04 January 2013

+JMJ+

Twelve Things about Children of the Corn

12. First of all, thanks to Angie Tusa, whose first Castle Rock Companion vlog about Children of the Corn inspired me to watch the movie again and to write this post! It's a good vlog--informative, entertaining, and to-the-point--and I recommend it if you're a Stephen King fan with a few minutes to spare.

11. I'm willing to bet that most people watched Children of the Corn for the first time when they themselves were young enough to be one of the children in the story. When a child character has a significant role in a movie, the movie seems appropriate for child viewers--and this famously cheesy adaptation of King's short story has several very significant child characters whose presence screams louder than the R rating.

And I think that's interesting cultural "baggage" for this movie to have, inasmuch as the story pits children against adults. Perhaps there is also a difference in the way we receive the story as children and the way we receive it as adults, but that has not been my own experience. I'd say I've become more critical of it . . . but also more appreciative. No conflict there. But I may be alone in this.

10. You know what other stories consistently set children and adults against each other? Faerie tales! And during my most recent viewing, I kept thinking that Burt and Vicky, the two adults who stumble upon the children of the corn, were a version of Hansel and Gretel.

Yes, they're modern, they're married, and they're grown ups.
That doesn't change my essential point.

Of course, the main difference is that in faerie tales, the adults are the antagonists and the children are the heroes. This movie at once reverses and sticks closely to that formula. There are moments when Burt and Vicky are almost childlike in their innocence . . . or helplessness.

9. The "kid friendly" vibe is helped along by Job and Sarah, the two children who are not as bad as the others.

These two actually look like Hansel and Gretel. LOL!

The opening scene in the diner, in which all the adult patrons are murdered before one shocked little boy's gaze, is shown as his memory and framed with his narration. While this is going on, his (twin?) sister, lying feverish in bed at home, is making a crayon drawing of the massacre. And we just know that they are the good kids.

Raise your hand if Sarah reminds you
of Ellie from Pet Sematary!

8. So am I recommending this for children or not? To my own surprise, I'm on the fence!

The main reason I watched Children of the Corn again was to see if I could add it to my mental list of  good quality "Family Friendly" Horror movies. And long before it was over, I could see that quality is the main argument against it.

What characterises good Horror for children is moral absolutes in simple imagery. There's no ethical waffling, for instance, over Hansel and Gretel's pushing the witch into an oven to burn to death. And while we can say the same for the last few minutes of the movie, in which one adult and one child work very well together to defeat the evil endangering them both, it's much too little, much too late. 

7. Children of the Corn fails as a moral vehicle primarily because it's all over the place about what the evil is. For the better part of the movie, it seems that organised religion is the boogeyman. The young prophet Isaac who orders the massacre of the adults and the true believer Malachi who is happy to shed blood in "the Lord's" name follow the familiar "humanist Horror" conventions so well that their community seem akin to the tribe of feral schoolboys in William Golding's Lord of the Flies.

So it's actually kind of jarring to learn that there's actually something supernatural going on--that the real evil of Children of the Corn is not fanaticism or ideology run amok, but a true diabolical force.

6. The imagery is an even bigger epic fail. It doesn't get any worse than a dazed Linda Hamilton being raised up on a cross--and I'm weighing her against Madonna. =P I suppose it was meant to be shocking; but all it succeeded in being was tasteless, lame and laughable. Then one of the bad guys ends up strapped to a cross as well. It's actually kind of insulting.

Yes, I get that the horror is driven by the perversion of Christianity, but these crucifixions (and the weird church ceremony) don't communicate that as much as they highlight how little the filmmakers actually comprehend about the religion they are exploiting. I'm reminded of the "sackerryfice" that ten-year-old Demi Brooke offers to "The Naughty Kitty-mouse" in Louisa May Alcott's Little Men: a child's effort to reproduce solemn and mysterious rites that he doesn't really understand. But after an adult steps in, we see that no real harm was done. Of course, the difference is that the children in the movie do some very real harm. That's why the real comparison is not between the novel's children and the movie's children; it is between the novel's children and the movie's filmmakers.

5. So I'll be the first to admit that Children of the Corn is a rather shoddy bit of art. But then I'll have to confess that it also inspired one of the best nightmares I ever had. There's something here that tugs at the subconscious . . . and I respect that.

I like the coldblooded ambush in the diner, the claustrophobia of the cornfields, the plight of Job and Sarah, the sudden collision of two worlds as Burt and Vicky's car hits the unfortunate runaway, and the ghost-town silence of Gatlin when Burt and Vicky first drive into it. Yeah, it all goes downhill from there, but that's mostly from all the unrealised potential of the beginning.

4. Isaac and Malachi are also very dear to me. John Franklin delivers a standout performance as the former, while Courtney Gaines turns what could have been a stock character into one of the Top 5 Religious Zealots of All Time. And we get some real drama in their interactions--and real horror in the final move in their power plays. If there are times when Burt and Vicky seem childlike, there are also times when Isaac and Malachi seem quite grown up.

3. But the antagonist I really want to discuss is Julia Maddalena's Rachel.

If this image confuses you, please read #6 again.

Priestess figure Rachel is often forgotten, possibly because her character would be so easy to write out. And that's kind of sad, given that she is the "baddie" who comes closest to incapacitating Burt--not once, but twice! She also gets to say my favourite line in the whole movie:

"Get Isaac . . . No . . . Get Malachi."
(BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!)

I think one reason she doesn't seem to fit is that everyone else comes in pairs: Burt and Vicky . . . Job and Sarah . . . Isaac and Malachi. While I think it would have been too symmetrical to have had a male-female pairing in every corner, I still like the way that the "imbalance" she causes complements another tipping point in the story: the moment when the balance of power really starts to shift from Isaac to Malachi.

2. But now that I think about it some more . . . I see that the characters actually come in threes: Isaac, Malachi and Rachel . . . Job, Sarah and the runaway Joseph . . . Burt, Vicky and the Blue Man!!!

Unfortunately, only Joseph really feels like an organic part of the plot. Although the Blue Man is sourced straight from King's original story, his presence in the movie feels like an easy way to an ex machina ending. Especially since Job just happens to have saved and to be carrying around the most important of the Blue Man's possessions. It's just too convenient, you know? I think the Blue Man would have been even easier to write out than Rachel.

1. Children of the Corn is so amazingly flawed that the only thing that could have saved it was a hefty helping of cheese. So thank goodness that it has that! LOL! Or as I like to pitch other cult classics to my friends: "It's so bad, it's good. Let's watch it!"

I'd recommend screening this one as a double feature with Silver Bullet, another kid-friendly King adaptation--and I'm not just saying that to plug my live blog. =P (Check out that Friday Night Movie!)


Image Sources: a) Children of the Corn poster, b) Burt and Vicky, c) Job and Sarah, d) Rachel and Amos

9 comments:

NoelCT said...

Good call on the Hansel and Gretel comparison.

I think that what really made this film such a big cult hit through the 80s, leading to the endless sequels of the 90s, is that the core ideas and themes are just so strong, regardless of the shlocky execution.

Bob Wallace said...

What creeped me out was the cornfields. I used to detassle corn when corn was detasseled, and there are few things more weird than being in a cornfield with the corn above your head, and you can walk for half a mile before you come out.

Pennywise the clown could be in the row next to you and you wouldn't know it.

Angie Tusa said...

First off, many thanks for your complimentary shout out! :)

I think you're right in that this movie doesn't really work for children, as it is pretty hard for the average child to slip into any of the roles portrayed here. Certainly not any of the evil children, and not really Job and Sarah either. Their conflict and overthrow of the adults seems to have always been fueled by the orders placed on them by the supernatural force, and not, say, cruel treatment by their parents or other authority figures.

And you're definitely right about Sarah and Ellie! While Sarah doesn't exist in the original story, I think it's fun that whoever adapted this script clearly knew enough about King's work to add in a psychic child!

As for Silver Bullet, it's based on Cycle of the Werewolf, so I'll be covering that one eventually too. :)

Emily J. said...

I don't remember any particulars about this movie, other than I had nightmares about the cornfield behind the house in Indiana where I grew up for months after seeing it at a slumber party. Thus, I would not recommend it for slumber-party aged kids. Maybe "hang-out" aged kids - a distinction my teens are making clear to me.

EegahInc said...

I saw this on opening night with about fifteen kids from my high school. As soon as the garage owner's mutt showed up on screen, one of the girls in our row yelled out, "Look, a corn dog!" After that, it was all over, nothing but an hour and a half of corn jokes and other silliness. Too many fond memories to judge this one with an unbiased eye.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Noel -- Thanks! I obviously focus more on story, structure and execution in this review, but I agree that no work of fiction would be so enduring unless it also had strong themes. Which ones would you say this movie highlights best?

Bob -- My younger brother was laughing at the title of the this movie. I want to drop him into the middle of a cornfield now. =P

Angie -- You're very welcome! Your podcast directly inspired this post, so I was just giving credit where it was due. =)

That's a good point about the children's "rebellion." It's not really rebellion, but actually the exact opposite. And when Burt "preaches" to the kids, he's not getting them to rebel against He Who Walks Behind The Rows, either. It's quite complex!

Emily -- I've never even seen a cornfield in real life, and I still had my nightmare! I'd say you're right that kids should be a bit older than Job and Sarah before they try watching this for the first time; but to be honest, it's not the violence or horror that makes me skew older as well, but the really clumsy (dare I say, "misleading"?) use of Christian imagery. My subconscious is happy with the scary imagery, but it really wishes it could regurgitate that image of Linda Hamilton on the cross. =S I wouldn't wish that on a too-innocent child!

Eegahlnc -- I'd be very surprised if more than a handful of people can evaluate Children of the Corn with an unbiased eye. My brother seems like he'd be able to do that, but he's still young--"hang-out" aged, as Emily would say--and he might still have a rip roaring time with this one! =P

DMS said...

Children of the Corn was such a scary movie when I was a kid. I agree with you comparison. I think so many movies, ideas, books, art, etc. come from the fairy tales of old. Thanks for sharing! Happy new year : ) Best wishes, Jess
http://thesecretdmsfilesoffairdaymorrow.blogspot.com

Bob Wallace said...

Your brother would immediately cease to laugh if I dropped him in the middle of an Illinois cornfield on a moonless summer night.

King has obviously been in a cornfield.

Something even more frightening is a dark forest. I've been in ones that if you walked 200 feet into one off of a highway, you'd be lost.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Jess -- Thanks! The original short story doesn't have a "Hansel and Gretel" feel at all, but the movie certainly does. =)

Bob -- You may borrow my brother any time you wish. =D