Like a virus that keeps coming back but gets weaker each time, “Children of the Corn” is now a horror movie that lacks the power to infect you with even a drop of fright. The original strain of the virus was Stephen King’s short story – published in 1977, at the heart of his climax. The tale of a group of Nebraska farming town kids who worship a demon living in the local cornfields, it was like a slanted version of “Lord of the Flies,” with a touch of “The Wicker Man” horror. He killed the big kids around them, but the most terrifying thing about them was that they became a sect. The cornfield demon, better known as He Who Walks Behind the Rows, was less a monster than a force, speaking to the gathering forces in our society—the drives of religious intolerance and intolerance that were beginning to take shape by the late 1970s.
The new Children of the Corn movie is the 11th movie made from King’s story. Most famous is the 1984 big-screen version, though there have been eight sequels (what didn’t you know about “Children of the Corn 3: Urban Harvest”? “Children of the Corn 666: The Return of Isaac”?), and icons have been referenced by each. Something from “South Park” to Eminem to Kendrick Lamar to “Wreck-It Ralph”.
The remake is technically a prequel, though all that really means is that the heart of King’s story is ripped out and tossed aside. Early on, a grieving teenager grabs a knife and enters the Rylestone Children’s Home, where he proceeds to kill every adult on sight. Taking this situation hostage, the local farmers place a hose in the building and use it to drug the cow Halathan, killing 15 children. That they would do this makes no sense. Nothing in the movie makes much sense.
The town’s children, led by Eden (Kate Muir), survivor of the Children’s Home massacre, want their revenge. But the film’s writer and director, Kurt Wimmer, also delivers on a half-baked theme of “environmentalism,” as kids fight to save corn crops that have been poisoned with toxic chemicals. So they’re environmentalists… uh, monster kids. If the movie really wanted to be relevant, it might have taken issue with the amount of corn grown in the US that is now GMO. Instead, it updates King’s ’70s premise into ’80s mystery territory and rundown horror with a social conscience. The other big change is who’s really walking behind the lines now He is Creature, a looming spectral menace made of green cornstalks with a mouth that, if you get close enough, looks like a copy of an ear of corn from an alien.
Eden, the leader of the children’s cult in her braided braids, kind of looks like Drew Barrymore in Fire Starter with the demon child from the Orphan movies. It’s not Kate Muir’s fault that she’s playing it off with a smirk you’d expect to come across in an early text reading; This is how the pedestrian imagines and imagines this production. The best actress in the movie is Elena Kambouris. As teenage Beau, the only child left normal, she maintains jerkiness without descending into scream queen cliches. Most of the adults are redneck animators, with the most notable being Bruce Spence (yes, from “The Road Warrior”) as a perverted measure. The storytelling is sketchy and fractured, and the visual tone is brighter but uncertain. At one point, the children would stand in a giant hole dug so that they could bury the adults alive. They paint corn roots with the blood sacrificed from a dripping animal, and do so with the grimness of children on a school field trip. The blood looks like it’s made from high fructose corn syrup — which, in “Children of the Corn,” might be an extreme case of horror that turns into its own derivative.
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