It has to be said — Netflix instant streaming has been keeping me busy this Halloween season (yes, we now have a “Halloween season” just like we’ve got a “Christmas season” — the key difference being that this is a season I actually like), and late last night I indulged in another round of horror nostalgia by watching Children Of The Corn, a movie that positively terrified the living shit out of me when I was a kid, for the first time in — Christ, I don’t know how long.
I figured it probably had to be worth another go, right? After all, it wouldn’t have spawned a veritable army of tenth-rate direct-to video sequels and prequels — the most recent being 2011’s truly atrocious Children Of The Corn : Genesis — if there wasn’t at least some kernel of coolness or creepiness buried in there somewhere, right?
And maybe there is. In Stephen King’s original short story. But not in this limp flick.
To be sure, adapting this for the big screen probably seemed like a no-brainer back in 1984 : the name “Stephen King” was box office gold at the time, and the glut of poorly-done movies based on his work really hadn’t hit yet. When we thought “Stephen King film” back then, we thought of Carrie, The Dead Zone, Christine, or, best of all, The Shining. The key difference being that each of those was helmed by a genuinely great director, a title which sadly can’t be applied to Children Of The Corn‘s Fritz KIersch (even if Tuff Turf is, admittedly, pretty fun stuff). Given a crackerjack idea to work with — boy preacher convinces all the kids in a small Nebraska corn-farming community to rise up and kill all the grown-ups — Kiersch somehow manages to make a sow’s ear out of a silk purse and delivers a lifeless, tepid celluloid translation of what’s probably the best of all the tales of terror in King’s seminal best-seller Night Shift.
Poor casting doesn’t help matters much, either — okay, sure, John Franklin is solid enough as chief “bad seed” Isaac, but beyond that the pickings are pretty slim : Courtney Gains, who plays his right hand-man (excuse me, boy) Malachi, can stand there and scowl pretty well but never should have been allowed to open his mouth, and as for the young couple who wanders into the midst of this murderous heartland revival, well — let’s just say that Linda Hamilton (well before hitting the jackpot in the biggest divorce settlement in California state history) is a long way from her career-defining turn as Sarah Connor here and Peter Horton comes off as the kind of smug yuppie asshole you’d like to kill personally (and slowly and painfully, I might add) — you know, just like he did on thirtysomething. Fair enough, “smug yuppie asshole you’d like to kill personally” describes every character on that show, not just his, but still —
Isaac is compelling enough to keep you at least mildly interested in the proceedings throughout, along with the hope slowly burning in your heart that, even though it seems unlikely, Horton might die a gruesome death, but by the time “He Who Walks Behind The Rows” awakens and the corn comes to life, the whole thing starts to seem too — well, corny to take very seriously. Which would all be fine and good if Kiersch were playing things tongue-in-cheek throughout, but given that he opts for the straight-forward approach, the film’s “climactic” final act just comes off as being uninspired at best, embarrassing at worst. I might even call it cringe-worthy, to be honest, but cringing would require a level of active viewer involvement that this movie just can’t bring itself to have the power to muster up. It’s all too rote, clinical, and lazy to manage to elicit any sort of a reaction whatsoever.
Maybe I’m being a bit harsh on a film that, for some reason, a good number of horror fans consider to be something of a minor “classic,” but when I wrote about movies that don’t stand the test of time particularly well in my review of Jack’s Back the other day, this is exactly what I was talking about. I probably should have left well enough alone with this one and just allowed by childhood memories of it to continue to shape my adult perceptions.
Oh well. Too late now.