Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Halloween movie month: Children of the Corn

Children of the Corn (1984)
Netflix, instant

Basic plot:  Under the direction of the charismatic boy preacher, Isaac, the children of a small town in Gatlin, Nebraska are led to murder all the adults in town and to worship "he who walks behind the rows."  A young couple traveling through the country has a run-in with one of the children trying to escape the town, and they are drawn into the affairs of the young cult.

I have to admit that this is the first time that I've ever seen Children of the Corn.  It is important for me to admit that, because I think that it plays a major role in my review, especially in regards to the expectations that I had going into this.  Stephen King is a master of horror, and Children of the Corn has definitely had a cultural impact ever since it's release.  So I went into this with somewhat elevated expectations.  Sadly, it did not live up to my expectations.

Some of the narration in the very beginning worked to help establish the setting, in the same way that reading the opening pages of a story help to establish the setting before any actual dialogue.  But once the dialogue kicks in, the narration didn't work so well.  And this was highlighted pretty early when the narration says that a character is scared, and then the character's line of dialogue is "I'm scared."

The opening murders in the cafe aren't all that scary, or gruesome.  But, the attitude and demeanor of the kids is what is so scary.  They seem to do it so naturally and without remorse.  Almost as if they had been reading Lord of the Flies nightly for as long as they've been able to read.  And to me, that is part of what makes Children of the Corn so creepy.  I've always thought that things that can actually happen are much more terrifying than figments of the imagination.  And a group of people blindly following a charismatic leader to slaughter those who do not fit into their view of the way things should be...that is something that can definitely actually happen.

Since all the adults in the town have been murdered, obviously the majority of the cast is children.  And some of the child acting wasn't all that great.  But the role of Isaac was played very well, which actually makes him a bit more terrifying, because who would expect a kid to play an evil preacher so naturally.  The first time you see him, outside of the cafe when the adults are about to be killed, you say to yourself "well, that kid is just plain creepy."  But then, I was doing my research on afterwards, and realized that the actor who played Isaac (John Franklin) was actually around 25 when Children of the Corn was made.  So, he was just a more mature actor, and not an eerily naturally creepy kid.

There were two very different types of music throughout the movie.  One was typical 80s horror movie music, and the other was a more operatic, monk-like singing/chanting.  I didn't care much for the 80s horror music.  Especially since the chanting/singing not only fit in much better with the cult feel of the children, but also has a more timeless feel to it.  I really wish that all of the music in the film had been more like the chanting.

Towards the end of the film, things take a turn for the supernatural.  Even though there is the assumption that Isaac and Malachi (Courtney Gains) are evil, the majority of the film doesn't really emphasize the supernatural.  It primarily focuses on the creepy kids and what could happen in a society run by children, much like Lord of the Flies.  And to me, a society of murderous kids is creepy enough.  If the supernatural had played a bigger role throughout the film, it would have worked a lot better.  But as it was, it was a bit of a deus ex machina explanation as to why the kids were so evil.

Recommendation:  I wanted to like this movie a lot more than I actually did.  I mean, I really wanted to like this movie.  This movie is one of the ones that has become so much a part of culture that just about everyone, whether they've seen it or not, knows that referring to a kid as being a child of the corn means that there is something not quite right, and a bit creepy, about the kid.  So, I was expecting this film to have more of an impact.  I wanted it to be the kind of creepy that stays with you and makes you feel uneasy walking past middle schools for fear that they will rebel.  But, I think that the idea of the film is much scarier than the actual presentation.  And I have a feeling that the original Stephen King story is probably much scarier than the movie, because you just have the idea and you don't have the presentation or the bad acting to get in the way of Isaac, Malachi, and the mindless child cult.  I've not actually read the story though, so I don't have anything to actually compare it to...just speculation.  As far as the plot of the movie, there is too much that is unexplained.  And that which is explained, doesn't actually really explain much.  For instance, the inclusion of the supernatural explains why the kids are evil (at least, it sort of explains it).  But, it never actually explains why the evil chose that town.  Or why no one over the age of 18 could be allowed to live.  Or why they think that their plan to defeat the evil will actually work.  There are just too many plot holes.  Even though Children of the Corn has made a cultural impact, and even though the character of Isaac is played really well, I'm going to have to say that this is a pass.  It's right on the line though.  Based solely on entertainment value (especially seeing it now, rather than when it first came out), it's a pass.  But, based on the cultural impact and some of the ideas presented, it's a rent.  You won't be missing too much if you don't see it, but you also won't be miserable if you do watch it.  So, I guess the recommendation depends more on your intentions for watching it.  Per my comment at the beginning of the post about how my expectations played a major role in my review...I think that I might have given it a slightly higher rating/recommendation (though, probably not significantly higher) if I would've had lower expectations for it.  But, as it is, the character of Isaac is actually one of the only reasons it's as high as it is.

Side note:  it can be difficult to walk the line between making those with any sort of religion look like ignorant townsfolk, and showing that going over the top and blindly following what others tell you to do is very dangerous.  The majority of Children of the Corn has a "religion = ignorant" feel to it.  But towards the end, one of the characters says "any religion without love and compassion is false."

Be sure to check back soon for another review in Halloween movie month.


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