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Children of the Corn (advertised as Stephen King's Children of the Corn) is a 1984 American horror film film based upon Stephen King’s 1977 short story Children of the Corn. Directed by Fritz Kiersch, the film's cast consists of Peter Horton, Linda Hamilton, John Franklin, Courtney Gains, Robby Kiger, Anne Marie McEvoy, Julie Maddalena, and R. G. Armstrong. Set in the fictitious rural town of Gatlin, Nebraska, the film tells the story of a malevolent entity referred to as "He Who Walks Behind the Rows" which entices the town's children to ritually murder all the town's adults, and a couple driving across the country, to ensure a successful corn harvest.

King wrote the original draft of the screenplay, which focused more on the characters of Burt and Vicky and depicted more history on the uprising of the children in Gatlin. This script was disregarded in favor of George Goldsmith's screenplay, which featured more violence and a more conventional narrative structure. Filming took place mainly in Iowa, but also in California. It spawned a Children of the Corn (film series) of films, and it has gained a cult following.

Plot

The film is set in the fictional town of Gatlin, Nebraska, an agricultural community surrounded by huge cornfields. In 1980, the town appears to be neglected except for the church, and residents choose Biblical names over more modern ones. When the corn crop fails one year, the townsfolk turn to prayer to ensure a successful harvest. However, 12-year-old Isaac Chroner takes all of the children in Gatlin into the cornfields and indoctrinates them into a religious cult based around a bloodthirsty deity called “He Who Walks Behind the Rows”. Isaac and his subordinate, 18-year-old Malachi, lead the children in a revolution, murdering all of the adults (ages 19 and up, since 18-year-olds are seen as halfway between teenager and adult) in town as human sacrifices, poisoning and butchering them. Only Job and his sister Sarah, are not involved, as Sarah was sick and Job was not allowed to attend the meetings in the corn with the other children. It is revealed in the opening credits that Sarah has visions, which are portrayed through the credits via drawings.

Three years later, on October 31, 1983, Vicky Baxter and her boyfriend Burt Stanton travel through rural Nebraska on their way to Seattle, where Burt will start working as a physician. Elsewhere, a young boy named Joseph tries to flee Gatlin, but is attacked in the corn; he stumbles out into the road and Burt accidentally runs him over with his Buick LeSabre. However, Burt discovers that his throat was cut beforehand. Burt and Vicky place Joseph and his suitcase in their trunk and search for a phone to call for help. They find elderly mechanic Diehl, the last adult in Gatlin, but he refuses them service; he is in an agreement to supply the children with fuel in exchange for his life. But the merciless Malachi breaks the pact and murders him, against Isaac's wishes, when Diehl tries to steer the couple away from Gatlin.

Vicky and Burt explore the abandoned town and find Sarah alone in a house; while Vicky stays with her, Burt searches the town. Malachi and his followers appear, capture Vicky, and take her to the cornfield, where they place her on a cross to be sacrificed. Burt enters the church, where a congregation of children led by a girl named Rachel are performing a cultural birthday ritual for Amos by drinking his blood from a pentagram-shaped cut on his body. Amos has turned 19, so is considered old enough for his "passing"—joining their god in the cornfield. Burt scolds the children for participating in a blood ritual and an enraged Rachel stabs Burt then Malachi and the others chase him. Job rescues Burt and they hide in a fallout shelter with Sarah, where they learn Vicky was captured, and agree to help him rescue her.

The zealous Isaac scolds Malachi for his treachery in killing Diehl, their only source of fuel. Malachi, tired of Isaac's preaching, takes over, ordering Isaac to be sacrificed instead of Vicky. Isaac warns Malachi that sacrificing him will break their pact with He Who Walks Behind the Rows and the children will be severely punished. That night, Burt sneaks into the cornfield to rescue Vicky. During Isaac's sacrifice, a supernatural light appears and devours the screaming Isaac. Burt emerges and fights Malachi. After pushing him to the ground, Burt convinces the children to abandon the cult and run for safety. But Isaac suddenly reappears, revived by He Who Walks Behind the Rows. He tells Malachi that the deity is angered over him being sacrificed. Informing Malachi that He Who Walks Behind the Rows wants his sacrifice too for his betrayal, Isaac seizes and kills the terrified Malachi by breaking his neck.

A storm appears over the cornfield, and Burt and Vicky shelter the children in a barn. Burt reads a passage in the Bible Job gives him; Job also reveals that the police officer tried to set up the gasohol to stop He Who Walks Behind The Rows, but Malachi murdered him before he could finish. Vicky rereads the passage and realizes that the cornfield must be destroyed by fire in order to stop the false god. Burt sprays the cornfield with gasohol and tosses a Molotov cocktail into the field, setting it alight and destroying the demon along with Isaac. Vicky, Burt, Job, and Sarah return to the car to leave Gatlin, but find it disabled. Rachel attacks Burt, but Vicky knocks her out with the car door. He is worried about just leaving her there, but Vicky quips that they will send her a get-well card from Seattle, and they depart with the kids.

Cast

Adults

  • Peter Horton as Burt Stanton
  • Linda Hamilton as Vicky Baxter
  • R. G. Armstrong as Diehl ("The Old Man")

Children

  • John Franklin as Isaac Chroner
  • Courtney Gains as Malachai Boardman
  • Robby Kiger as Job
  • Anne Marie McEvoy as Sarah
  • Julie Maddalena as Rachel Colby
  • Jonas Marlowe as Joseph
  • John Philbin as Richard 'Amos' Deigan

Production

Film rights were originally optioned by Hal Roach Studios, and Stephen King wrote a script based on his own short story. Hal Roach executives did not want to use King's script and George Goldsmith was hired to rewrite it. Goldsmith says King's script started with 35 pages of Burt and Vicky arguing in a car, so he decided to tell the story visually through the eyes of two new characters, children Job and Sarah. King was unhappy with the changes but Hal Roach went with Goldsmith. King and Goldsmith debated Goldsmith's approach during a phone conversation during which King argued that Goldsmith did not understand the horror genre and Goldsmith countered that King did not recognize that film is a visual, "external" experience unlike novels and short stories, which are "internal" and only visual in the reader's mind.

Goldsmith credited King with being extremely gracious when asked about the film in media interviews, stating in diplomatic ways he felt the new approach to be lacking. Hal Roach eventually sold the project to New World Pictures who decided to go with Goldsmith's script, although they tried unsuccessfully to remove his name from the credits in favor of King's. After release of the highly successful film, Goldsmith revealed that much of the story was a metaphor for the revolution in Iran, with the takeover of the town by quasi-religious zealots acting for an evil "God" based on the Ayatollah Khomeini and his revolutionary guard taking over Iran. Burt and Vicky became analgous to the American hostages and Goldsmith was using a horror film to expose the dangers and evils of religious fundamentalism, something few critics recognized.

Release

Critical response

On the Rotten Tomatoes, Children of the Corn holds a 36% approval rating based on 25 critic reviews The consensus reads: "Children of the Corn's strong premise and beginning gets shucked away for a kiddie thriller that runs in circles.”"

Roger Ebert from the Chicago Sun Times awarded the film 1/4 stars, writing, "By the end of Children of the Corn, the only thing moving behind the rows is the audience, fleeing to the exits." Vincent Canby of the New York Times wrote, "As such movies go, Children of the Corn is fairly entertaining, if you can stomach the gore and the sound of child actors trying to talk in something that might be called farmbelt biblical. "

Remake and prequel

In June 2008, it was confirmed that Donald P. Borchers would begin writing and directing a Children Of The Corn (2009 TV Film) of the first film, which would premiere on the Syfy channel. Production began in August, filming in Davenport, Iowa; The cast included David Anders, Kandyse McClure, Preston Bailey, Daniel Newman and Alexa Nikolas. The movie aired on September 26, 2009, and the DVD was released on October 6, 2009, by Anchor Bay.The television remake closely follows the original storyline present in the short story, and not that of the original film.

Another remake was confirmed in 2020, this time was directed by Kurt Wimmer and produced by Lucas Foster and was filmed in Austraila, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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