Coming to Blu-Ray this August!
Peter Horton as Burton Stanton
Linda Hamilton as Vicky
R.G. Armstrong as Diehl
John Franklin as Isaac Chroner
Courtney Gains as Malachai
Robby Kiger as Job
Directed by Fritz Kiersch
Welcome to the town of Gatlin, Nebraska where the population consists mainly of children…children of the corn!!!! What the hell does that mean? Well, it means these kids worship the bloodthirsty deity that they call He Who Walks Behind The Rows (of corn, that is). Who is he/she/it? Well, we never find out this time around, although there are 7 sequels that go into more detail. This first time around the reasoning behind the sudden homicidal tendencies of the children that wipe out all the adults is kept mysterious and the film unravels like John Carpenter’s Halloween, a thrilling haunted house ride where the unanswered is unimportant.
Vicky (a young and cute Linda Hamilton) and Burt (a young and not so cute Peter Horton) are driving cross-country when they accidentally hit a kid that was standing in the middle of the road. Burt, a doctor, rushes out and finds that the kid’s throat was cut before the car ever hit him. They head to the nearest town to inform the authorities and the nearest town just so happens to be the lovely little sleepy burg known as Gatlin. There are two children in town who are not under the spell of He Who Walks Behind The Rows, Job and Sarah. The sister possesses the gift of sight, which means she draws pictures of things that are about to happen. She is important to Isaac, the leader of the children, who is played to creepy perfection by John Franklin who looked like a kid in the film but due to a groth hormone deficiency was actually 25 years old.
Vicky and Burt get to Gatlin after getting interminably lost on the road amid the corn. The town is abandoned, but while exploring a house they meet Sarah. Burt leaves Vicky to figure things out with Sarah while he heads back to the town to find some grownups. While he’s away, Vicky is kidnapped by Malachi (eerily played by famous ginger kid actor Courtney Gaines) and his gang. Burt returns to find her gone and Sarah in shock. He stumbles through the corn, searching for his girlfriend and comes upon a church. He walks in on a birthday party that involves blood drinking and breaks up the festivities. Apparently, on the first night of their 19th year they are sent (killed) to Him, He Who Walks Behind The Rows. Burt is stabbed and chased through the town.
He meets up with Joe and Sarah, who hide him in a cellar. They know where Vicky is and after he patches up his wound they lead him to the cornfield where Vicky is strung up on a cross made of corn. She is to be sacrificed to their God, along with Isaac, who has fallen out of favor with the children. Burt gets there just in time to see their God arrive, in the form of a Tremor worm digging through the ground. He Who Walks Behind The Rows appears from the ground as a mass of staticy light that swallows the terrified Isaac up and blows his corn cross into the sky. Burt runs in and frees Vicky from Malachi, who has taken her down from her cross for some reason, and tells her to run.
He stays behind to try and talk some sense into the brainwashed masses. No one is listening until Isaac returns, now possessed by He Who Walks Behind The Rows. They all run and hide and Burt gets the bright idea to burn the corn field down, which might finally destroy the devil God of the children of the corn. Will he succeed? Will Burt and Vicky live till morning? Will they adopt Job and Sarah? Will He Who Walks Behind The Row be put down for good? Did I mention there are 7 sequels?
Ever see a documentary called Jesus Camp? That plays like a real-life version of this movie. If you look closely, the Stephen King short story and the film are subtly, or not so subtly, warning us of the dangers of religious zealotry. There is almost no distinction between the Lord and He Who Walks Behind The Rows beyond a few ruined portraits of Jesus. This also reminds me of an incredible Spanish film called Who Can Kill A Child?, which was probably King’s inspiration because it is almost the same plot, minus He Who Walks Behind The Rows and the woman in that movie is pregnant which leads to a viciously clever death for her.
There is that cringe-inducing musical number Linda Hamilton puts on in the beginning of the film, which is probably a source of embarrassment to this day. But as cheesy as that first scene with Vicky and Burt is, we instantly understand their relationship and we’re with them from minute one. Directed by Fritz Kiersch (Sam Raimi was up for the gig at one time), the film definitely shows its age and small budget, but its a classic creepfest and one that certainly deserves to be re-watched, despite the sing-a-long scene.
The good folks at Anchor Bay have released the film now on Blu-Ray and unfortunately the high-def format doesn’t do much for the film. I mean everything looks better on Blu-Ray, but there are some older films that pop off the screen and become almost brand new (like The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly and the Sean Connery Bond films, for instance) but here the picture is certainly crisp, but it’s nothing dramatic.
There are a whole bunch of featurettes, including an interview with Linda Hamilton, and a fact-track that plays along with the film. If you don’t own the film and want to buy it, then this is the definitive version. If you already own the special edition on standard-def, that’s good enough.
The first appearance of Stephen King’s short story was in, bizarrely enough, “Penthouse” magazine. I wonder how many people actually bought that issue to read the story?