Children of the Corn (1984)

Directed by Fritz Kiersch


Children of the Corn is a terrible movie, but it might be a good terrible movie.  It’s very 80s, between the crappy computer effects and Linda Hamilton (of Terminator fame) as well as Burt’s mullet and faded blue jeans.  The story is very simple, but it’s stretched out to fit its 90 minute runtime.  I’m pretty sure this movie could be cutdown to an hour and not lose anything.

Burt (Peter Horton) and Vicky (Linda Hamilton) find themselves stuck in a small town that is no longer on the map they’re struggling to use to find their way.  They run over one kid, on accident, and soon they’re trapped in town, haunted by murderous, ravenous, religious children who pray to their own Corn God of some sort.

The movie begins with a flashback, narrated by a very innocent, likable kid.  He explains how, one day after church, two kids, Isaac and Malachai, took over the town, starting with a brutal slaughter of all the adults inside a diner.  This kid, Job and his sister Sarah are the only untainted youth in town.  Everyone else is freaky violent, completely and utterly devoted to their corn God.  They have also agreed to sacrifice themselves once they turn 19.

At one point Vicky is captured and tied up to a cross to be burned, but a dispute between Malachi and Isaac ends with Isaac’s capture and burning at the stake.  When Burt shows up, he is surrounded by the kids, but he yells at them to open their eyes, and surprisingly some do.  Burt’s ability to convince these crazy children that they’re wrong and their god is wrong is way too easy.  In one moment they are ready to tear him apart, and in the next they are completely peaceful.  It’s silly.

Isaac is burned by some kind of computer effect goo, but then he comes back to life, zombified, and he gets revenge on Malachai.  Some other stuff happens, and Burt and Vicky leave town.

Children of the Corn has a silly but exciting premise.  It takes children, and makes you hate them.  It makes them little monsters, and though this might seem daring, it allows you to root for the children to be killed.  So I expected those children to be torn apart, paying for their own ignorance, naivete and obsession with a crop.  But that didn’t happen.  When the kids decided to run away from Malachai and Isaac in the end, it felt like a cop out.  This movie wanted to be extreme but became more and more watered down as the story went on.

While the first scene of slaughter was pretty brutal, the rest was cheesy.  Malachai couldn’t act, and it’s pretty ballsy to make a movie that completely depends on so many children.  In general children aren’t yet great actors, so to rely on them is ill-advised.  I can’t help but imagine the two adults on set losing their impatience with the child actors.

What about the story, what does murderous, religious children symbolize?  Maybe it has something to do with the baby boom generation.  The kids in this movie were born in the 60s and 70s, in some cases to families with parents who served in World War II.  The movie seems much more interesting if I imagine it to be a commentary on the post-war economic boom.  There were more children, higher hopes for the world since it seemed like the worst was behind us, and perhaps Children of the Corn is a reaction against that.

These children are religious fanatics in a time when religious fervor was dying down, as far as I can tell.  They’re villains from the past even if they’re too young to remember that past.

I don’t care about this movie.  It’s not really the movie’s fault, but right now I don’t care about it.  That’s my own baggage, and I’m taking it out on the movie.  I’m feeling nostalgic for things I didn’t feel nostalgic for just last week.  There’s this feeling that wherever you are, the future will be better, and maybe I can loosely connect this to this movie.

But the last three or so years I’ve felt strangely restless and stagnant, like I’ve been on a hamster wheel and didn’t know it.  I thought the faster I ran the further I’d go, but that’s not the case.  It doesn’t seem to be the case at least.  But I’m probably as wrong now as I was then.

So I feel strange, right now, like the last three years have felt like the present, and after the last couple days they now feel firmly like the past, like some door has been closed and locked behind me.  I’ve had that feeling before, and I’m not even sure that it means anything.

I’m frustrated, but I’m writing this about 21 days before it will post to the site, so by the time you read this, if you do, I’ll likely not feel the same.  But what does it matter.  Feelings can be so strong and also so temporary.  Maybe you don’t always recognize the ones that will stick with you for more than a day, the ones that surprise you and either weigh you down or lift you up for a week.  But then those are gone too.  What stays is what you do with those feelings.

Malachai and Isaac were pushed to murder an entire town by a corn God, and I still don’t understand how they could’ve gotten away with it.  Surely there are police, right?  But it doesn’t matter.  It’s not even important that we get the prologue at the beginning of the movie.  It doesn’t matter how this happened or why, just that it did.  To Burt and Vicky, the adults that stumble into town, this is all insane, and we agree.  But their reactions to the insanity is as important as the insanity itself, like they represent an entire generation of adults wondering why their kids are killing themselves.  Maybe this is a metaphor for war (Vietnam) or drugs or other forms of violence, but no matter what it is, it’s here.

So you have to deal with it.  Burt and Vicky fight back in a very traditional movie way.  There’s a final act 3 scuffle and some uninteresting visual effects, and the heroes get away.  It’s not about them fighting back or reforming the town, though Burt does sway some of the kids away from their corn God.  It’s about getting the hell out of there.

Burt and Vicky flee town, and there’s one last joke about them having fully learned not to worry about the kids.  They tried to help them, but they’re mostly beyond saving, so the adults leave.  It’s not such a happy ending, I suppose, but this movie is too silly to read too much into.  I’m sure there are more layers in the Stephen Kind short story from which this movie is adapted.

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