Friday, October 3, 2014

Movie Appraisal: Children of the Corn (1984)

Beware He Who Walks Behind the Rows!
Children of the Corn is an interesting movie. Released in the height of the Stephen King movie madness, the same year as Firestarter, and a year after Cujo, The Dead Zone, and Christine, this film is certainly a staple of the Stephen King adaptations in general. When I was young, The Shining, Cujo, Pet Sematary, Christine, Carrie, and Children of the Corn defined Stephen King's career for me like I'm sure they had for most people in the same time period. This was before I had read his books or had become the Stephen King fan that I certainly am today. I knew the stories because the movies had entered pop culture, and they were never going to leave.

Even today if you mention any of those movies, people, even those unfamiliar with horror or with Stephen King, will be able to tell you exactly what they're about. I do not tend to define Stephen King by these books and movies, but looking at what he's known for, it certainly seems as if the general public defines him by these films. I don't tend to review the better known Stephen King movies, but eventually I'm sure I'll do them all. Children of the Corn is a special case for me for two reasons. The first is that I do believe this is the first Stephen King film I ever saw, and the second is that I'm not just reviewing this movie this October, but the entire franchise! (Provided I can get through all of them without hating myself too much.)

To be honest, I have no idea why this movie kickstarted a franchise. While it is a solid and decent horror flick, there's nothing there that gives it a killer personality or the amazing good looks that franchises seem to need. And like most of these eighties franchises, the first movie ends in a way that leaves it as a very standalone thing. I have no idea where the franchise will go from here, and I'm certain that I won't like it.

I had the idea for reviewing the franchise in my last October Nights when I reviewed Disciples of the Crow, a short adaptation of the same Stephen King short story. It is a very close adaptation and worked very well for what it was. This movie, on the other hand, is not so close to the short story, and it suffers for it. I don't think it's bad, but it is way too long, and the ending was an extreme disappointment. Despite being the first Stephen King movie I saw, I don't believe I've seen it more than once or twice in all my years. While I remember certain scenes, the ending was something that didn't stick in my memory, and now I know that was for good reason.

The story here is simple: kids in a small town in Nebraska (Gatlin) go on a rampage and kill all of their parents at the urging and leadership of two boys, Isaac and Malachai. Three years later Linda Hamilton and Peter Horton hit a boy who is already standing dead in the road(!?) as they drive through some back roads for reasons that are never clearly explained. How this boy is dead and just standing there is never explained or shown, and it confuses me greatly. Obviously he has not entered rigor mortis yet, so the only thing that I can think of as an explanation is that Malachai propped him up with either magic or a stick. In either case, why would he even do that? They put the rest of the people into the corn for He Who Walks Behind the Rows. So, why just prop a kid up in the middle of the road after his throat is sliced? Was he hoping a car would hit him? Or was it just random happenstance?

Another thing that bothers me is that this town has been dead, except for children, for three years. Wouldn't somebody notice? What about the trucks that restock the stores or the gas pumps? What about the postal vehicles that need to pick up and drop off mail? What about the state and federal governments that collect taxes and might wonder where their citizens went off to inexplicably? My point is that even in the dark ages of the eighties, there would be questioned asked and inquiries made. Signs would be put up saying something like "A whole town disappeared one day here. Maybe it's not safe to come gallivanting around here." It would be as famous as Roanoake. People all over the world would know about it. It wouldn't just be a secret. When a couple thousand people disappear, it's something that's going to get out. Somebody's going to say something. Even if that town only supported a hundred people (and that's ridiculous, look at the size of it) people would talk and pilgrimage there to look upon the mystery. It's less a problem with the movie and more a problem with the short story in general. It has always bothered me, and while watching the movie it was the only thing I could think of. It took my mind off of the film and made it unrealistic and very silly.

So, I guess I find the premise ridiculous in the first place. I'll get that out of my fingers right now before I go further. While the movie is fine, it will never be something I love or really enjoy. And ti will always be known to me more for its atmosphere than for its amazing plot or premise.

And it does have a great atmosphere, among the corn fields and an abandoned town. The movie is shot well (except for the ending), and there are times when it can be genuinely heart-pumping. While never scary, it does have a few unsettling moments, and works well with them. I would say the oddness of the children is probably the highlight of the film, with Malachai and Isaac being the breakout creepy kids. What I find interesting is that the actor who played Isaac, John Franklin, had a growth hormone deficiency and was actually 25 when he was in the movie, which may explain why he just doesn't look quite right. I like the unsettling nature of that decision, even if it does seem slightly exploitative.

The acting is quite good in the movie beyond that, but the dialogue and script are not so good. And the ending is frankly terrible. A happy ending to a short story that has one of the biggest downer endings in all of Stephen King's written works? It seems like some sort of betrayal. The couple of the movie was supposed to fight and they were supposed to die as well. Not having that dynamic took away from a great deal of the passion of the flick, making large swaths of the movie uninteresting a more than a little boring to watch. While the imagery was mostly pretty solid as well, shots of corn and long periods of time of walking or looking around just seemed like padding more than anything else.

Oh, and the special effects were anything but special. They're one of the big reasons the ending fails so spectacularly besides the script. I can't even believe they used those effects. It was embarrassing to watch. There could have been so many ways they could have gone around the special effects, but nope, let's put really bad effects in the movie and hope it keeps people scar- oh- it looks like that? Well, that made me laugh so hard I was crying a little out of my eye holes. And then I just felt disgusted for a while.

On the whole, it's a decent film with some bad decisions. It is a whole film though, one that tells an entire story, so I'm shocked there's a franchise made from this, and I have no idea where it's going to go besides having children and corn and probably recycled plots and a bunch of blood. So, I'm looking forward to it?


No, I really don't think I am.

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