Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Children of the Corn

Attempting to work my way through a back catalog of classic horror films, I found myself viewing the original Children of the Corn starring Linda Hamilton. For those that do not know, the movie was loosely based on a Stephen King short story of the same name and is set in the quaint (fictional) Nebraska town of Gatlin.

One particular year, the town’s corn harvest is sparse and after the citizens pray for divine assistance a creepy boy preacher named Isaac appears. He then takes all of the children into the cornfields to meet “He Who Walks Behind the Rows.” Upon their return from this corn summit, the youth massacre all of the adults and take over the town continuing to sacrifice any adults unfortunate enough to pass through.
Despite its well-deserved reputation as the most frightening film to feature malevolent produce, I was unable to understand why this is considered a horror classic. Firstly, when Linda Hamilton and her boyfriend are driving down a Nebraska highway and hit a child standing in the street, their first instinct is to toss his lifeless body into their trunk and drive around looking for help. Now I realize that vehicular homicide laws have evolved over the years, but generally speaking it is unwise to cross state lines with the corpse of a child in your car because that tends to look suspicious to a jury.

Secondly, this idea of a self-governed collective of fanatical pre-teens living in a rural setting is not all that frightening. In fact, once they eradicate everyone old enough to rent a car, the kids seem to embrace discipline and structure. They avoid unnecessary recreation, willingly attend religious services, and observe a centralized (albeit satanic) command structure. The resulting community is akin to a really violent chapter of Future Farmers of America.

As the movie progresses, we learn that once a child reaches the age of nineteen they are called into the field by “He Who Walks Behind the Rows.” Thanks to this “agricultural draft” program, Pappa Corn doesn’t have to worry about establishing social programs to support an aging congregation. The downside, of course, is that no one is old enough to drive into Omaha and pick up beer for the homecoming dance.

While we never see the film’s vegetable-based deity, there are several shots of soil being tunneled from underneath suggesting that the city’s adult population was murdered at the request of an ill-tempered groundhog. Grand-master maize also requires all adults to be crucified on an apparatus comprised of repurposed corn stalks and husks. It is unclear whether this design was chosen for its environmental sustainability or simply because he was unwilling to take the chance of the kids unionizing once they learned carpentry.

In the end, “He Who Walks Behind the Rows” was defeated when the two main characters set the corn field on fire. What an anticlimactic resolution. You mean to tell me that a demonic entity powerful enough to override the free-will of two dozen Midwestern white kids was overcome by a controlled crop burn? How bad can a supernatural antagonist be when it can be vanquished with the combination of sustained drought and an errant firework? If your reign of terror is that susceptible to arson, you’re on borrowed time anyway.

The film has spawned seven sequels to date with ridiculous names like Children of the Corn III – Urban Harvest and Children of the Corn II– The Final Harvest. Unbelievably, these movies featured several well-known thespians including Naomi Watts, David Carradine, and Eva Mendes. 1995’s Urban Harvest was even the film debut of Charlize Theron.

King’s original story succeeded because it focused as much on the crop’s sense of seclusion as it did the inherent evils of ethanol. Corn fields are uniquely frightening because their height and density creates a sense of isolation regardless of their proximity to civilization. Even Field of Dreams did little to convince me that a cornfield was a welcoming environment. Let’s face it nobody is going to kill their parents because “He Who Meanders through the Cotton Patch” commands it.

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