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October 17th, 2013


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09:46 pm - 31 Days of Halloween: Children of the Corn
I have two childhood memories of Children of the Corn:
  1. Once during summer vacation, I was flipping through the channels on my Grandpa's TV, and caught a moment of the climactic scene on TNT just as my mother was coming into the room. She wisely told me to find something else to watch.
  2. My parents briefly rented the upstairs portion of their house to some friends, and I remember knocking on their door for some reason, and hearing the woman say, "if it's a cornstalk, don't let it in!" I entered to see the very same scene, and they turned it off before I could see any more.
Both of these events probably happened within a week of each other, and I would have been eight or nine years old.

Anyway, I've been taking a lot of suggestions from Netflix this month, partly because it's easy, and partly because there are well-known horror films that I just haven't seen. I tend to deprioritize the popular ones because I know I'll have a chance to see them at some point, whereas something weird that I've never seen before needs to be watched as soon as possible. I can't put it in my queue--it'll never get watched.

But today Netflix recommended Children of the Corn, and I realized that I hadn't seen it but probably should have by now. I recall the other kids at school talking about it. I'm not entirely sure why.

As the movie opens in the small town of Gatlin, Nebraska where, just after church on Sunday morning, all the adults in town are brutally by the children. The camera focuses on a short guy in the black vestments of a preacher. This is Isaac. We don't know much about him yet.

Three years later, Burt (Peter Horton) and Vicky (Linda Hamilton) are driving down the back roads of rural Nebraska on the way to Burt's new job as a physician. In Seattle. They're driving cross-country from the East Coast, and have decided (apparently) to take the scenic route, which turns out to be a bad idea when their car plows directly into a teenage boy, killing him instantly. There's no one around to tell, so in an attempt to do the Right Thing they put him in the car and drive around looking for a phone, eventually ending up in Gatlin.

Gatlin seems to be on pause. There's no one around, and the businesses on main street obviously haven't been open in years. The whole place seems abandoned until they run into a band of teenage kids wielding weapons, and a brother and sister named Job and Sarah. The backstory we piece together is this: after the failure of the corn crop, the good people of Gatlin turned to the Lord for assistance. Around the say time, Isaac showed up, preaching the gospel of He Who Walks Behind the Rows to the children. Isaac's cult killed all the adults in town and took over. With the exceptions of Job and Sarah, all the kids are believers, and they are all happy to be sacrificed to He Who Walks Behind the Rows when they reach 19.

In other words, it's Logan's Run by way of The Shadow Over Innsmouth.

And actually, the parallels to H.P. Lovecraft's The Shadow Over Innsmouth are embarrassingly strong: a pagan cult comes depressed area and wins the allegiance of the populace. Then an outsider shows up, gets some local history, and spends the bulk rest of the story fleeing cultists. At the end of Lovecraft's story, the main character escapes, and notices a year later that he's growing gills, so he returns to Innsmouth expecting to be welcomed by his ichthyic kin. In CotC, He Who Walks Behind the Rows actually shows up in scenes reminiscent of the gopher in Caddyshack. Lovecraft had the good sense to keep Father Dagon and Mother Hydra off the main stage.

I was underwhelmed by CotC, and that provokes me to poke holes and make fun. Is Isaac supposed to be a mature kid, or a short adult? How can Gatlin's fate have gone unnoticed for three years? Is three years' brainwashing really all it takes to make all those kids okay with being murdered in the name of He Who Walks Behind the Rows? Y'know what would happen in real life? The sheriff would show up sooner or later and take Isaac down. And if the sheriff left one day and didn't come back, somebody else would be along to check up on him. Look, Isaac and his flock are crafty, but they're not make-the-National-Guard-look-like-the-burglars-in-Home-Alone crafty.

In the end, what I think I'm saying is that Children of the Corn--which originated as a short story by Stephen King--probably works better as a short story than it does as a movie. And I didn't hate it, but it's getting worse and worse the more I think about it. There are eight sequels and a remake. You can watch 'em, but I have no interest in cinematic self-flagellation.

No, really. In spite of all the evidence to the contrary, I don't.

Click here for the trailer.

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31 Days of Halloween: Children of the Corn - Garmonbozia for the soul.

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