Review by J.T. Johnson
ORIGINAL RELEASE DATE: March 9, 1984
DIRECTOR: Fritz Kiersch
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Joao Fernandes
WRITER: George Goldsmith
MUSIC: Jonathan Elias
In 1984, New World Pictures released “Children of the Corn”, a film based on the story by Stephen King.
The movie tells the story of the small town of Gatlin, Nebraska, a place where the adults are killed by the children because their leader, Isaac (John Franklin), says that it is the will of He Who Walks Behind the Rows. Three years later, Burton Stanton (Peter Horton) and Vicky (Linda Hamilton) are a newly married couple on their way to Seattle, Washington, where Stanton is about to begin his internship with a hospital.
On the way there, Stanton accidentally runs over a teenager who is trying to escape the grasp of Isaac and his followers. While trying to find help, Stanton and Vicky arrive in Gatlin. Before they know it, the town’s children descend upon them and make their lives a living hell.
Stephen King himself originally wrote the first draft of the screenplay for the film, but it was rejected by the studio and New World decided to go with a draft by George Goldsmith instead. This draft, and the film, features more violence and a more conventional narrative. This film also differs greatly from the novel on which it is based including the ending of the film.
Beyond the differences to the novel, the film is just bad. If someone in the audience does not like to see demonic children or children getting hurt or killed, stay away from this film. This is something that usually bothers me, as well, but here it really didn’t. It could be because the children getting hurt (aside from one kid at the beginning of the film) are little demonic bastards from hell.
The kid that is the scariest is John Franklin, the child actor who plays the evil leader of the children, Isaac. Not only is he a creepy looking kid, he acts like a demented preacher who is completely devoted to his god and will stop at nothing to see that He Who Walks Behind the Rows is satisfied. Franklin is the most convincing of the child actors and he succeeds at making the audience feel uncomfortable.
The only other child actor I could compare him to is Harvey Stephens. Stephens played the demonic child Damien in the original 1976 film, “The Omen”. Stephens could give someone a blank stare and say nothing and that person would run home crying to their mommy. The only difference here is that once someone talks to Franklin for awhile, he/she would have the same reaction. Franklin makes it almost worth seeing the film.
Unfortunately, the film is bogged down by the other child actors who just sound like children trying to be scary. The second heavy, Malachai, is played by Courtney Gains. Malachai is the child doing most of Isaac’s dirty work. He is a killer but Gains is not up to the task when it comes to playing the character. Instead, Gains comes off as a whiny little brat who just needs to get his butt kicked instead of a cold-blooded murderer. Also, when he talks and tries to sound angry, he just sounds… well… corny.
The other big problem that kills the movie is the performances given by the two adult actors, Horton and Hamilton. They cannot even keep up with the worst of the child actors. Their sympathy and fear at running over a child is completely unbelievable and they do not seem to really care that the town has been taken over by demonic children. They don’t act scared enough at the events unfolding around them. The audience, therefore, does not feel the need to be scared for them, either.
The only thing that the film has got going for them beyond Franklin’s performance is Jonathan Elias’ eerie musical score. The music mostly contains soft, creepy sounding music with kids providing a chilling harmony.
In the end, this is a film that has spawned seven sequels (mostly straight-to-video) and a TV remake because it has ultimately gone on to form a cult following with horror fans. There are even talks of a new theatrical remake being done by The Weinstein Company. Let’s hope they can find a suitable script that stays truer to Stephen King’s original story and that they can find a kid that is just as creepy as John Franklin.