Yesterday my basically-mother-in-law asked whether Children of the Corn was a movie about children in the cornfields, and I couldn't help but laugh. "No, that one's Village of the Damned," I said. "Children of the Corn is set in a village, and there's no corn in it."
That was probably me being my snarky self, but the conversation that led to this sarcastic interlude was whether Village of the Damned was a better movie than Children of the Corn. There's a similar plot to both, but Children is more about the revolt of middle-school aged kids who are sick of their parents, plain and simple. There might be some mumbo-jumbo about He Who Walks Behind the Rows and the presence of an evil being who is tempting them, but for the most part these regular children act on their own accord as a mob drawn to the extremism of religion. There are supernatural elements to Village that either works to scare you more - the unknown is, often, more scary than knowing - or it works against it because they're not really just kids.
All comparisons aside, it's difficult to watch Children of the Corn without feeling how dated it really is. The special effects are bland - the blood looks more like droplets of paint in the HD quality upgrade, the final showdown with He Who Walks Behind the Rows features a billowing blob of red clouds that resemble a nuclear explosion instead of a monster - and the scares are pretty non-existent, at least because in 2013 they have become the norm for even the worst of horror movies.
Still, there's a definite attraction to the two characters, Burt (Peter Horton) and Vicky (Linda Hamilton), as they find themselves in the middle of a murder mystery after they hit an already dead child in the middle of the road. Their relationship is effective from the first moment they're featured - they're a young couple, having fun in the prime of their life, and they're heading off to start a new life after Burt lands a doctor's internship at a Tclinic. The opening is an effective use of time: the movie introduces the characters, gives us a brief look at how they interact, and then throws them into a dilemma where their true colors shine forth.
It means that they're not always likable. Vicky's kind of whiny, and Burt's definitely got a leadership quality that makes him too pushy and puts Vicky in danger. But that's why they feel like real people instead of two-dimensional characters. And the two kids that they're tasked with protecting when the corn hits the fan are also just as sweet and innocent as they should be.
The biggest detractor from Children of the Corn, though, is the narrative's insistence on dividing the film between the point of view of Burt and Vicky and the children. The opening scene is super creepy because the children's attack comes out of nowhere. But once that happens, and Children of the Corn continues to feature a voice-over narration from Job (Robby Kiger) and some random point of view scenes with Malachai (Courtney Gains) and Isaac (John Franklin), things lose their mystery significantly. Maybe it's because Malachai is a better stoic figure than he is a purveyor of dialogue - his archaic, Biblical speech doesn't work so well.
But hey - gotta give credit to the film for that opening scene, as well as the eerie music that reprises throughout the film. The soundtrack is probably the best part, composed by Jonathan Elias with a choral arrangement that's simple but haunting. The tense killing of the parents is only heightened by this, the plodding but desperate sounds of a shrieking choir as victims have their throats slit.
It might not really hold up to scrutiny, but Children of the Corn has at least a few scenes that are fairly affecting. It's got a retro cult status to it, at least for me, that heightens it above your standard horror fare - except for the last couple of outlandish scenes, it's rooted strictly in a realism that's frightening as long as you can get past the overacting from Malachai and the excessive focus on the children.
Children of the Corn on Rotten Tomatoes