. But the concept of a cult of evil kids is pretty compelling, and it lends itself to various approaches, which is useful when pretty much every new installment features an entirely new setting and cast.

For this version, which makes a number of changes from King's original short story, we have a couple (Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton) getting lost on the back roads of Nebraska and happening on the isolated small town where the kids have banded together in some weird religious cult after having killed all the adults. It takes far too long for the main characters to stumble into danger, and seemingly half the movie is just them wandering through the empty town, and then later running through it as the kids chase them down. The concept is genuinely creepy, though, and director Fritz Kiersch gets a bit of mileage out of the disturbing zealotry of the kids. John Franklin is great as prophet/leader Isaac, who totally had the potential to be the Jason/Freddy of the eventual franchise (instead, he only appeared in one sequel, 1999's Children of the Corn 666: Isaac's Return, co-written by Franklin himself).

Julie Maddalena is also strong as one of Isaac's main disciples, and she anchors what's probably the best scene in the movie, a ceremony in which a 19-year-old cultist is prepared for facing death by He Who Walks Behind the Rows. Unfortunately, Kiersch spends more time with Courtney Gains as the snotty henchman Malachai, and the climax ditches the kids in favor of a vague monster embodied by really terrible special effects. The movie ends by literally just slapping the words "The End" on the screen in what feels like the middle of a scene, but of course things went on unnecessarily long after that.

How far to Castle Rock: I'm pretty sure they don't grow much corn in Maine, so the movie and story quite sensibly take place in Nebraska.

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