By 1984 there had so far been seven film adaptations of legendary author Stephen King‘s work. Probably most notable would be Stanley Kubrick’s version of The Shining in 1980. After that the likes of 1976’s Brian De Palma directed Carrie along with Salem’s Lot from 1979 remain firm film favourites with horror fans everywhere.
But in truth, adaptations of Stephen King’s work have proven to be a mixed bag over time. Although generally decent, quite a few feel dated. Even 1990’s made-for-TV movie IT, which is hugely popular, due in large part to Tim Curry‘s unnerving and brilliant performance as demonic clown Pennywise, appears very dated these days. Fortunately, 2017 and 2019’s two part (or chapter) adaptation brought King’s original work bang up to date and was very successful in the process.
So what of 1984’s Children of the Corn? Based on the short story by King in his Night Shift collection first published in 1978, the story concerns a couple that end up in a small town in Nebraska called Gatlin. The lovers soon find out that the town is inhabited by a dangerous cult of children, supposedly led by a supernatural or demonic force that lives behind the cornfields that surround Gatlin, that will see the adults of the town sacrificed.
A strong short story idea and a solid idea for a film, to be fair. The main cast, including Linda Hamilton – who would also star in the same year’s The Terminator – do a decent enough job, with Josh Franklin as Issac, leader of the cult of children, appearing much older than his years and putting in quite an enigmatic and sinister performance. The same could be said for Courtney Gains’ Malachai, whose more violent tendencies threaten the order of the cult and all of those in Gatlin.
While not brilliant, Children of the Corn is certainly watchable and carries a folk horror vibe. Perhaps not to the extent of 1973 classic The Wicker Man, for example, but with all the talk of ritual sacrifices and the mysterious “He Who Walks Behind The Rows” it certainly points towards folk horror. And with the recent success of Hereditary, Midsommar, and The VVitch, among others, bringing folk/occult horror back to the cinema screens and into our homes, this Arrow Video release of the original trilogy could be seen as perfect timing.
Due to the success of Children of the Corn a sequel was inevitable, and in 1992, despite being the best part of a ten year wait, Children of the Corn: The Final Sacrifice appeared. Although it didn’t receive a lot of positive reviews it was moderately successful at the box office, but still ended up being the last Children of the Corn film to get a theatrical release, with the rest of the films in the series going straight to video (old school!) .
Children of the Corn 2: The Final Sacrifice starts off in a town near Gatlin during the aftermath of the events of the original film. The people of Hermingford take in the surviving children from the massacre of the adults in Gatlin, but it’s not long before the children return to the cornfields, this time led by Micah (Ryan Bollman) who has been possessed by “He Who Walks Behind The Rows”, the mysterious entity from the first movie. Caught in the middle of all this are reporter John (Terrence Knox) and his son Danny (Paul Scherrer), who are in a feud over John’s failed relationship with Danny’s mother. But John is soon thrust into the middle of what’s happening in Hermingford, as he tries to get to the bottom of the murders and how it all happened. Of course, it’s not long before John and Danny are in danger, as Micah and the cult start up their murderous ways against the adults of the small town.
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Despite not going into too much detail regarding any reasoning as to why this is happening, or the history behind “He Who Walks Behind The Rows”, Children of the Corn: The Final Sacrifice is quite an enjoyable sequel in that there’s more of everything. More action, deaths, gore, scary moments, and even sex, as John becomes lovers with bed and breakfast owner Angela (Rosalind Allen), and Danny starts seeing local blonde beauty, Lacey (Christie Clark), who tells Danny some disturbing truths about Gatlin. Overall, a worthy sequel if you’re after an easy, entertaining watch.
Next up, and the final part of the trilogy is 1995’s Children of the Corn 3: Urban Harvest. Probably now most famous for featuring appearances from Oscar winning actress Charlize Theron, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer actor Nicolas Brendan, Urban Harvest this time took what was probably the best, most logical next step, by moving the action from the small town and cornfields and into the big city.
Here two young boys, Eli (Daniel Cerny) and Joshua (Ron Melendez), are fostered into a family after their father dies, and although they seem a little different at first, the boys’ new parents, Amanda (Nancy Lee Grahn) and William (Jim Metzler), take this as them being from a different way of life in a small farming town. But it’s not long before it becomes apparent that Eli’s behaviour isn’t exactly normal, and potentially quite dangerous, as Joshua tries to enjoy a relatively normal teenage life at he and Eli’s new school. Soon Eli is controlling those around him at the school and events appear to be repeating those of Gatlin and Hermingford in the first two movies.
Again, while not drawing much on any Children of the Corn mythology, Urban Harvest is still an enjoyable enough sequel with a few memorable kills, creepy flashbacks, an improvement on special- and make-up effects in general and a “what now?” ending, leaving things open for another instalment. A few frustrating moments aside regarding characters and plot, Children of the Corn 3: Urban Harvest might be far from perfect but is entertaining enough.
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But the main reason that fans of the original, and horror franchise fans in general might want to pick this Arrow Video version up is the extras, which for this edition of the Children of the Corn trilogy are a treat for both fans and collectors alike. The first disc is chock full of audio commentaries, interviews and featurettes, as well as documentary ‘Harvesting Horror’, which is an interesting look at the inspirations and influences behind Children of the Corn, as well as the experiences of the director and lead actors and how it shaped their respective careers to this day. Another highight is ‘Disciples of the Crow’, the short film adaptation of Children of the Corn made in 1983, a year before the feature film version was released. Quite a scary and exciting watch for its time, this particular extra is a must watch.
Extras on the other two discs aren’t quite as extensive but are no less essential, including a range of interviews, some of them brand new. On Children of the Corn 2: The Final Conflict disc you have the option to watch the International Cut or the US Theatrical Cut of the film; and on Children of the Corn 3: Urban Harvest there is the option to watch either the R Rated US Cut or the Unrated International Cut. But the big prize for collectors and fans is a fourth disc: an Ultra HD Blu-ray edition of the original Children of the Corn movie. Overall, an extensive set of extras all round and another great set from Arrow Video.
The original Children of the Corn trilogy might not be a classic trilogy, or rank among Stephen King’s best adaptations, but it certainly warrants investigation and has gained enough respect and cult status to deserve this release. This new box set is a must for collectors and hardcore horror fans everywhere.
Children of the Corn Trilogy is out now on Limited Edition Blu-ray from Arrow Video.