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Stephen King's Children of the Corn

(1984) * 1/2 R
93 min. New World Pictures, Cinema Group Venture. Directors: Fritz Kiersch, John Hopgood. Cast: Peter Horton, Linda Hamilton, R. G. Armstrong, John Franklin, Courtney Gains.

/content/films/3469/1.jpgLooking back, even Donald P. Borchers, one of the producers of Children of the Corn, acknowledges several mistakes in guiding the story away from the wishes of Stephen King. King's stab at the screenplay adaptation of his own short story was rejected in favor of a rewrite by George Goldsmith (um, Blue Monkey, anyone?). In the process, character nuance was dropped in favor of crowd pleasing good-versus-evil simplicity. Of course, these developmental problems were only the beginning. Pity director Fritz Kiersch trying to make the darn thing on an increasingly frayed shoestring for tight-fisted New World Pictures.

Considering the odds against it, Children of the Corn could be much worse. Given its scary concept, it could also be so much better, even though six (count 'em, six) sequels have thus far provided no such evidence. As it is, it's a--look, it has to be said--corny "B" horror flick with a certain je ne sais WTF about it. Peter Horton (thirtysomething) and Linda Hamilton (pre-Terminator) play young couple Burt and Vicky, whose cross-country drive to Seattle gets rudely interrupted just outside Gatlin, Nebraska, a town suspiciously not on the map. As we've seen in a prologue set three years earlier, Gatlin's entire adult population was killed by its child population. The kids live under the sway of boy preacher/cult leader Isaac (John Franklin), who has number-one disciple Malachi (Courtney Gains) do his bidding. Before you can say, "Bring him the blood of the outlanders," the children of the corn begin stalking (get it? stalk-ing? never mind...) Burt and Vicky. Burt and Vicky may not the sharpest tools in the shed, but they might be killed by them, if you know what I'm saying.

Children of the Corn recalls the old Star Trek episode "Miri," with its ghost town populated by kids looking to forget their history. Goldsmith's script includes some cautionary commentary about religious fundamentalism run amok (art, music and games are forbidden, and Burt blurts, "Any religion without love and compassion is false! It's a lie!"). Unfortunately, the narrative ignores logic and fatally fails to give any intellectual or emotional underpinning to its villain: who is this Isaac, anyway? And how and why did he get the idea to upturn the Biblical myth of his namesake by taking a cue from God to kill parents? No answers emerge, only more questions and a fairly typical King-ly supernatural beastie, referred to ominously as "He Who Walks Behind the Rows." The creature is the crux of a finale partly done in by one of the worst explosive special effects ever purveyed by a supposedly "A"-picture.

Where Children of the Corn comes closest to succeeding is in its oft-vaunted atmosphere. A better director could have done more with it, but then again, many would have done too much with it. Part of what makes the movie mildly creepy is Kiersch's flat photography of small towns surrounding Des Moines, Iowa and his art department's loopy folk art, converted from Baptist to cultist. That said, Kiersch's work is still slack, and his pace leaden, with many embarrassingly (non)threatening shots of corn. Plus, Goldsmith and Kiersch commit the cinematic sin of making R.G. Armstrong look bad. Forced to act mostly all by his lonesome as a gas station attendant who knows too much, Armstrong isn't up to selling a lengthy one-way "conversation" with He Who Drives the Plot.

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Aspect ratios: 1.85:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1

Street date: 8/25/2009

Distributor: Anchor Bay Entertainment

Anchor Bay does a bang-up job with Children of the Corn in its Blu-ray debut. The picture quality is quite good, offering best-yet detail and seemingly accurate color and contrast. At times, the image is a bit soft or lightly speckled with dust and dirt, but the transfer more-than-adequately conjures the theatrical experience by sidestepping digital artifacting. The lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix doesn't make much use of surround channels, but it's clear, and likely the best presentation of this material you're ever going to hear.

For this 25th Anniversary Edition, Anchor Bay comes up with a boffo collection of bonus features sure to please the film's fans. All of the extras from the original DVD Divimax release return, along withnearly an hour of new material in HD. To begin, one can watch the feature with one or both of the following: audio commentary with director Fritz Kiersch, producer Terrence Kirby and actors John Franklin and Courtney Gains, and/or the subtitle track Fast Film Facts.

Four Featurettes (1:17:12) come with a "Play All" option. "Welcome to Gatlin: The Sights & Sounds of Children of the Corn" (15:28, HD) is a two-part interview, first with production designer Craig Stearns and secondly with composer Jonathan Elias (Stearns offers plenty of interesting memories of shooting on location).

"It Was the Eighties!" (14:09, HD) is a highly entertaining chat with a game and unpretentious Linda Hamilton, who recalls her career choice, what it was like to shoot the film, the particular challenges of genre acting, and what place Children of the Corn has held on her resume.

"Stephen King on a Shoestring" (11:20, HD) is an interview with producer Donald Borchers, who is candid in his appraisal of what went wrong in making the film, while also plugging the upcoming TV remake he's directing, one he hopes will correct the original film's errors.

"Harvesting Horror: Children of the Corn" (36:14, SD) is the most traditional making-of among the featurettes. Director Fritz Kiersch, John Franklin, and Courtney Gains are the participants, and they have plenty of well-practiced tales from the set ready to share.

The disc also includes the "Trailer" (1:27, HD), Still Galleries (Poster & Still Gallery, Original Storyboard Art, and Original Title Sequence Art), and BDLive capability.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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