33 years after the film adaptation of Stephen King’s Children of the Corn (1984) flooded audiences with the misguided religious beliefs and cult-like antics of the sinister Isaac (John Franklin) and Malachi (Courtney Gains), Arrow Video presents an extraordinary must-own Blu-ray for fans of both the movie and the horror genre itself.
Children of the Corn began as a short story published in Playboy Magazine in 1977. The feature film is often considered by critics as the red-headed stepchild of King’s stories turned motion pictures. Yes, the narrative itself is somewhat derivative of the Star Trek episodes “Miri” (1966) “And the Children Shall Lead” (1968). But despite mediocre ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, amounting to a paltry 38%, Children of the Corn was a box office hit.
The film’s budget was approximately $800,000 – for the filmmakers themselves – and the movie took in a domestic gross of $14.5 million. Champions of Children of the Corn, and a new generation of fans, now have the ultimate collector’s item courtesy of Arrow’s impressive one-disc Blu-ray tribute to a great movie that launched a film franchise consisting of seven sequels and a 2009 television remake.
Children of the Corn was released into a cinematic and cultural atmosphere already replete with horror films, particularly of the slasher variety. Stephen King himself had six motion pictures produced by 1984, and each of them grossed over $20 million. Children of the Corn was the first not to surpass the $15 million mark. Yes, it was a substantial amount of money, especially for the time, but not in the same ballpark as the $44 million courtesy of The Shining (1980). So, why the falloff? Despite being widely regarded as one of the weakest links in King’s filmography, Children of the Corn triumphantly continued the author’s tradition of playing with our greatest fears. Perhaps, King’s darkest theme was exploited in Children of the Corn as society was faced with the dangers of religious fanaticism vs. the ideals of unbelievers. And it was that exploration of such a volatile and taboo subject that resonated with some film audiences through the years and alienated a great many others. But beyond the celluloid’s exterior was a message for the world – one of hope.
The adults of Gatlin found themselves faced with extinction because of the children’s absurd religious beliefs when it came to the mysterious “He who walks behind the rows.” King’s words, as did screenwriter George Goldsmith’s script, revealed the dangers of blindly following pious philosophies. The grown-ups of the small town found themselves being slaughter by the youngsters, in the most heinous of methods, until only children remained in Gatlin. The subtext was deafening, as both writers clearly called out religion. The kids represented the vast majority of the world’s populace – people who believe in some form of deity.
The outlanders, on the other hand, typified by Burt (Peter Horton) and Vicky (Linda Hamilton), were clearly the underdogs and a subtext for the minority of people in the world – atheists. The film had the outlanders facing off with the children, but the underlying meaning had a more profoundly logical versus religious feel – the masses versus the minority. In the end, the outlanders prevailed despite overwhelming odds. More than that, they offered a solution that transcended both sides of the equation: scientific thought and devout followers of faith. Burt and Vicky – the adults – welcomed in two of the surviving children to live with them. Yes, unity is the key. A simple horror film like Children of the Corn tried to impart an important message on audiences in 1984, which still eludes many people over thirty years later. The movie urged us to see beyond our petty differences. Children of the Corn tried to give us hope.
Whether outlanders and children, or the religious and non-religious, we all share this world. In the end, we can either coexist and rise beyond our prejudices or we can all fall victim to the hatred generated by intolerance as we battle day after day in our own fields of corn – unsubstantiated ignorance.
In audio commentary No. 1, actors Courtney Gains (Malachi) and John Franklin (Isaac) join director Fritz Kiersch and producer Terrence Kirby in a wonderfully in-depth return to the town of Gatlin, as the foursome explores their memories of making the original Children of the Corn. In one of their more entertaining stories, the commentators recall how actress Linda Hamilton was scared stiff during the dream sequence in which she literally uncovered the body of poor Joseph (Jonas Marlowe). Due to child labor laws, and as far as Hamilton knew, Jonas wasn’t supposed to be on set during the filming of this particular scene. Rather, a dummy was supposed to stand in for the actor. But no one told Hamilton that Jonas was indeed under the blanket. When Jonas leapt up, Hamilton almost “jumped off the highway,” according to Gains.
Historian John Sullivan and writer/producer/director Justin Beahm take the helm in the second commentary, as they convey a fans approach at reflecting on Children of the Corn. Both men are extremely knowledgable and offer a lot of little-known facts about the picture. They even mention how the town of Gatlin is indeed referenced by Stephen King in his novel It (1986). According to the film’s first mention in Fangoria #31 (1983), Children of the Corn’s original budget was going to be $3 million instead of the $1.3 million that much of went to Mr. King. An $800,000 working budget remained for the filmmakers. This bonus commentary alone warrants the price of adding this Blu-ray to your collection.
The documentary Harvesting Fear is a retrospective that again features Kiersch, Franklin and Gains, but this time in separate interviews. Some information overlaps from the first commentary, but overall this is another stellar addition to the bonus features. Gains reveals how he won the role of Malachi in his audition by pulling out a stage knife and taking casting assistant Jeff Greenberg hostage in front of the whole room. “I took the room over at that point,” Gains said. And the rest, as they say, is history for this larger-than-life horror film baddie.
In It Was the Eighties! Actress Linda Hamilton sits down for a brand-new interview to discuss her recollections of Children of the Corn. While neither her or co-star Peter Horton participate in the commentary tracks, it’s wonderful to hear her positive accounts of making the iconic horror film. Hamilton also admits to being a lifelong Stephen King fan. “I am very surprised that the film has the legs that it’s had,” Hamilton said, “It makes me want to see it again to see what possibly draws the crowds after all that time.”
The special feature titled And a Child Shall Lead Them has actors Julie Maddalena (Rachel) and John Philbin (Amos) discuss, in separate interviews, their experiences shooting Children of the Corn. The pair talk about everything from the early audition process to on-set filming. Both interviews are quite lengthy and each reveals their experiences from over thirty years ago. “I had just signed with my agent at the time,” Philbin said. “This is the first movie I ever did.” Despite a very young cast, Children of the Corn continues to endure over three decades after its initial release.
In the interview Field of Nightmares, with screenwriter George Goldsmith, the writer discusses the pros and cons of adapting Stephen King’s original short story for the big screen. “He [King] didn’t like my script from the start,” Goldsmith explained. “He said ‘you don’t understand the horror genre.’ And I said, no disrespect Mr. King, but I’m not sure you understand cinema.” Regardless of their differences, both writers should be extremely proud of their cinematic creation.
Stephen King on a Shoestring features Producer Donald P. Borchers’ interview, which reflects on his love and admiration for the author’s work and how the executive made the most of an $800,000 budget to bring Children of the Corn to the Silver Screen. “As a very youthful producer, I was convinced that movies had happy endings,” Borchers said. Borcher went on to explain how the character of Malachi was a true believer in the short story and more of an obstacle for Isaac in the film version. This was another change that the youthful producer made in hopes of reaching a broader audience.
Welcome to Gatlin: The Sights and Sounds of Children of the Corn features production designer Craig Stearns and composer Jonathan Elias discussing their memories and experiences working on the film. “That was a time when many independents were making horror films,” Stearns explained. “I think the biggest challenge was how to deal with the blasphemy that’s written into the script.” It can be argued that those controversial themes and elements are what help the movie stand out all these years later.
“I was a little intimidated, I think,” Elias explained. “I was a little intimidated to be faced with such a large piece of music. And I was a little bewildered because I really knew nothing about how to pace myself.” Inexperienced or not, Elias’ score is the blood life that brings the film together, which is not unlike what John Carpenter’s score did for a little movie called Halloween (1978).
Return to Gatlin welcomes historian John Sullivan back to the special features, as he visits iconic film locations used in Children of the Corn. Sullivan journeys from various locales, and interviews locals in Iowa, as he takes audiences on a somewhat mediocre tour of everyday U.S.A. This is by far the weakest entry on an otherwise blemish-free Blu-ray.
Cut from the Cornfield, follows actor Rich Kleinberg as he discusses the deleted scene featuring the character of the Blue Man from the feature film. Kleinberg’s daughter was cast as one of the children, while Rick took on the part of the police officer offered up for sacrifice. But his pivotal sequence never made it to the final cut.
Finally, Disciples of the Crow (1983) is the first adaptation of Stephen King’s short story. It’s hard to imagine Children of the Corn, in any form that doesn’t feature Malachi and Isaac. But this short tried just that. Watch if you dare, or if you just need something to put you to sleep late at night. Regardless, of its monotonous nature, this film is featured on the Blu-ray in its entirety
Bottom line: Arrow’s Children of the Corn Blu-ray is an epic leap forward for special content and extras. You’ll also find a storyboard gallery and the film’s original theatrical trailer in the mix. And don’t forget the film! The 1984 classic looks fantastic in its 2K restoration. This is a must-have for any serious horror collector, “Outlander!”
MOVIE: 3 stars
EXTRAS: 4 stars
Total: 3.5 stars