Children of the Corn (4K UHD)

Director: Fritz Kiersch
Screenplay: George Goldsmith (basedon the short story by Stephen King)
Stars: Peter Horton (Burt), Linda Hamilton (Vicky), R.G. Armstrong (Diehl), John Franklin (Isaac), Courtney Gains (Malachai), Robby Kiger (Job), Anne Marie McEvoy (Sarah), Julie Maddalena (Rachel), Jonas Marlowe (Joseph), John Philbin (Amos)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 1984
Country: U.S.
Children of the Corn 4K UHD
Children of the Corn

Stephen King’s 1977 short story “Children of the Corn” is about a couple who, while driving through rural Nebraska, hit a child on a remote highway, after which they find themselves in Gatlin, a strange, seemingly deserted town that they gradually learn has been taken over by the town’s children, who years ago slaughtered all the adults and worship a demonic presence that lurks in the nearby cornfields. Fritz Kiersch’s 1984 film version of King’s story is about a town in rural Nebraska where the children slaughter all the adults, and years later, a couple happens into it after they hit one of the town’s children on the highway.

The plot elements of the short story and movie are essentially the same, yet the difference between the two versions is immense. King’s story sets up a mystery that is gradually revealed, whereas the film, which was written by George Goldsmith, shows us in the first scene (which is, admittedly, gruesomely effective) exactly what happened to the town’s adults. Thus, when the film’s protagonists, a young doctor named Burt (Peter Horton) and his girlfriend, Vicky (Linda Hamilton), find themselves in the middle of Gatlin, we know exactly what they are in for. The only lingering mystery is why the children killed all the adults, which gives the film some traction and suspense, but not nearly as much had Goldsmith kept King’s structure intact.

This does not mean that Children of the Corn is entirely lacking in horrific pleasures. Despite being made on a shoestring budget of around $800,000 (apparently, a huge chunk of the intended budget went to King for permission to brand the film “Stephen King’s Children of the Corn”), it has a grim effectiveness and plays its unsettling premise to the hilt, which perhaps explains why, of all the films adapted from King’s works, this one has produced the most sequels (10 and counting, including two remakes). The performances are not to be discounted, either. Although Peter Horton (a few years from his career-defining role on the television series thirtysomething) and Linda Hamilton (the same year she created the iconic character Sarah Conner in James Cameron’s The Terminator) make for fairly bland protagonists, the under-17 set provides plenty of disturbing undercurrents, particularly John Franklin as Isaac, the evangelical leader of the kiddie cult, and Courtney Gains as Malachi, the evil-eyed enforcer. Franklin, who suffers from a genetic condition that made him look like a child-adult at the age of 24, is particularly unnerving in the way he channels righteousness-gone-bad (the image of him glowering through the window of a diner as his underage minions prepare to massacre the adults is the film’s single most effective moment).

Yet, the reworked structure that eliminates the mystery of what is happening in Gatlin saps so much potential tension that is hard to not see the film as something of a letdown in the way it replaces mystery with spectacle (it also gives us way too much time to wonder why, after several years, no one outside of Gatlin has seemed to notice the death of all the adults). Kiersch, a commercial director making his feature debut, does what he can with a limited budget, and at times he demonstrates a Hitchcockian flair for suggestion, although the wheels unfortunately come off in the spectacular climax that finds the unnamed demonic presence, referred to as “He Who Walks Behind the Rows,” being comically embodied in some poor rotoscope effects (much better is the suggestion of its presence moving rapidly under the dirt between the rows like a giant mole). The lack of budget is apparent throughout the film, although the location work in several small Iowa towns that are stitched together in the editing to create a seamless whole gives it a realistic vibe. The cinematography by Brazilian-born João Fernandes, who had spent most of the 1970s shooting pornography (including Gerard Damiano’s infamous Deep Throat and The Devil in Miss Jones) before shifting gears in the mid-1980s to low-budget action fare like Missing in Action (1984) and Red Scorpion (1988), is largely functional, although the film does benefit from some arresting shots of the endless cornfields at sunset.

Children of the Corn was one of the first feature films to be based a Stephen King short story, rather than one of his novels, but it would hardly be the last. In fact, the 1978 collection Night Shift in which “Children of the Corn” was included (a copy of which is conspicuously present on the dashboard of Burt and Vicky’s car), also contains the stories that formed the basis of the television miniseries Salem’s Lot (1979), Cat’s Eye (1985), Maximum Overdrive (1986), Graveyard Shift (1990), Sometimes They Come Back (1991), The Lawnmower Man (1992), and The Mangler (1995). None of those films were as successful as Children of the Corn, which despite its budgetary restraints, became a decent hit at the box office, earning $14 million, which is roughly 18 times its production budget. It never topped the box office charts, but it played steadily, remaining in the top 10 for more than a month and then enjoying a long life on home video and cable television (which is perhaps why all but one of its sequels have been direct-to-video). Where so many other movies adapted from King’s enormous body of work have come and gone and been forgotten, Children of the Corn has stuck around, perhaps because it is so elemental in the way it digs into the uncanny dread of the terrible child run amok.

Children of the Corn 4K UHD

Aspect Ratio1.85:1
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo
  • SubtitlesEnglish
  • Audio commentary by horror journalist Justin Beahm and Children of the Corn historian John Sullivan
  • Audio commentary by director Fritz Kiersch, producer Terrence Kirby, and actors John Franklin and Courtney Gains
  • “Harvesting Horror: The Making of Children of the Corn,” retrospective featurette
  • “It Was the Eighties!” video interview with actress Linda Hamilton
  • “Return to Gatlin” featurette
  • “Stephen King on a Shoestring,” video interview with producer Donald Borchers
  • Welcome to Gatlin: The Sights and Sounds of Children of the Corn,” video interview with production designer Craig Stearns and composer Jonathan Elias
  • “Cut from the Cornfield,” video interview with the actor who played “The Blue Man”
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Disciples of the Crow, a 1983 short film adaptation of Stephen King’s short story”
  • Insert booklet featuring cast and crew information, the essays “Behind the Rows” by John Sullivan and “Praise God! Praise the Lord! The Influence of the Child Preacher in Reference to Children of the Corn” by Lee Gambin, and restoration details.
  • DistributorArrow Video
    Release DateSeptember 28, 2021

    Children of the Corn has been released on home video a lot of times by now, but Arrow Video’s new edition marks the films debut in 4K UHD. According to the liner notes, the original 35mm camera negative was scanned in 4K resolution at EFilm/Company 3, Burbank, after which it was restored at R3store Studios, London and was graded in HDR/Dolby Vision at Silver Salt Restoration, London. Longtime fans of the film will certainly appreciate the increased resolution and improved colors (the Dolby Vision HDR makes a significant different here), although the UHD transfer certainly enhances the presence of grain throughout, which is clearly inherent to the original look and is most likely the result of the film having been shot on lower quality 35mm film to save money. There is certainly plenty of detail here, and while the film at times has the look and feel of a made-for-television production of its era, this is certainly the best it has ever looked. For the soundtrack, Arrow transferred the 4-track stereo mix from the original Dolby mag reels and remastered it to 5.1 at Lakeshore at Deluxe Audio Services in Burbank. The results are uniformly superb, as the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio mix makes the most of Jonathan Elias’s score (which, admittedly, cribs quite a bit from The Omen) and some strong surround effects, including subtle atmospheric sounds like wind and rustling corn.

    All of the supplementary material on this disc is the same as we saw on Arrow’s 2017 Blu-ray edition. New to that disc was the insightful audio commentary by horror journalist Justin Beahm and Children of the Corn historian John Sullivan, the latter of whom also hosts the 16-minute featurette “Return to Gatlin,” where he revisits virtually all of the film’s original shooting locations scattered across four different towns in Iowa (Hornick, Whiting, Sioux City, and Salix) and also interviews a number of the locals who lived there at the time (and still did as of 2017!). One of those locals, Rich Kleinberg, gets his own 6-minute interview featurette, “Cut from the Cornfield,” where he discusses his role as “The Blue Man” in the infamous cut scene that currently exists only as a couple of stills. Finally, we have Disciples of the Crow, an amateurish, but intriguing 1983 short film adaptation of “Children of the Corn” by John Woodward. From earlier editions, notably Anchor Bay’s 2009 Blu-ray, we have a number of other supplements, including an audio commentary by director Fritz Kiersch, producer Terrence Kirby, and actors John Franklin and Courtney Gains and “Harvesting Horror: The Making of Children of the Corn,” a 36-minute retrospective featurette that includes interviews with Kiersch, Franklin, and Gains that both originally appeared on Anchor Bay’s 2004 Divimax 20th Anniversary Special Edition DVD; “It Was the Eighties!,” a 13-minute video interview with actress Linda Hamilton; “Stephen King on a Shoestring,” an 11-minute video interview with producer Donald Borchers; and “Welcome to Gatlin: The Sights and Sounds of Children of the Corn,” a 15-minute video interview with production designer Craig Stearns and composer Jonathan Elias. The disc is packaged with a 28-page insert booklet featuring cast and crew information, the essays “Behind the Rows” by John Sullivan and “Praise God! Praise the Lord! The Influence of the Child Preacher in Reference to Children of the Corn” by horror writer and film historian Lee Gambin, and restoration details.

    Copyright © 2021 James Kendrick

    Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick

    All images copyright © Arrow Video

    Overall Rating: (2.5)

    James Kendrick

    James Kendrick offers, exclusively on Qnetwork, over 2,500 reviews on a wide range of films. All films have a star rating and you can search in a variety of ways for the type of movie you want. If you're just looking for a good movie, then feel free to browse our library of Movie Reviews.

    © 1998 - 2021 - All logos and trademarks in this site are the property of their respective owner.