As far as Stephen King short stories go, Children of the Corn is a pretty good one – a neat example of King taking a diverse range of influences and mashing them up into a powerful mosaic. You’ve got a touch of Lovecraftian menace in the sinister deity, He Who Walks Behind the Rows, you have a nod or two to It’s a Good Life – the old Twilight Zone episode where the adults destroyed by the whims of an all-powerful child are euphemistically referred to as being “in the cornfield”, you have a shade of the same hippy-ers “don’t trust anyone over 30” generational warfare that Logan’s Run drew on and maybe a snifter of Animal Farm in the sense that an agricultural community is taken over and run by those you might not expect to be able to operate it, but do so through a form of despotic tyranny that has powerful real-world satirical parallels (theology-poor, bigotry-rich American Fundamentalism as opposed to Soviet Communism this time around) – all powerful stuff.
But at its heart, it’s a fusion of two main pieces of precedent: Lord of the Flies and The Wicker Man. The main stroke of genius on King’s part is to relocate the story not on a natural island in the literal sea, but in a sort of man-made island in a man-made sea of corn – namely, the state of Nebraska, where outside of Omaha and Lincoln you have vast expanses of corn that you could lose a few European nations in and never find them.
All this made the original short story good fodder for turning into a movie. (For one thing, as a short story it doesn’t have the masses of backstory that King stuffs into his novels and makes any movie adaptation of them a challenge.) A whole movie franchise, though? With a remake currently shooting in Australia, let’s see if the original series provided a nice regular harvest or whether the field should have been left fallow after the original.
Children of the Corn
Once upon a time in the Nebraskan town of Gatlin, a strange young boy called Isaac Chroner (John Frankin) was preaching to the kids out in the cornfield whilst the adults were gathered at church, as was his habit at that time. Two children were missing – Joby (Robby Kiger) was made to go to proper church by his parents, and his sister Sarah (Annie Marie McEvoy) was sick at home – so whilst they, as youths under the age of 19, are permitted to continue to exist by Isaac’s cult, they aren’t full members.
For a cult is what Isaac’s little congregation became that day; he had been given a revelation from He Who Walks Behind the Rows, and he set his congregants to work, slaying all the adults in the town. Three years later, Burt Stanton (Peter Horton) and his ladypal Vicky Baxter (Linda Hamilton) are driving through Nebraska, Burt having taken up a prize new intern’s position as a newly-qualified doctor in Seattle. Abruptly, they end up running into a child (Jonas Marlowe) in the middle of the road – when Burt examines the kid he discovers the lad was already fatally wounded, his throat having been slit by Malachi Boardman (Courtney Gains), Isaac’s sneering teenage lead enforcer, for the crime of trying to run away.
It’s the 1980s and a freshly-qualified doctor certainly doesn’t have a carphone in this era, not that he’d be likely to get reception here anyway; if they are going to alert the authorities, Burt and Vicky need find a phone, but when they enter Gatlin to look for one it’s a ghost town. Or at least, that’s what it looks like at first…