It used to take decades for schlocky genre movies to receive the critical investigation and deconstruction that they deserved. It would take many year before classic ’50s horror and sci-fi movies like The Blob, Invasion of the Body Snatcher, and Godzilla received credit as brilliant sociopolitical allegories.
In our modern days of so-called ‘elevated horror,’ however, the intellectual response to a genre film is fast and ferocious. Weird, solemn, and atmospheric horror films, such as Hereditary and The Witch, are endlessly inspected, while the traditional kitsch of slasher films and glaring-out splatter horror are met with rolled eyes. Perhaps some of these scary movies (the ones not directed by Jordan Peele, Robert Egger, or Ari Aster) will have to wait for their comeuppance, because many of them, like the kooky ’50s genre exercises before them, deserve closer attention.
The newest version of Stephen King’s classic horror story, Children of the Corn, is a great specimen in point. Kurt Swimmer’s film has been unapologetically slammed with negative reviews referring to it as superfluous or dull, but in a few decades, maybe some spectators will appreciate the film’s bold cultural relevance. The story (a quasi-prequel) of children in a rural town who form a homicides cult and eliminate the mature citizens certainly has the cheesy charms of silly B-movies, but it’s far more intelligent, meaningful, and disturbing than critics have given it credit for.
The Story Behind Children of the Corn
Children of the Corn has had a somewhat odd history. The King story seems almost directly lifted from the classic Twilight Zone episode, “It’s a Good Life,” and spawned a poorly-reviewed 1984 film. While few people would put the film in their top five favorite Stephen King adaptations, it somehow birthed a franchise of 10 movies, way more than any other King story. What could be the reason for this? Is it simply less self-contained that the story is conducive to multiple films unlike, say, The Shining or Carrie? Are they specifically economic to make? Or is there something more?
Watching the new iteration of the story, it makes a bit more sense. Like the multiple versions of Invasion of the Body Snatcher, each serving as an allegory for different contemporaneous world events, Children of the Corn does seem capable of reflecting different issues depending on when it’s made. The 1984 version definitely reeked of the Satanic Panic that was sweeping the nation, along with the economic hardships of Reaganomics. The new version uses the story in the most relevant and interesting way possible, though.
An Illogical Plot and a CGI Corn Monster
Boleyn (a plucky and committed Elena Kampouris), though, is getting out, leaving her brother and family behind in order to pursue school in a less hostile and empty environment. Bo is one of the few likable character in the film by design, old enough to not truly fit in with the unruly children but too young to be respected and listened to by the matures. The older citizens have their town hall, but so do the younger ones, holding bench in the corn and listening to young Eden (Kate Moyer), a transplant to the town who holds a special kind of power over them.
Eventually, the kids rebel, viciously taking over the town. Of direction, it’s all a bit ridiculous; how these pre-teens managed to corral and guardhouse all the grown matures and tough farmhands is an illogical puzzle, and like the bare-bones story on which it’s based, there isn’t much in the way of exposition as to why. Acting out rowdily against matures is understandable; somehow stringing up a 300 farm worker and hanging him in front of his daughter a bit less so.
Kate Moyer Is a Scary Child of the Corn
While the monster isn’t especially scary, the kids actually are. Children of the Corn gets surprisingly grisly from the moment of that aforementioned hanging, and when two kids bash the face off a teenager with a baseball bat, revealing his exposed jawbone and teeth, the viewer realizes that the film isn’t kidding around. Of direction, horror has always had creepy kids, and Children of the Corn is one of the most popular stories in that pedigree, but this tardyst movie tic adaptation takes it to a surprisingly gruesome and effective level.
Deeply Appropriate Meaning Beneath the Corniness
Beyond the good (Moyer, the visceral ferocity), the bad (the highly unbelievable narrative of events and the illogical ending), and the hideous (corny CGI), Children of the Corn speaks to contemporary socioeconomic issues in a way that few horror films do, especially the fun, ‘non-elevated’ ones.