Stephen King's Children Of The Corn: 25th Anniversary Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Anchor Bay Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (3rd July 2009).
The Film

I still can’t believe that in the 25 years since “Children of the Corn” (1984) was released the film has spawned 6 sequels and an upcoming made-for-TV remake. I’d say they are all of varying quality but, let’s be honest here, they’re all total crap. The real gem out of those 8 films, however, is the original, a film that was never really that awesome to begin with but still holds up well enough to be marginally enjoyable today.

The story comes from a short tale of the same name found in Stephen King’s seminal horror anthology, “Night Shift”, though it was originally published in the March 1977 edition of Penthouse magazine. That collection has been a veritable treasure trove for filmmakers, as many of its stories have been turned into feature-length films, this one arguably being the most well-known. Unfortunately, the filmmakers here have decided to drastically alter the film from its literary counterpart, resulting in a diluted, slow-moving cinematic vehicle with little tension or sense of terror.

In the small Midwestern town of Gatlin, Nebraska, the town’s children have taken it upon themselves to kill all of the adults on the orders of Isaac (John Franklin), a “seer” who speaks for their corn-loving god, “He Who Walks Behind The Rows”. While the majority of the kids have been converted to this new religion, a few, including Job (Robby Kiger) and his clairvoyant sister, Sarah (Anne Marie McEvoy), have remained alone, living on the fringe of the town. Three years later the town is mostly deserted when a married couple, Burt (Peter Horton) and Vicky (Linda Hamilton), pass through on their way to Seattle. When they strike a young boy, who had already been killed by the malevolent Malachai (Courtney Gains), they decide to see if they can find help in Gatlin. Once they arrive, however, they discover the town’s deadly secret and face an army of brain-washed followers intent on making the two of them a fitting sacrifice to their god.

I think the film’s biggest fault was changing elements of the original short story which greatly reduced its potential impact on audiences. In that version, Burt and Vicky are a married couple whose relationship is on the rocks, something their road trip is intended to (hopefully) fix. They aren’t a happy couple heading to Seattle for a birthday party. That minor quibble aside, the ending was decidedly more downbeat than the typical “happy Hollywood ending” the producers tacked onto this film. Even today, you’d have a hard time selling that ending to a studio, but I can safely say that this film would have been met with a much warmer response from horror fans these 25 years later had they gone that route.

Another issue I have is with the lack of suspense, a glaring omission for any horror film. Director Fritz Kiersch claims that he was trying to give the film a Hitchcock-ian quality by avoiding blatant close-ups of crimson waves; that isn’t so much of a problem as that he also forgot to imbue the film with any sense of foreboding or dread. I have a hard time finding kids scary to begin with, as anyone over the age of 25 should have been able to steamroll these little bastards and get the hell out of Dodge… but I digress. Even when Burt does something as asinine as leaving Vicky alone in a seemingly abandoned house to go look for help, there is hardly any tension knowing that anything could happen to her, seeing as how she is a woman alone. Sure, she gets captured, but we knew that would happen. Everything that happens is fairly predictable, and nothing stands out as a shock throughout the film’s running time.

I like Peter Horton; I think he’s a fine actor. But he makes so many stupid choices here that I have to question what his character is thinking. Once they hit this boy and Burt determines that he was already dead, why wouldn’t they have just driven straight ahead on to a more populated town? Obviously something is afoot in Gatlin, so maybe it’s not the best place to stop. Regardless, his worst decision, by far, is leaving Vicky. People are being killed here, buddy… kids, no less. So you decide to leave your wife alone to go look for help? No one in their right mind would split up at a time like that.

Linda Hamilton is probably the best thing the film has going for it. This film was made right before she did "The Terminator" (1984), and she’s looking pretty damn good. I had forgotten how attractive she was without her ultra-teased 80’s hair. Her performance is solid, and she’s probably the smartest character in the film, aside from Robby Kiger’s Job. I still would have liked to see her character end up as she did in the book, and to be honest I hadn’t seen the film in so long I almost convinced myself that was how she ended up, but at least she doesn’t play the super panicky type that most women seemed relegated to in this type of film.

I also want to make a quick note about the late, great R.G. Armstrong here. The man shot his scenes in a day and, though he has a very small role, he adds a touch of gravitas to this film which, quite frankly, is above his talents as an actor. But, as expected, he gives it his all and his scene is one of the more effective ones in the finished product.

In the end, there isn’t much to make this an effective horror film. I will give the crew credit for some good production design; the desolate, windswept town looks eerie bordered by acres of corn. I just feel that there was too much lost during the transition from printed page to film to make this anything more than a cult film from the heyday of Stephen King inspired horror.

Video

The film’s 1.85:1 1080p/24fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer is a definite mixed bag. The quality literally varies from shot to shot, as one scene will look so clear you’d swear you were looking out of a window, whereas the next shot might be so grainy it looks like no clean-up work was done whatsoever. I will say that it always maintains the appearance of being in high-definition, but the lack of consistency is a little jarring.

Audio

I can’t really fault the film’s English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround sound track mixed at 48kHz/16-bit, as it does a much better job than I was expecting. Granted, the film’s sound design is rather flat and there is very little action to beef things up, but surrounds are used very well, allowing the track lots of breathing room. Jonathan Elias’ main title theme sounds excellent in surround sound and the dialogue is perfectly clear. My only complaint would be that there is some minor hiss, but nothing too distracting.
Subtitles are included in English for the hearing impaired and Spanish.

Extras

Anchor Bay has wisely decided to include not only all of the bonus features from the previous Divimax "Special Edition" DVD, but they have also thrown on nearly an hour’s worth of new material. We get an audio commentary, “Fast Film Facts” pop-up trivia feature, featurettes, the film’s theatrical trailer, still galleries and some BD-Live content.

The audio commentary with director Fritz Kiersch, producer Terrence Kirby and actors John Franklin and Courtney Gains is a solid track, with all 4 participants having plenty to discuss here. Many of their stories are recycled from the featurettes, but they have much more room to breathe here and expand those tales. As you might expect, each person has anecdotes involving the various production aspects they were most involved in. While not a stellar track, fans of the film will be quite satisfied.

“Fast Film Facts” is an interactive pop-up trivia track feature that provides information, facts, trivia and anecdotes about the film. These appear as subtitles while the film is playing.

“Welcome to Gatlin: The Sights & Sounds of Children of the Corn” is a featurette which runs for 15 minutes and 28 seconds. Production designer Craig Stearns talks about how he ended up working on this movie and what challenges he faced dressing the sets. After his discussion, there is talk with composer Jonathan Elias about his approach to the film’s score.

“It Was The Eighties!” is a featurette which runs for 14 minutes and 9 seconds. Linda Hamilton talks about her involvement in the production of the film, providing a thorough assessment of what it was like shooting the film. She comes across as genuinely enthusiastic about the production, making this a fun watch.

Stephen King on a Shoestring” is a featurette which runs for 11 minutes and 20 seconds. Producer Donald P. Borchers talks about bringing the film to the big screen, what changes he decided to make to the source material (such as the happier ending) and how the casting director made some fantastic choices, especially in selecting Linda Hamilton.

“Harvesting Horror: Children of the Corn” is a featurette which runs for 36 minutes and 14 seconds. Catching up with the rest of the cast, this discussion features director Fritz Kiersch and actors John Franklin and Courtney Gains. Kiersch talks about what approach he took to shooting the film, hoping for it to take on a Hitchcock-ian quality. He wanted the audience to fill in many of the films more gruesome scenes in their own minds. John Franklin talks about how easy it was for him to get work playing younger roles, as he was 23 years old (!) here, yet playing someone who was closer to 12, while Courtney Gains relates a funny on-set story involving his ever-ready machete.

A very grainy theatrical trailer for the film runs for 1 minute and 27 seconds. However, being that this is a trailer from the 80’s, it does indeed rock.

The following still galleries are available:

- “Poster & Still Gallery”
- “Original Storyboard Art”
- “Original Title Sequence Art”

Please note that they aren’t very user-friendly, though, as it takes a long time for them to load and once they do there isn’t much ease to sifting through them, so you don’t really know where you’ve started or where the end is. Odd, since still galleries are one of the hardest features to mess up.

BD-Live access (which, of course, takes forever to load) leads to a page that appears to contain additional special features and trailers among its options. I say “apparently” because anytime I selected an option it wouldn’t do anything, it just kept freezing. Awesome. One more reason why I think that, for the most part, BD-Live is a huge waste of time for the average viewer.

Overall

Even though the film isn’t quite the cult classic it could have been, this is still a decent watch. Together with the improved picture quality, audio quality and a cornucopia of supplements, this is the ideal package for anyone who might consider themselves a fan of the film.

The Film: C+ Video: B- Audio: B Extras: B Overall: B-

 


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