Children of the Corn started as a short story first published in Penthouse Magazine that was later collected in the 1978 book Night Shift. It’s a story incredibly similar to Tom Tryon’s novel (and the film) The Dark Secret of Harvest Home. You could also draw parallels to Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s Who Can Kill a Child? or Village of the Damned.
Did you know that Children of the Corn was filmed once before? A short film called Disciples of the Crow was made in 1983 that’s an abridged version of this story.
This one was produced in 1984, with Gor and Tuff Turf director Fritz Kiersch at the helm. Burt and Vicky (Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton) are on their way to California when they drive through the cornfields of Nebraska and accidentally hit a young boy. However, when Burt exams the kid, it turns out that his throat had already been slit. Uh oh.
As they examine the boy’s suitcase, they discover a crucifix made of twisted corn husks. They head to the next town, Gatlin, to alert the authorities.
They come across a mechanic who refuses them service. The truth is that he is the last adult in Gatlin. He’s agreed to supply the children with services and fuel for his life, but the enforcer of the town, Malachai breaks the pact and murders him, angering their leader Isaac.
When Burt and Vicky get to town, everything is out of date and there’s a bad feeling in the air. Even worse, no one seems to be in town. They find a little girl named Sarah alone in a house, where Vicky stays while Burt explores. Malachai soon appears, capturing Vicky and taking her to be sacrificed in the cornfield.
The only thing in town that’s in shape is the church. Inside, Burt learn the truth of Gatlin — twelve years ago, everyone over nineteen was killed and the children took Biblical names after their murders.
Now, they live under this religious order that demands that everyone over nineteen must be sacrificed. During a blood-drinking ritual, Burt starts to yell at the children. They chase him until another young boy named Job rescues him and they hide in a fallout shelter.
Isaac and Malachai argue, with the older boy taking over and ordering his leader to be sacrificed. Isaac warns that this will anger their covenant with He Who Walks Behind the Rows and the children will be severely punished.
That night, Burt goes to rescue Vicky and a horrible special effect devours Isaac. Seriously, this weird chroma key fuzz looks incredibly dated. Anyways, Burt fights to save his wife and a possessed Isaac reappears and breaks Malachai’s neck.
A storm appears as Burt, Vicky and the two children decide that they must destroy the cornfield with gasoline and fire. They escape the town, taking the kids with them, their marriage somehow saved and they even discuss adopting the kids (but not before a sneak attack by Ruth is foiled).
This overly happy ending stands in marked contrast to the downbeat tone of the novel, where Vicky is sacrificed and Burt is killed by the creature in the cornfield. The creature punishes the town by lowering the sacrifice age to eighteen, so Malachi and the elders all walk into the cornfield to die as Ruth wishes that she could kill He Who Walks Behind the Rows.
If you’re wondering where Gatlin is in regards to King’s connected universe, the next town over is Hemingford Home, where Mother Abagail gathered her forces in The Stand.
There are eight sequels to this film, as well as a Sy Fy remake that aired in 2009 with an ending much closer to the King novel. Seeing as how we have every single one on DVD, it seems like I’ll be reviewing those soon.