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Fade to Black January 7, 2010

Posted by monty in movies.
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It’s sort of impressive that it took me seven movies to reach the first Stephen King adaptation to unequivocally suck.  Children of the Corn (1984) is so bad, though, that one suspects director Fritz Kiersch was trying to make up for lost time.  To be fair, memory tells me that King’s novels make better movies than his short stories.  When I think of his movies that I consider to be sub-par, the ones based on short stories are the ones that leap to mind first.  I don’t remember much of the “Children of the Corn” story, but if the movie’s anything to go by, it must have been the very definition of flimsy.

The movie opens in the small town of Gatlin, Nebraska, and the first thing we hear is voiceover narration courtesy of Job, a plucky little kid who’s out on the town (after church, I think) with his father.  They swing by the local café, where Dad makes a phone call to his wife, and Job gets a milkshake because he’s a plucky little kid and that’s what plucky little kids do.  While all this small-towniness is going on – much coffee is drunk and many slices of pie are eaten – Job notices a creepy-looking kid (who, with his wide-brimmed hat appears to be Amish) peering in the front window.  He seems to be making eye contact with a second creepy-looking kid (this one with red hair and a serious overbite) playing pinball in the back of the café.  An unspoken signal is passed between them, and a third kid locks the door to the café.  It’s only then that all the children turn on their elders, poisoning the coffee, slicing their throats with knives and sickles, and being generally antisocial.

Cut to three years later.  The town has been taken over by the children, led by Isaac (the creepy Amish kid) and kept in line by Malachai (the redhead in need of orthodontia).  We learn from Job’s plucky narration that not all the kids are on board with Isaac, and we see Job and his sister Sarah attempt to help another boy escape.  He dashes into the cornfield, only to be killed by someone wielding an especially pointy knife.

It’s only now that we meet Vicky (a pre-Terminator Linda Hamilton) and Burt (a pre-Thirtysomething Peter Horton).  They’re driving cross-country for Burt to take a medical internship, and as they pass through the Nebraska cornfields, they accidentally run over the escapee, who’s been tossed in the road by his murderer.  Vicky and Burt throw him in the trunk, and then, with a troubling lack of urgency, tool around the country backroads in search of a hospital.  They finally end up in – you guessed it – Gatlin, and discover that the town is deserted and covered in cornstalks.

As it turns out, Isaac makes ritual sacrifices (of the kids once they reach their eighteenth birthday, as well as any adults unfortunate enough to stumble upon the town) to some unseen creature referred to only as He Who Walks Behind the Rows (it tunnels under the cornfield, so maybe it’s a big worm like in Tremors).  It’s unclear what these sacrifices are achieving since all the kids dress like extras from Witness and technology has apparently been outlawed.  Logical incoherence notwithstanding, once Isaac and Malachai discover there’s fresh meat in town, the rest of the movie involves a lot of running and chasing and hiding.  Vicky is eventually captured, taken to the middle of the cornfield, and – in a symbolic act as subtle as a punch to the nads – is hoisted up, J.C.-style, on a crucifix made of cornstalks.

The climax of the movie, such as it is, involves Burt preaching to the kids that a religion not based in love is a rotten, no-good, really bad thing.  And then they blow up He Who Walks Behind the Rows with gasohol.

It’s pretty bad.  I remember bits and pieces of it from when I watched it as a kid, and it certainly hasn’t held up well.  It’s obvious that the two leads would eventually be headed to bigger and better things (for Hamilton, The Terminator would be released later the same year, and Horton would have to wait three years for the debut of Thirtysomething), and while they make the most of a severely crappy acting situation, even they can’t save Children of the Corn.  The dialogue is laughable, even by horror movie standards, and it’s hard to feel any sort of suspense when Linda Hamilton looks like she could mop the floor with these twerpy little kids.  Some movies are bad, but just miss being passable.  Children of the Corn, however, is a failure on pretty much every conceivable level.

Read my other Stephen King reviews here:

Carrie, 1976 (11/14/09)

The Shining, 1980 (11/18/09)

Creepshow, 1982 (11/24/09)

Cujo, 1983 (11/30/09)

The Dead Zone, 1983 (12/11/09)

Christine, 1983 (1/3/10)

Next up: Firestarter (1984)

*****

Current listening:

Arctic Monkeys – Humbug (2009)

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