FILMS

A child’s garden of evil

LAWRENCE O’TOOLE April 16 1984
FILMS

A child’s garden of evil

LAWRENCE O’TOOLE April 16 1984

A child’s garden of evil

FILMS

CHILDREN OF THE CORN

Directed by Fritz Kiersch

Stephen King is such a phenomenally best-selling author that the movie industry hangs on his every word. Producers desperate for a hit seem to assume that any work of his, even something as fifth-rate as Children of the Corn, is a potential blockbuster. The creators of the movie version of Children of the Corn, originally a short story about an unlikely cult of juvenile devil worshippers, have stretched the simple plot beyond the limit. The movie plumbs depths that Hollywood seldom achieves at its most crass, least competent and most brazenly greedy.

In Children of the Corn one of its main characters actually says with a straight face: “There’s something very strange about this town.” Indeed, there is: Gatlin, a Midwest U.S. hamlet, has no adult population. And the children walk around like zombies, holding scythes and other sharp instruments, under the spell of their pubescent, prissy leader, Isaac (John Franklin). Isaac makes grandiose pronouncements: “Question me not, Malachai, I act according to His will.” “He” is the devil, running the town by remote control from the cornfield.

Into that literally godforsaken spot

drive Burt (Peter Horton) and Vicky (Linda Hamilton), one of the least engaging, frightened couples to show up on the screen in a long time. In a surprising display of moderate intelligence they discover that someone has mysteriously murdered all the Bible-thumping adults in the town. The children worship “He Who Walks Behind the [corn] Rows” and on their 19th birthday sacrifice themselves to Him. The “outlanders,” as the kids call Burt and Vicky, have trespassed upon hell’s half-acre and must pay the price for it.

The audience pays an even greater price by sitting through a clichéd catalogue of doors creaking, objects tinkling and clanging, clouds darkening ominously, winds gusting and howling, and child actors who could certainly use a few semesters at charm school. Two righteous children, like good fairies, show up and help the dim-witted Burt and Vicky to end all the nonsense, a deliverance they accomplish with a mammoth conflagration in the offending cornfield. Clearly, the story is Stephen King’s warning against the dangers of religious fanaticism—a message which, in the context of the movie, is difficult to take seriously. Had the cultists been adults, Children of the Corn might have made more sense and perhaps even been frightening—instead of simply unleashing its tiny terror.

LAWRENCE O’TOOLE